The Squat: High Bar or Low Bar?


This is one of the most widely debated topics in the strength and conditioning world… wait, let me correct myself, this is one of the most widely debated topics in those corners of the internet where people who are interested in strength and conditioning tend to congregate.

This distinction is an important one to make. I say this because one of the common threads shared by those who produce the most results in the industry is that they do not engage in these masturbatory types of discussions. Quite simply, they are too busy producing results, and are definitely not married to any black and white, dogmatic approach to getting it done.

The squat is no doubt the “King of the Barbell Lifts”. The benefits of squatting are many, and it is my belief that it should be a part of the training program of anyone who is physically capable of performing it, regardless of their individual fitness goals.

The squat can be one of the most powerful tools when building strength, and muscle mass is the desired outcome without a doubt. This is not news to anyone, and is a belief that is shared by pretty much everyone who writes about these subjects. This much they can all agree on. I also use the squat, with different rep and loading schemes, as a very powerful, very effective fat loss tool as well (as some of my TEAMPAIN members who entered the program with a bit of fat to lose can certainly attest to). It is one of the most versatile, and universally relevant movements that a human being can do in the gym.

Now, on to the “Low Bar” vs. “High Bar” debate.

There are basically two camps out there, the low bar camp and the high bar camp, and each thinks that they are right and the other is wrong.

I say they’re both wrong.

As soon as someone tells me that there is only one, correct way to accomplish something, and that another method (that is eerily similar) is wrong, I stop listening. This reminds me a bit too much of the kind of religious, or political debates that I’d rather listen to the song “Let it Go” from Frozen ten times in a row, with a chorus of screaming, six year old girls belting along to it than listen to, much less participate in. This tells me that they lack the flexibility of approach to really be successful.

Personally, I feel that where a person places the bar on his or her back is much more situationally dependent than most would have you believe.

I’ve trained plenty of clients that have squatted in a manner that could be described as either “high bar” or “low bar”, and remarkably they all made great progress.

We’re talking about a few inches of difference people, do you really think that placing the bar two and a half inches away from where some internet personality says is the “right” spot will render ineffective the practice of placing a heavy barbell on your back and squatting it down below parallel?

Don’t both camps agree on the fact that the squat will make your whole body grow stronger?

Does this only occur if the bar is in their magic spot?

The high bar people talk about how their version is more natural, or more like the Olympic lifts. I say that the “natural” act of squatting is something that happens below the waist, and that it’s not really “natural” to put a barbell on your back anyway. I mean caveman probably used their method when harvesting barbells from the barbell trees and all, but other than that I rarely come across a plate loaded barbell while I’m on a reflective nature hike.

As for being more like the Olympic lifts, I personally don’t think a “high bar” or “low bar” squat looks anything like a clean and jerk or snatch. Do these people think that the strength built from a low bar squat will somehow disappear when they step up to snatch or clean a bar?

The low bar people talk about how the high bar takes the hamstrings out of the movement, to which I say that they should try severing their hamstrings and seeing if they can perform a high bar squat.

They say things like the back angle is more similar to the deadlift and therefore has more carryover to that lift. I say that taking it in the ass is even more like the back angle at the start of the deadlift, but I’m not going to run out and do that either, even if a guru promised me magical returns on my deadlift performance (fool me once shame on you…).

Many reasons can make one method a bit better than the other for a specific person.

I’ve had several older trainees with inflexible shoulders, or past injuries, who were simply unable to get the bar into the “low bar” position.

I’ve had long femured, short torsoed people who look outright ridiculous when performing a correct “low bar” squat.

I’ve had numerous people come in and assume a perfect “low bar” position with no instruction when stepping under the bar for the first time, and squatted that way for years who are damn good at the Olympic lifts.

As I said before, the one thing that all of my people have had in common is that they have gotten stronger and made excellent progress. To me that is the only thing that matters.

If you put a heavy barbell on your back and squat it down, with good mechanics, below parallel, repeating as necessary with progressively more weight, or for more repetitions, you will get stronger, period.

Leave those debates to the others. Stay in your lane, get strong, and embarrass them with your ability to outperform them.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a trainee to go work with that I’m going to have do nothing but crossed arm, “bodybuilder style” front squats from day one just to piss everyone off.

Anyone doubt his progress will spank that of the minutia, mass-debaters, jerking each other on the web?

If you do you must not know me very well (evil laughter).




2 Responses

  1. Zack M.

    I am more of a dumbbell squatter. its the only way squats should be done….(sarcasm)

    December 1, 2014 at 1:21 am

  2. kev

    I was seriously laughing out loud with the taking it in the ass analogy. JP came thru loud and clear.

    December 1, 2014 at 3:58 am

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