Squat Variations

High vs Low Bar | Low Bar | Full Squat | Specialty Bars


Wide vs Narrow Stance

  • Differences in joint angles
    • Knee flexion angle in the squat is greater in the narrow stance than the wide stance (Lahti 2019)
    • Hip-to-knee extension ratios and knee adduction in the squat is greater in the wide stance than the narrow stance (Schoenfeld 2010, Lahti 2019)
    • No statistical differences for the hip flexion angle between narrow and wide stance in the squat (Lahti 2019)
  • Issues which could potentially prevent someone from reaching proper depth in a squat (Rippetoe & Bradford 2017)
    • An excessively narrow stance may cause the thighs to press against the belly 
    • An Excessively wide stance may cause the adductor muscles to reach the end of their extensibility early. 
  • Wide stance squat strength transfers to both wide and narrow stance squats (Simmons 2011)
    • World renowned powerlifter Louie Simmons claims that a wide stance squat builds narrow stance squat
      • but a narrow stance does not build wider stance squat
      • particularly pertaining to Box Squats

High vs Low Bar Squat

  • Positioning of barbell (Murawa 2020)
    • The high bar squat rests the bar at the top of the trapezius muscle (just below the process of the C7 vertebra)
    • The low bar squat rests the bar further down on the back along the spine of the scapula and over the posterior deltoid
  • Kristiansen (2021) found that squatting with a low-bar allowed for greater loads compared to squatting with a high-bar.
    • Squatting with a low-bar typically includes larger hip and knee moments, which is better for lifting heavier loads.
    • Murawa (2020) claims that having a lower bar position and a wider foot stance may be more beneficial  In a powerlifting competition.
  • (Murawa 2020) demonstrated that low-bar back squat showed that greater EMG activity during the eccentric phase in the longitudinal axis of the following muscles:
    • lumbar erector spinae, gluteus maximus, long head of biceps femoris, rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis.

High Bar Back SquatLow Bar Back Squat

Low Bar Squat

Generally speaking, during a low bar squat (bar lower behind the shoulders and a wider stance), the knee does not travel forward as far as high bar squat. The hips typically travel back further with the torso bent forward on power lift type squat unless the stance is substantially wide, as in a sumo stance. However, a wide stance requires greater hip torque (requiring greater strength through hip abduction) while reducing both knee and spinal torque.

Although powerlifters have sizable trunk extension moments, elite powerlifters have less forward trunk lean, less backward displacement of the hips, yet less forward displacement of the knees and bar compared to lower-ranked powerlifters. Elite lifters also have a slower descent into the lowest position (McLaughlin 1977).

Also, see Qualitative Torque Analysis (comparison image to above).

Full (Deep) Squat

Barbell Full Squat

Pallarés (2020) reported that full squat produces greater neuromuscular and functional adaptations in resistance-trained men than either parallel or partial squats after a 10-week velocity-based resistance training.

Quadriceps development is maximized by squatting to parallel, with no additional EMG activity seen at higher flexion angles. However, hip extensor moments increase with increasing squat depth, so full squats may be beneficial to maximize strength of the hip musculature (Schoenfeld BJ 2010)

Kreighbaum (1996) illustrates the safe position of a deep squat with the knees extending beyond toes. Kreighbaum explains how deep squat can be performed with little chance of injury to the knee. The variables of concern:

  • speed of descent
  • size of calves and thighs
  • strength of controlling muscles

The primary danger to knee occurs when tissues of calf and thigh press together, altering the center of rotation back to contact area creating a dislocation effect. The danger of knee injury in this situation may be prevented if either of the following factors is present:

  • center of gravity of body system is kept forward of the altered center of rotation
  • muscles of the thigh are strong enough to prevent the body from resting or bouncing on calves.

Kreighbaum concludes deep squat is of little danger to knees unless these variables and factors are disregarded. Certainly, only limited types of athletes and performers may have the need to perform a full squat. Olympic weightlifters commonly bounce out of the full front squat with near-maximum resistances during both Clean & Jerk and Snatch. Incidentally, a wide stance during Olympic-style squat further reduces knee torque forces. Reportedly, those proficient in Polzunec movement in the style of Ukrainian national folk dance appear to experience few orthopedic problems (up until middle ages where their incident of orthopedic problems seems to be no greater than the general population) despite their ability to perform a seemingly contraindicative movement for decades; body upright, bounding from one leg to the other in the deepest squat position. Also, see Over Generalizations.

During the lowest portion of the squat, the pelvis may posteriorly rotate as the end range of hip mobility is reached. This is also known as Butt Wink.

Speciality Bars

WeightliftingThere are certain mechanical changes worth noting when squatting with special bars such as cambered, buffalo, and safety bars. Generally these bars lower the center of gravity thereby effectively shortening the length of the torso moment arm.

Cambered Bar

The cambered bar allows for hand positions that help individuals that would normally have difficulty holding onto a bar to the sides, possibly due to shorter arms and/or shoulder mobility issues. The cambered bar can also be used for Zecher squats and deadlifts. Using a cambered bar tends to emphasize hip extensors. (Murphy 2017)

Buffalo Bar

The arched bar allows the weight to be lower than the center of the bar, which brings the weight closer to your center of mass. This may allow an individual to lift more due to the mechanical advantage. With the lower center of gravity, more support of the torso is required. This bar also offers easier reach to the sides because of the “drop” at the ends. This bar is longer, so it is better for bigger lifters. (Murphy 2017) 

Safety Bar

Kristiansen (2021) found that subjects were not able to use as much weight on a safety bar compared to a conventional barbell in either the high bar or the low bar position. The Safety Bar Squats also had the greatest myoelectric activity of the gluteus maximus and the largest knee extension moments. The safety bar shifts the center of gravity forward causing a more upright torso allowing the gluteus maximus to contribute more to the hip extensor moment. Other variations include long horns and self-spotting near the botton position.


References

Kreighbaum E, Katharine BM (1996). Biomechanics; A Qualitative Approach for Studying Human Movement, Allyn & Bacon, 4, 203-204.

Kristiansen E, Larsen S, Haugen ME, Helms E, Van Den Tillaar R (2021). A biomechanical comparison of the safety-bar, high-bar and low-bar squat around the sticking region among recreationally resistance-trained men and women. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 6;18(16):8351.

Lahti J, Hegyi A, Vigotsky AD, Ahtiainen J (2019). Effects of barbell back squat stance width on sagittal and frontal hip & knee kinetics. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 29(1), 44-54. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.1330

McLaughlin TM, Dillman CJ, and Lardner TJ (1977). A Kinematic model of the performance of the parallel squat. Medicine and Science in Sports. 9: 128-133.

Murawa M, Fryzowicz A, Kabacinski J, Jurga J, Gorwa J, Galli M, Zago M (2020). Muscle activation varies between high-bar and low-bar back squat. PeerJ. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7289144/

Pallarés JG, Cava AM, Courel-Ibáñez J, González-Badillo JJ, Morán-Navarro R (2020). Full squat produces greater neuromuscular and functional adaptations and lower pain than partial squats after prolonged resistance training. Eur J Sport Sci. 20(1): 115-124.

Rippetoe M, Bradford SE (2017). Starting strength: Basic Barbell Training. Aasgaard Company, 23, 87, 95-96, 383.

Schoenfeld BJ (2010). Squatting kinematics and kinetics and their application to exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 24(12):3497-506.

Simmons L (2011). Louie Simmons on Wide Stance Squat. Accessed on Sept 12, 2022 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3tPpz1rmSs

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