High-bar squat vs the low-bar squat and why I’m thinking of switching over to…

Analogous with the strength and powerlifting world is the age-old “high-bar” vs the “low-bar” squat. Here’s powerlifting coach (one of my personal favourite!) Alan Thrall explaining the difference:

Alan Thrall – High Bar Squat vs Low Bar Squat

Now, Alan is a low-bar squatter. And so are folks from Starting Strength, Barbell Logic and Barbell Medicine — three of the most important schools of strength (both online and offline). I would totally dig what these guys teach and practice, of course, with fundamental differences in a few aspects. But that’s bound to happen when you’re a professional yourself, right?

I’ve been a low-bar squatter for the past 4 plus years and I think it’s taking a toll on my shoulders and elbows (primarily around the bicep and tricep area near the joint). My shoulder mobility sucks and that’s one of the key reasons why I don’t think going low-bar over the long-term wouldn’t be a good idea for me. Also, I’m fed up with my physical therapy (which hasn’t resolved the issue as yet, making me believe that we’re probably addressing the wrong challenge… but the PT should know better, right?) and experimenting with my grip, posture and icing the area after every session.

That said, I still think the low-bar squat is the most mechanically efficient of the two squat variations. And I don’t intend to completely eliminate it from my routine, just resting it for a while so that I focus on other variations of squats including the high-bar, zercher and front squats.

A couple of months from now, I plan to reintroduce the low-bar squats but program it in a way that I’m doing it a lot less than the high-bar squats. One intelligent way to program it in is by doing a 70-30 split between Hypertrophy and Strength phases. That is, do the high-bar squats during the hypertrophy phase and switch to low-bar during the strength/peaking phase. That’ll give me the most bang for the buck when it comes to injury prevention and overall balance. Also, front and zercher squats ought to have a time and place in your training if you’re not doing it already. They’re great strength-builders (particularly the core).

If you’ve been squatting either high-bar or low-bar, I seriously think you need to rethink your approach and introduce the other variant you aren’t doing. It’s good for you. And if you’re anal about the fact that you’re losing out on 5-10% of the weight you can squat more using the low-bar, you’re probably missing the point.

Becoming strong is a journey that fuelled by the right mindset.

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