Back Squats: What’s the Best Bar Placement? High Bar vs. Low Bar Position

The Barbell Back Squat is a staple  strength and muscle-building exercise we use with our clients and athletes at Performance U!

Sometimes we like to combine barbell back squats with calf raises to help our clients get even more bang for their back squat buck… like this:

In this post, I’m going to cover 3 things:

– The basic (default), generalized back squat bar position we recommend at Performance U

-Training situations where we’d choose a low bar position over a high bar.

-Specific training instances where we’d favor a high bar placement over a low bar placement.

Our Default Back Squat Technique & Bar Placmement

Since many people tend to lack ankle mobility and shoulder external rotation; for “general” purposes we favor a hybrid bar position (between high and low), along with a few other coaching tips on performing the barbell back squats, which I display in this video:

Go here to watch 8 more training videos I did for MuscleMag with bodybuilder Alejandro (Alex) Cambronero. 

Back Squats: High Bar vs. Low Bar Position

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As you can clearly see by the image above, bar position placement can affect the force angles and postures involved in the barbell back squat exercise.

When individualizing our programs, the bar position we favor depends on the ability and goals of the specific client or athlete we’re working with.

When We Would Use the HIGH-Bar Squat Position

squat franco colombu arnold schwarzenegger ken waller

– We’ve found the high-bar placement works better for us when we’re trying to emphasize strength gains a bit more in the quads, since the body position can remain more upright.

– If we’re trying to improve quad muscle size (hypertrophy), we’ll use a higher bar position.

– If there’s limited shoulder external rotation or Thoracic-spine extension, we’ll favor a high bar position. Or, we’ll use a front squat.

– When working with bodybuilders using lower-loads and higher-reps for more time under tension, we’ll favor the high bar position.

– When we’re trying to be a bit more lower-back friendly, we’ll use the high bar position since it keeps the torso more upright, which reduces potential shear forces on the spine.

When We Would Use the LOW-Bar Squat Position

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– We’ve found the low-bar placement works better for us when we’re trying to emphasize a bit more from the hips and low back, since the body position stays more forward.

– If someone is going for big weights (more max loads) using lower rep ranges, we’ll favor a lower-bar position to bring more of the powerful hips into the game. Plus, it shortens the lever arm on the low back, which allows the hips to work from a better mechanical advantage.

– We like using low-bar position back squats for females since girls tend to already be more quad dominant; we focus their lower-body training more toward balancing that strength with more hip and hamstring work.

– If someone lacks ankle mobility, we’ll use a lower-bar position since it better accommodates for a more hip oriented squat action.

– For those who have great shoulder mobility and T-spine mobility, we’ll incorporate the low bar position.

Clarifying “Back-Friendly” Bar Positioning

 It may sound as if I’m contradicting myself because on one hand, I say that we use the low bar position to shorten the lever-arm on the back (in the MuscleMag video). Then, I mention we use the high-bar position for folks with “bad issues” to keep the torso more upright.

So, this deserves some clarification:

– If you have restricted ankle mobility, like most average gum goers do; we recommend a lower bar position because restricted ankle dorsiflexion will cause you tilt your torso more forward, which places more stress on your lower back the higher the bar is placed.

– If you have “back issues” (on the other hand) we go for a higher bar position, provide your ankles mobility is fine, in order to keep the torso position more upright to place more stress on the legs and less on the back.

In short, BOTH methods can be considered “back-friendly”, it just depends on the situation as I just described.

We LOVE to Mix and Match BOTH Bar Positions!

cake and eat it too

If we’re working with someone who has no limitations, we may alternate bar placement with each consecutive squat workout to create training variety and change the force vectors involved within the same movement pattern.

If we’re working with someone looking to squat bigger loads, we’ll still sprinkle in some high bar position squats. And, on the flip side, we’ll occasionally throw is some low bar squats for bodybuilders looking to get huge.

Back Squats: BodyBuilding vs. Powerlifting Style

Most average exercises (and even many fitness pros) don’t think much about Barbell placement at all, which is why I put this post together.

On the other hand, many hardcore powerlifters and bodybuilders often argue why one squat style is better than the other.

The truth is, the powerlifter (low bar ) squat is better for powerlifters looking to lift huge loads. And, we’ve found the bodybuilder (high bar) squat is better at building big quads.

That said, we feel that both parties (bodybuilders & powerlifters) could benefit from the wisdom of the other. The list of bullet points I provided above displays when and how we would apply each type of squat.

At Performance U, we’re not concerned with figuring out which type of back squat is best because BOTH back squat styles work! We’re concerned with finding out which style(s) of the back squat is best for YOU!

Here’s a Barbell Back Squat We DON’T EVER Use 🙂


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