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How To Perform The Low Bar Back Squat

This version of the squat is often used by powerlifters as it allows you to lift more weight.

Muscles Used in the Low Bar Back Squat

With the squat, we will be targeting hip extension and knee extension. The hips will extend to lift you up from the bottom of the hole position, which will primarily be done via the glute max and to a smaller component, the adductor magnus as it plays a role in hip extension with the squat. The quads will be the primary component of knee extension. Other muscles will consist of the spinal erectors, gluteus medius, deep abdominals for bracing as well as the gastroc and soleus complex.

What is the Difference Between the Low Bar and High Bar Back Squat?

The main difference between the low bar and high bar squats, other than the bar placement, is the low bar requires significantly more mobility from the shoulder. It also creates less stress on the low back as there is less compression in the lumbar spinal discs. This is because the bar placement places a greater emphasis on the hips.

How to Train the Low Bar Back Squat

The squat is composed of mostly big muscle groups, making it very conducive to progressive overloads, and should be trained with a relatively heavy weight between 3 – 8 reps. Although there are exceptions to this rule, just note we typically see compensations in technique as well as decreased muscle activation with lower loads for higher reps.

How to Perform the Low Bar Back Squat

Let’s take a look at what perfect technique should look like. For a visual walkthrough go to the youtube video at the top of this post.

Set Up of the Low Bar Back Squat

When walking up to the rack for the first lift, we want to position the bar in the rack so it is just above the nipple line.  This will allow you to safely walk-in/ out of the rack without hitting the J-hooks. 

As you approach the bar, you must use a wider than normal grip as the forearms should be at approximately 45 degrees. This will allow you to create a bulge in the rear deltoids as you’ll place the bar just below the spine of the scapula by creating a shelf with your rear deltoids.  This places the bar in a lower than normal position on the back, therefore, giving it the name low bar back squat. 

In the low bar squat, the wrists should be in slight flexion with a thumbless grip, meaning the thumb should be on top of the bar.  This is because the hands are used to smash the bar into the shoulder rather than take any portion of the load.  

When looking from the side, you should see the elbows raised as the shoulders are hyperextended to help support the bar.

The cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine should all remain neutral throughout the entire lift.  The pelvis should be in pelvic neutral prior to the start of the lift for proper bracing.  This will set the spine in a neutral position and provide maximal stability.

As we continue down we should see the hips and knees in full extension with the bar over the midfoot. 

When looking at the foot either from behind or in front, we should see the heels just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and roughly a 15-30 degree toe-out position. Many of the lifters that use this technique are competing therefore, it is common for most to use a wider stance and increased toe-out position, as mechanically these levers will allow the athlete to move more weight.

Descent of the Low Bar Back Squat

After assuming you are in a good starting position, you should begin the descent by unlocking your hips and pushing them backward allowing the knees to remain in line with the middle toe of the foot while having the bar continue in a straight down position over the midfoot.  This allows the knee joint to be the axis of rotation, where little to no movement should occur here in an anterior or posterior direction and allow movement to occur only around that joint. 

As the hips sit back the glutes, adductor magnus, and quads all eccentric load to help you absorb energy as well as protect their respective joints.  

As the hips come back, we should see the spine angled forward via a bend in the hips.  This is completely fine and will not cause any excess stress as the entire spine should remain in a neutral position throughout the entirety of the lift.  

When in the bottom of the hole, we want to make sure we still have a tripod stance throughout the foot where there is equal pressure over the heel, great toe, and pinkie toe creating optimal foot stability.  

Transition of the Low Bar Back Squat

As we approach the second phase of the lift or the bottom of the hole you may notice the shin is in a more vertical angle relative to the torso as many athletes hinge more at the hips to sit down into the hole. This places significantly less stress on the knees, however, places a lot more on the hips. 

This phase occurs only a moment in time until moving onto the final component or the ascent out of the hole.  

Ascent of the Low Bar Back Squat

The first thing you should do is extend your hips in which your hips will move straight up. The knee will remain the axis of rotation in which the hip joint will move around the knee as the glutes and adductor magnus extend the hip. The knee will actually extend secondary to the hip extension.

The spine should remain neutral throughout the ascent and you should see the hips finish the lift by tucking under the bar and bringing you back to the starting position.  

Joseph Rosi, DPT

Dr. Rosi is a performance orthopedic and men’s pelvic health physical therapist. He has a passion for helping people get out of pain, recover from an injury, and increase performance. He believes everyone should take the time to learn how to move optimally before injuries ever occur. Outside of working with clients, he spends time with his wife and loves to travel the world.

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