December 05, 2021 10 min read

Squatting is an essential movement in weightlifting. Squats have many benefits as a holistic exercise. Just to name a few, squats improve flexibility and range of motion, encourage continuous calorie burning and weight loss, and help the body boost bone mineral density for stronger bones. Strengthening your lower body will add so much power to your workouts. 

Squats don’t just build muscle mass, they help strengthen the core muscles which are crucial for stabilizing your body in any exercise. With a stronger core, you can help prevent lower back pain and joint soreness. Another incredible benefit of squatting is the boost in testosterone levels and growth hormone levels.

man doing barbell back squats in the gym

Benefits of Squatting Properly

These two hormones can help stop the clock on aging, help you put on muscle mass easier, and boost your immune system. These two hormones are a power team that will really push your fitness level to its peak. Even if you are a beginner, back squats with just your body weight are a great place to start your fitness journey and you can adjust the amount of weight you use as you get more comfortable with the exercise. 

Squats are also one of the exercises that demand good form from the weightlifter. The heavier the weight, the more challenging maintaining good form is. A key element of the proper squat form is where you place the squat bar. There seem to be thousands of ways to place the squat bar incorrectly, so we are here to help. Once you master the proper squat bar form, you can continue to increase your weight on the bar and see amazing gains.

Before we get into the squat bar placement specifics we want to emphasize some basics of formulating the best squat workout for you and your training goals. 

Warming Up

It is so important to warm up correctly before you go into a heavy lifting session. Once you nail down the proper form and bar placement, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve practiced the correct way to squat, if you haven’t opened up your hips, worked on your ankle mobility, and practiced your squat form free of weight, you will have a harder time getting the most out of your heavy squat. 

So now that you’re all warmed up. Here comes the meat and potatoes of a heavy squat routine:where you place your weighted bar. This will determine weight distribution throughout the entire routine and which muscles are engaged the most. 

We can’t talk about squat bar placement without talking about high bar vs. low bar. These different squat bar placements add variation to your workout depending on what your primary goals are. 

Pre Squat Pointers 

If you want the best results from heavy squats, the HYPERBOLIC STACK would be a great addition to your routine. It is designed for peak performance and recovery and is essential to give your body the fuel it needs to execute powerful squats. 

Setting Up Your Squat Bar

 

  1. When you begin your workout make sure J bar hooks on your squat rack are set up properly and at even levels. This will help immensely when approaching the bar to position it correctly on your shoulders. Find a good level to set the bar on the J rack before you load the weight onto the bar. 
  2. We suggest having the height of the bar on the J rack be just below your shoulder when you are standing at the bar, which is a little higher than the middle of your chest. You don’t want the squat bar to be too low when you first approach it. Beginning a heavyweight squat in a squatting position will not give you the ability to adjust your form without the possibility of injury. 
  3. Once you have your squat rack set at the proper height, load your desired weight onto the bar. It is very important to use barbell clamp collars to secure the weights. Regardless of how experienced a squatter, you may be, it is best to keep heavyweight secured.  
  4. When you are lifting heavy it is important to approach the bar on the squat rack and position yourself underneath and create tension prior to loading it. When you see powerlifters squat 900-1000lbs, you will notice that they don’t casually approach the bar and load it, then take a few steps and prepare to squat. 
  5. The lifters approach the bar and create a force of body-wide tension that is prepped to take the heavyweight load. Once they have this base of muscular tension across their frame, they are able to load the weight and proceed to squat. 

Why High Bar vs Low Bar?

 

To nail down particular distinctions between the low bar and the high bar squat, an empirical study concluded that a high bar squat, when analyzing the three key regions of the biomechanics of a squat, was best for targeting the quadriceps. A high bar squat has less strain on the lower back and glute muscle groups.Activation of the glutes and hamstrings saw the greatest increase with lower bar squats. The low bar squat also showed a greater increase in the depth of a squat.

This is because of the greater security offered in having the bar lower on the back, which we will explain when breaking down the proper form. For a holistic training regime, we recommend switching up your squat styles periodically. Whereas you may feel inclined to use a high bar position to really strengthen your traditional squat which will later aid in cross-fit workouts or traditional weight lifting.

While the lower bar form can provide you with a well-rounded muscle-building plan. This will prevent you from getting too comfortable and challenge your leg muscles enough to continue to see a marked improvement in your strength training regime. 

High Bar Squats

The high bar placement is more of a vertical movement. Your body is moving straight up and down with the bar which tends to focus mostly on activating the quadriceps. The low bar technique adds a level of difficulty that by design pushes the upper torso forward slightly which activates more of the posterior chain muscles as well as the quadriceps. 

Here is our guide to performing a high bar squat:

  1. Approach the bar at chest level and position the rack bar to a resting position on your upper traps. 
  2. Press it into your upper traps, while gripping the bar, wrap your thumbs around it. 
  3. Widen your feet to shoulder width or slightly wider with your toes slightly facing outward
  4. Keep your eyes forward 
  5. Squeeze your back to press the bar down into the top of your shoulders to keep it secure
  6. With an upright torso, and your shoulders away from your ears, slowly push your hips backward
  7. Squat with your core engaged and your back tight
  8. Squat down bending your knees, not letting them go over your toes, and try to sit as low in the squat as you can
  9. Squeeze your glutes as you slowly rise to a standing position, keeping your glutes engaged the whole time

Whenever you have a high bar position, your knees have a tendency to move forward as opposed to a low bar squat because of the way the weight is distributed over the body. Your quads will be more engaged with a high squat since you are using the quads to control the forward motion of the knees while also lowering down.

Low Bar Squats

The advantage of the low bar squat is to use it when you are wanting to lift as heavy as possible. The positioning of the lower bar across the deltoids adds a type of shelf for the bar to rest on top off when you are squatting.Low bar positioning has a major advantage due to how much heavier you can load your bar just by positioning it a few inches below your shoulders. If you typically squat 250 lbs with a high bar positioning you would be able to squat 300 with a low bar position.

Olympic weightlifters use low-bar squats most frequently because of the heavier weight load a low-bar technique allows. The low bar also lets you get lower in the squat so you have the most work and muscular engagement on the way back up to the standing position. The low bar squat would be considered the most athletic squat form due to the added challenge of having the weight lower on the back. 

Here is a practical guide we recommend to nail the low bar squat:

  1. Make sure you have the bar at the right squat rack bar level as we summarized earlier
  2. Grab the bar using a strong grip, keeping the thumb over the bar instead of wrapped around
  3. Place the bar a couple of inches down from the top of your shoulders, resting the bar on the top of your posterior deltoids
  4. Maintain proper standing posture, don’t lock knees, and have feet slightly wider than standing width
  5. Tighten your core, add tension in the body, and unrack the barbell as you stand 
  6. Push your hips backward and you sit down, do not let your knees go over your toes, and maintain tension in your upper back
  7. With a forward lean continue to lower down, making sure your elbows and wrists are in proper form
  8. The goal is to squat down far enough that your hips are parallel with your knees
  9. Maintain a neutral spine, if the weight is too heavy and your lower back is supporting the weight you need to go down in weight to prevent injury
  10. Use your hips and glutes to propel your body up in a controlled manner

Wrist placement is very important when you are using the low bar technique, as well as the high bar, but specifically the low bar technique because you are holding the weight lower on your body.The objective of a heavily loaded squat is to bear the weight of the bar with your leg muscles. The reason we are discussing squat bar placement at length is to avoid having your joints absorb the weight load.

The most common injuries seen in heavy squatting are joint injuries, specifically knee joints. If you feel knee pain during the exercise you this is a red flag to check your squat position. Approach the bar. Rest the bar on the rear delts below the spine scapula. Keep your thumb on the top of the bar and press the bar down in the middle of the back.

It is important not to wrap your thumb around the bar whenever you are in low bar placements because this can force your elbows forward. When your elbows go forward it adds stress to your wrists which is never optimal.Once you have the bar properly positioned onto your back you can lock the bar in by squeezing your lats and your triceps downward. This small muscular engagement will secure the placement of the weight load on your back. 

One of the primary things to be aware of when loading a heavy bar for squatting is to keep a narrow grip. The grip should be as narrow as you can manage without adding pressure onto your shoulders or wrists. You want your elbows to be neutral throughout the squatting session.Often, muscle tightness in the shoulders can cause your elbows to flare backward during the squat. We recommend stretching as often as possible to prevent stiffness in heavy-loaded squats.

After stretching, If you continue to notice your elbows creeping forwards or backward, then it’s time to re-hook your squat bar to the J rack and reload it properly. If you are still having trouble with the positioning we recommend grabbing a friend or strength coach in the gym to help you find the proper positioning before you proceed. 

Squatting with the Loaded Bar

When you are ready to place the bar on your, whether it is a high bar or low bar, your main objective is to ensure you have the proper foot placement. You do not want your feet to be staggered under the bar. You want your feet to be directly under your shoulders and parallel to each other.Now, generate tension and load the bar onto the shoulders with your back muscles.

Once you have the proper placement, pull down onto the bar and take a few steps back from the J bar hook. Right before squatting with your loaded weight, check your feet.

You want your feet to be slightly turned out to the side. This allows you to keep your joints in alignment and open your body to sit into a deep squat. When you are ready, brace your core, and slightly bend your knees to move down into the loaded squat. 

Are You Balanced?

Squatting heavily in front of a mirror will help you determine if you are maintaining proper bar placement. Some of the things you will want to look out for are whether or not you are letting one side fall lower than the other. When you squat down you want to maintain a smooth downward movement.You want the bar to maintain positioning so that when you squat the bar placement remains steady on your shoulders and the midline of your feet is parallel to the bar on your shoulders.

In other words, you want to be mindful of how much you are hinging at the hips when you squat because this will determine where the midline of the bar falls and it should always be mid-foot. If you see in the mirror the bar is floating more towards your toes than the midline of your foot, you want to recess your positioning. When you have your preferred bar positioning method you can begin to layout your workout plan to foster a goal-oriented training plan.

This will include what order you want to do your squats in your exercise routine: do you want to warm up with them or burn out with them at the end? What rep scheme do you want to do? How intense are you wanting your squat weight to be?These are all important factors when you are designing your squat workouts.

The most common form of squat training is going to be a revolving routine.

It depends on what your specific goals are. Are you training for a competition? Do you want to focus on muscle gain? If your primary focus is enhancing your strength your routine will probably consist of mostly high bar squats and programming in some low bar squats for stability. If you are training for cardio-related endurance activities, low bar squats can be really advantageous for power sprinting as you would in bike races, for example. ‘

Bar Position Counts

High-bar and low-bar squats are miraculous exercises if you haven’t gathered that thus far. They aid in the entirety of every other physical activity you do. If you want to put on mass, improve your overall condition and physical health, and increase your stamina you can’t go wrong with either the low bar or high bar. 

We have included a ton of tips for you to make your own fitness plan in whichever way you think would help you meet your goals, Don’t forget that your squat workout is yours to experiment with! Always remember to use proper form and get one more rep in!