Olympic Weightlifting Coach Glenn Pendlay On Low-Bar Squats
Last Update  On November 28, 2011
My observations at the time were that the longer lever arm created by putting the bar higher on the back was overriding the decreased angle of the back, and making it even harder for my lumbar muscles to maintan a tight back and for my hip extensors to extend the hip. I am not trying to say that HB squats work the posterior chain more than LB squats, I do not personally believe this, I am just making the point that the differences are not as clear cut as some are making them.

2) As I see it, the heart of this argument is really about the carry-over of LB and HB squats to other things, specifically OL. Here are a few general observations about carry-over.

When I was a good LB squatter, that strength did not carry over well to HB or front squats, as evidenced by some of the numbers above. When later in my lifting career, I became a decent HB squatter, it directly carried over to being able to do very respectable numbers in the LB squat. My front squat of 550lbX5reps and HB back squat of 606lbsX10 reps, both done without a belt, these sets done about a month apart, allowed me to do several very, very respectable LB squats, and LB box squats with no practice or training on either the LB squat or the LB box squat. My feeling was that strength gained from HB squatting was just more "transferable" to other things than strength gained from LB squatting. Through many conversations with others, and a fair bit of experience coaching ex-powerlifters in the Olympic lifts, I have found that this seems to be quite universal. HB, Olympic style squatting will make you strong at the LB squat, LB squatting with a more bent over stance and less depth will NOT carry over well to the HB, Olympic style squat. I think the carry over from one to another bears considering, because what what we are really talking about here is the carry over from one type of squat or another to a completely different exercise.

Fred Hatfield, AKA "Dr. Squat" who is a respected authority on strength training, has written a couple of very good books on the subject, and who competed at a fairly high level in both gymnastics and OL before achieving a 1008lb squat at 44 years of age and I believe around 255lbs, has argued extensively that not only should the HB squat be used EXCLUSIVELY for the training of athletes, but its qualities of carry over are such that even POWERLIFTERS who are actually competing with a low bar, bent over, only to parallel and sometimes wide stance squat, should in fact do HB, Olympic style squats for much of the off season. In a rough quote of his words, HB squats build strength, LB squats demonstrate it.

3) Positions become habit, and I have not seen much about this in the specific arguments over Olympic lifters doing one type of squat or another. I remember when I was first starting the Olympic lifts, the hardest thing in the world for me was to catch a heavy clean with a torso upright enough to hold the bar on the shoulders, and not let it roll off. The second hardest was to stand up with it without sticking the but immedietly out, and raising the hips first, and dumping the bar off the shoulders, even though had I been magically able to glue the bar in place, I had plenty of strength to stand up with it. I believe that at least part of this was very simply that I was used to this position from doing so many squats this way, and whenever anything was heavy, I , without thinking, reverted back to it. It was a hard, hard habit to break, one I really never completely broke. I would propose that for Olympic lifters, it is better, as a rule, to have the torso and hips in the approximate position that they need to be in when you are going to be in that hole in competition every time you are in that hole in training.

4) A bit has been said about relative strength, and the weak hamstrings of Olers... or more specifically the relative strength of OLers hamstrings and thighs leaving them quite quad dominant. I would propose that OLers SHOULD be more quad dominant given the demands of the sport, and that given a solid diet of nothing but the competitive lifts only, with no assistance exercises, you would develop a quad dominant athlete. A quad dominant athlete will be much more likely, when the weights get heavy, catch a clean with an upright torso and stand without kicking the hips way out, and to dip and drive straight on the jerk. With maximal weights, the body has a way of getting into its strongest positions naturally, and for a quad dominant lifter, the strongest positions are the right ones for the sport, and the ones that will allow successful lifts with the greatest weight. I think that part of my problem successfully catching cleans early in my OL career was due to the "bad habit" of being leaned over too far in the bottom of a squat, but another factor was that I was, at the time, quite hamstring/posterior chain dominant. The wrong recipe for success in OL.

5) The last thing, one that I havnt seen touched on, is ease of coaching. A high bar position is pretty natural. Its where most people will put the bar without being coached. Its also pretty comfortable for the vast, vast majority of people. No undue strain on the back, neck, shoulders, or wrists. On the other hand, a low bar squat usually has to be coached, to get the wrist and hands and bar all in the right position, it often has to be coached extensively. It is not unusual for it to cause shoulder pain, or wrist pain if the shoulders/arms are too tight to keep the hands and wrist in the right position. In my experience it is, at the least, initially uncomfortable.

I remember all kinds of shoulder pain when I was squatting low bar as a powerlifter. Literal cramps in the shoulder muscles during sets of 5, shoulder pain the next day, etc. And I remember that it was bad enough that it interfered with my bench press training at times. This is an experience shared by many, many powerlifters. One thing that was great when I switched to HB squats was that the shoulders no longer hurt! It was great to be able to do a hard squat workout, and not have my shoulders and/or wrists hurting as bad as my legs!

Carrying heavy weights in that low bar position is just plain hard and fatiguing on the shoulders. For many people, if you dont NEED to do it that way, I am not sure why you would.

To be fair, I think squats done the way Rip coaches them are great. A great exercise. The guy certainly knows how to teach people to squat, hes proven that many times, and someone squatting with form acceptable to him is squatting in a more productive and safe manner than the vast majority of those squatting. I also think the HB vs LB controversy has less meaning than has been assigned to it... for example, one certainly can squat with the bar in a low position and still do a pretty upright, deep squat, that as far as body position would satisfy any Olympic lifting coach. One can also do a HB squat and get quite bent over, I have personally proven that many times! Simply changing the position of the bar on the back doesnt magically change a good exercise to a bad one, or vice versa.

But, Olympic lifting is a sport, and it is pretty universally agreed by those with extensive experience as athletes and coaches in that sport that there is an advantage in that sport to be gained from squatting in a certain way, and that way is a high bar, upright squat. I do agree with this.

I am not so sure that I agree with Fred Hatfields view that HB, Olympic style squats are so superior and have such a superior strength transfer to other activities that not only all athletes should be doing it that way, but even competitive powerlifters who compete with a low bar squat should do much of their training with the HB squat. I am inclined to think in this direction, but it is certainly not as clear cut an issue as the one pertaining to OLers. Fred's accomplishments and achievements do lend some credibility to his views though.
1) There is the assumption that high bar squats, done very deep, do not work the posterior chain. I would propose that they do, and the difference between high bar and low bar and the posterior chain is not as large as some would assume it is.
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