Why You Hate the Low Bar Squat
The low bar squat is often seen as the dominant squat for power lifting.
Looking to throw up some big weight on squats? Everyone will suggest you use low bar.
It has nothing to do with low bar being inherently better than high bar. But more so to do with the fact that the posterior chain dominant positioning of the movement allows for most lifters to squat a bit more than their high bar. (Emphasis on MOST not ALL Lifters)
Unfortunately, many individual’s give up on low bar because it never feels quite right to them. The movement can feel awkward, unbalanced, and at worst just downright painful.
Being one of my favorite movements in the gym I’m always looking to help people to enjoy his movement just as much as I do. I’ve found there are a few culprits that can make low bar feel awful compared to how it should, and the good news? They are all simple fixes.
Mistake 1: Improper Bar Placement
The first reason a low bar squat might feel awful could simply be because you’re not actually low bar squatting…
One of the most common low bar mistakes happens right out the gate with where people are placing the bar on their back.
In a low bar squat the bar goes just below the spine of the scapula on our back. No you don’t need an anatomy textbook to find this.
Using two fingers slowly follow your collar bone from the base of your neck out to top of your shoulder. Should feel like you are resting on a bony nub. From their walk your fingers down about 4 steps to your back and slowly roll your shoulder around.
You’ll feel a bone moving around back their along with a distinct protrusion. That protrusion is the spine of your scapula. The bar will sit just below it. NOT above it.
The two common issues you’ll see with bar placement is someone who’s coming off of high bar and they try and low bar with the high bar’s bar placement. The second issue is someone who takes the “low” in low bar way too seriously and brings the bar WAY down on their back. Both end up being horribly uncomfy.
With the high bar position low bar squat, because you have the forward lean of the low bar but the bar position of a high bar, the bar doesn’t end up having much to hold on to and you run the risk of it rolling forwards on you.
Now having a bar fall off your back is one thing, but if you’ve ever had a bar actually roll forwards on you that sh*t is scary.
The issue with the person who takes the low bar a little too far is on the same line just it’s the opposite problem.
If the bar is too low on your back it again doesn’t really have much to rest on so your arms end up taking the brunt of the weight.
The more weight you put on the bar the more problematic this becomes as your arms will only take so much abuse. Either you’re going to end up having to dump a squat at some point, or you’re going to be finishing your squat sessions wondering why your shoulders and elbows hurt so much.
Mistake 2: Improper Torso Angle
The next issue is basically the opposite of what we just talked about. This is when you actually have the right bar position but you’re still using a high bar torso angle.
You’ll see this all the time when someone is just switching over from high bar to low bar. Most people are taught by a coach from their first squat to keep an upright torso. Low bar throws a wrench in this teaching because it does require slight forward lean.
In a squat we are shooting for the bar to always be over the middle of our foot during the movement and because the bar is now lower on the back, slight forward lean is required to get it back to the proper balance point.
Admittedly, leaning forwards with the low bar squat just feels awkward the first time you do it.
So awkward that many people actually think they are doing something wrong. They feel that either their form is off, or they are putting themselves at risk for injuring their back.
As long as the bar is over the middle of your foot throughout the movement, what you are doing is CORRECT! Due to different limb lengths it can look like some individuals are leaning way more than others. Don’t worry about it. You could look like you are folded over like a lawn chair as long as the bar is over mid-foot you’re good.
This is something I see get over corrected way too much by amateur internet “coaches”. Everyone see’s a low bar squat and immediately assumes the person is doing a “good morning” squat. Understand that “good morning” squats are more an issue with a person’s hips shooting up too soon in the movement. Not simply because the person has some forward torso lean.
Always judge the squat off bar position and position over the foot, not how “bent over” the person visually looks.
Squatting with a low bar bar placement and a high bar torso angle can lead to a lot of the same problems as someone who low bar squats with the bar way too low on their back.
It’s going to feel like you’re supporting a lot of the weight in your arms. You might even have sore elbows or shoulders after your session. Without the forward lean less of the weight is resting on your strong back muscles and more of it is being held solely by your arms.
Start with proper bar placement, find your back angle to get the bar over mid foot and things should already begin to feel way better than before.
Mistake 3: Expecting Instant Gratification
The last mistake isn’t a technique tip but it’s probably the most common reason why you hate low bar.
You haven’t given it the time to become comfortable.
I think a lot of people when they are first introduced to low bar it’s in the context that “if you do this movement your squat is going to be stronger than your high bar squat.”
Then they go and do it.
Now their balance is off because of the new torso lean. Their low back and glutes feel really sore because of the new position. Maybe their shoulders feel really tight in the starting position because it’s a different rack position. Maybe their elbows hurt after their training session. To top it all off they ended up moving less weight than they are able to with their high bar.
As with learning any new movement in the gym you have to give this some time.
While high bar and low bar are very similar they are not the same. I believe that’s why people are so impatient with learning low bar. They “already know how to squat” so why should picking up low bar be that hard?
Treat this with the respect you would learning an entirely new movement.
Give yourself the time to get used to the lower rack position. Make sure you are putting the bar on the right spot on your back. Maintain balance over the middle of your foot the entire movement, and I promise the low bar squat will pay dividends.
Get frustrated and give up the very first session you low bar because you didn’t get the satisfaction of an immediate PR? Well…this just may not be the right sport for you…