September 09, 2021 8 min read
A squat is a squat, a lunge is a lunge, a bench press is a bench press… right?
The answer isn’t that straightforward but there is definitely no question that Olympic squats differ from powerlifting squats with regards to execution, bar placement, and general goals.
In simple terms, an Olympic squat is also known as a high-bar squat meaning that the barbell is placed on your upper trap muscles. On the other hand, a powerlifting squat is also known as the low-bar squat meaning that the barbell is placed below your upper trap muscles.
The two types of squats differ in a variety of factors such as stance, frequency, grip, speed, and foot position.
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Both squat variations provide individuals with a variety of benefits. Olympic squats or powerlifting squats are not only for individuals interested in participating in Olympic squats or powerlifting squats as the movement increases strength and power.
The Olympic Squat, as stated in the name, is used by Olympic weightlifters with the end goal of developing strength. This movement focused on the use of high tension lifts without the use of supportive gear such as belts or wraps.
How To Perform An Olympic Squat:
1. Improves Overall Body Composition: Olympic squats are great for improving overall body composition with a focus on the lower body but they are extremely effective in allowing you to burn fat and build lean muscle simultaneously. The engagement of large muscle groups such as the glutes increases caloric expenditure leading to fat burn and muscle gains.
2. Increases Physical Power: Movements like the Olympic squat enhance your power as they provide you with a platform to build your power output. These movements work your fast-twitch fiber muscles (type II) which help you accelerate faster and make you more efficient overall.
3. Challenges Mental Power: Not only does Olympic lifting strengthen your physical power but it also challenges your mental power. You must be very aware of the weight you are about to lift in order to ensure proper coordination with your body.
Many people underestimate the power of the mind but a study done showed that volunteers who participated in a study that involved training-induced strength gains led to their muscles being more activated and increased strength overall.
1. You Cannot Lift As Much Weight: The Olympic squat is more focused on strengthening through a full range of motion as well as developing flexibility. Unlike Powerlifters, Olympic lifters do not compete in the squat. Therefore, there is more of an emphasis on strength development rather than simply lifting as much weight as possible.
2. Can Be Risky For Individuals With Acute Knee Problems: The Olympic squat places more pressure and stress on your knees which can be risky for individuals who have previously injured their knees. The Powerlifting squat focuses more on sitting back to increase hip engagement in comparison to knee engagement which can be beneficial for individuals with knee issues as it reduces the stress on the knees.
Muscles Worked: A wide variety of muscles are worked when performing an Olympic squat including:
Powerlifters enjoy performing the powerlifting squat as the lower-bar position gives lifters a mechanical advantage as well as allows them to lean forward to engage those posterior muscles like the glutes and hamstrings.
How To Perform A Powerlifting Squat:
Note: the full range of motion of the movement is reduced but it allows you to use heavier weights.
1. Improves Muscle, Bone And Joint Health: Your muscles, bones, and joints are the building blocks for your strength and without them, you would not be able to do simple movements let alone participate in powerlifting exercises. Powerlifting strengthens almost every muscle in your body and it can also increase bone density which decreases your chance of developing osteoporosis as you age. Although osteoporosis is more commonly diagnosed in women, men should still take every precaution to maintain bone and joint health.
2. Improves Overall Confidence: Powerlifting does indeed require a lot of physical strength but it also requires a lot of mental strength which requires confidence. It allows you to boost your self-esteem as you feel tough, strong, and powerful. The incorporation of powerlifting squats or any sort of powerlifting routine will keep you motivated to keep going and see results.
3. Leads To More Muscle Definition: Powerlifting squats are a very precise type of exercise that allows you to focus on particular muscles unlike cardiovascular workouts such as HIIT since they are more focused on raising your heart rate. Powerlifting focuses on large muscle groups to slowly progress to heavier weight loads.
1. More Stress Placed On The Lower Back
The barbell is placed in the low-bar position which puts more pressure on the low back. Powerlifting squats also focus on heavier weights which overall puts a lot more pressure on the lower back which can be dangerous for individuals with weak lower backs or injured lower backs. The Olympic Squat has a more upright position of the trunk which gives it the preference for individuals who have back issues
2. Less Range Of Motion: In comparison to the Olympic squat which focuses on the development of flexibility and strength through the full range of motion, the powerlifting squat focuses more on using the maximal weight which places more stress on the central nervous system.
3. Less Frequency: Due to the fact that powerlifting requires a high load and high tension, individuals should focus on one max effort day using heavyweights as it can have a high toll on the central nervous system.
Now that you've learned the difference between the two, I don't blame you if you are might = thinking "well, which one is better?" That's a question only you can answer, the term "better" is quite subjective as it refers directly to your own goals.
The Olympic style and the powerlifting style of squatting are both great examples of squat variations that can lead to incredible results. There is no right or wrong style, but there definitely is a risk associated if you are not performing the movements in proper squat technique.
Since both types of movements require a focus on details such as form or weight, here are some things you may want to consider if you are just getting started or you are looking into furthering your progress into Olympic or powerlifting.
Personal trainers and coaches have dedicated a good amount of their time to receive proper training and education on the importance of proper form as well as safety in the gym. Even if you are an independent individual, it doesn't hurt to hire a personal trainer or coach for a short time period to guide you in the right direction.
Powerlifting and Olympic training place a great amount of stress on your body and if you are not performing the exercises properly, you could put yourself at high risk for an injury which could put all your goals on pause.
Next time you visit the gym, ask if there are any personal trainers that have expertise in Olympic training or powerlifting. If you don't want to hire someone in person, social media is also a great resource to find experts in powerlifting and Olympic training.
Many people have turned their social media accounts into platforms to showcase their gains and you might learn some helpful tips from them.
Whether you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, there is no harm in watching videos to familiarize yourself with how you should be performing the movements. The social media fitness scene has grown rapidly in the past couple of years and it is only going up from here.
There are a variety of individuals who have built large followings on social media platforms such as youtube to showcase their experience in Olympic training and powerlifting.
Make sure they are credible sources before following their advice but by visually seeing the proper form and how to perform the movement, you are taking the right step in the right direction to meeting your goals.
Although powerlifting focuses a great amount on lifting the most weight possible, it also focuses a lot on the proper execution of the movement. A resource like a mirror is great as it will allow you to improve your movement and make sure you are performing the exercise safely to minimize injury.
If you are serious about reaching your goals, it might be a good idea to purchase some good weight-lifting shoes. They provide you with more stability, mobility and improve your form. They also allow you to elevate your heels and provide ankle support which improves your safety.
They can be slightly pricey in the short term but the investment is definitely better than having to invest a lot of money in the long term in hospital bills if you do get injured.
Regardless of whether you choose to participate in Olympic squats or powerlifting squats, you are one step closer to seeing results. The first step is always the right step in any direction and it only goes up from there. It may be a challenge at first, but once you get the hang of the proper technique, you will be on your way to great lower and upper back development.
The best investment you can invest in is yourself and by choosing to learn about properly performing the two types of squats, you will be seeing muscle and power gains in no time. If you want to learn more about what muscles are used when you are squatting, check out this article.