Low Bar Squat vs. High Bar Squat: Muscles Worked and Technique

The squat, often hailed as the king of all exercises, holds a coveted spot in the fitness realm. Its foundational nature challenges and strengthens a host of muscles, paving the way for athletic prowess, functional strength, and muscle development. Yet, as with many exercises, the devil is in the details. Technique and form play pivotal roles in determining the efficacy of the squat and the specific muscles it targets. Among the various squatting techniques, the low bar and high bar squats are frequently debated and analyzed. While both spring from the same foundational movement, their subtle differences in bar placement lead to distinct biomechanical patterns and muscle activation. This article delves deep into these two popular squat variations, unraveling the intricacies of muscle engagement and offering insights to help you optimize your squat routine.
A man performing a squat.

Low Bar Squat vs High Bar Squat

What Is a Low Bar Squat?

A low bar squat is a type of squat exercise where the barbell is positioned lower on the back, resting on the rear deltoids and upper back muscles.

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In this squat variation, the lifter leans forward more and places more emphasis on the posterior chain muscles, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

It is commonly used in powerlifting and strength training to lift heavier loads and maximize hip and posterior chain involvement.

What Is a High Bar Squat?

A high bar squat is a type of squat exercise where the barbell is positioned on the upper trapezius muscles, near the base of the neck.

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In this squat variation, the lifter maintains a more upright torso position and places more emphasis on the quadriceps muscles.

Muscles Worked in Low Bar Squats vs. High Bar Squats

The different variatons of the squat activate different muscles. This isn't just a matter of feel or personal experience; it's corroborated by scientific research.

Researchers have measured the muscle activation during the two movements by measuring electromyography (EMG) signals of muscle groups, and found significant differences.

We can use MediSearch to read the findings of these studies.


Have a question? You can submit it in the window above. For instance, you might want to inquire about the "erector spinae" muscles.

Technique of the Low Bar Squat

The low bar squat is one of the best exercises out there. However, in terms of technique, it is also one of the more difficult exercises to execute correctly.

We will go through the technique step by step, to make sure you have all the information to perform a safe and effective squat.

Bar position

The first crucial step in executing the low bar squat is proper bar positioning. The bar must be positioned lower on your back, around the middle of your shoulder blades.

Try squeezing your shoulder blades closer together and lifting your elbows a little. This creates a "pillow" for the bar, where it should rest comfortably.

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Crucially, the bar should rest on your back, not your hands.

To be able to position the bar correctly, you need to have enough mobility especially in your pecs and delts, as well as a strong back to carry the load.

Grip

As was mentioned, the bar should be resting on your back, not your hands. Try positioning your hands so that the bar pushes against the soft part located below your thumbs.

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Think of it as if your hands are preventing the bar from falling backwards. This way, you ensure the load is carried by your back.

Foot Position

The position of your feet is very important for maintaining proper technique. The exact positioning depends on the individual, and you should experiment a little before you find the optimal foot positioning for you.

However, you want to stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed out. A common mistake is positioning your feet too wide.

Performing the Low Bar Squat

With the bar resting on your back, you are ready to execute the squat. Unrack the bar and take a few steps back.

Before you lower yourself, take a deep breath and brace your core. Make sure your back is straight, by keeping your chest up. Don't hyperextend your lower back - try squeezing your glutes before you go down.

To lower yourself, focus on pushing your knees out to the side and bending at the hips. Your torso will naturally lean forward more than during a high bar squat.

To maximise the benefit of the exercise, you want to go as low as possible, while maintaining proper form. You should try to achieve a right angle at the knees, but this depends on your mobility. It is essential you keep your back straight, especially if you plan on squatting heavy weights.

Make sure you keep your core tight this entire time.

When you reach the bottom position, push back up. In a correctly executed low bar squat, you should be raising your butt first, as if someone was pulling it up. Otherwise, your quadriceps will carry more load than it should, mitigating the benefits of this exercise. Plus, you won't be able to squat as much.

Recall that the low bar squat engages your glutes, hamstrings and abductors more than a high bar squat and you should focus on activating these throughout the movement.

As you push up, you can finally breathe out. However, don't do this too soon - you don't want to lose your core stability and the pressure in your abdomen.

Conclusion

Both squat variations serve distinct purposes. For enhancing power and bolstering strength in exercises such as power cleans and snatches, the high bar squat is optimal. On the other hand, if your aim is to strengthen your posterior chain, boost your one rep max, and test your balance and core stability, the low bar squat might be the better choice for you.

Disclaimer

This article was not written by a medical professional and does not offer health advice. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the usage of MediSearch, an AI-powered search engine, providing science-based answers to medical queries. Always consult a medical professional regarding your condition.