Low-Bar Squat Uses More Muscle?

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MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
So I bought the Barbell Prescription book and I did like all of the physiology stuff. I couldn't help but skip ahead to the chapter on The Squat. Sure enough, because Mark Rippetoe's company published the book and both authors are SS coaches, the low-bar squat was recommended as the best variant. To be fair, the book did say that for those with extremely tight shoulders or other mobility issues who are "beyond hope" of regaining mobility can do the high-bar squat. This recommendation was followed by a litany of why the high-bar is "inferior."

You all know my stance on this. Consider me "beyond hope" of adopting the low-bar. I guess the book should have added another category: cranky middle-aged guys who refuse to change how they squat. But I am not here to bash the authors about this point. As I said I like the book and am glad I purchased it.

This brings me to my question, and it is a sincere question and I have no intention of saying demeaning comments about Mr. Rippetoe, the authors of the book, or anyone who loves the low-bar squat. My question is this: does the low-bar squat really used "more muscle?" This is the book's main argument about why the low-bar is better. I've read other analyses stating that the two back squat variants use exactly the same amount of muscle mass, it's just that the muscles are used differently. This makes more sense. What says the forum?
 

Oscar

Level 6 Valued Member
I think the answer is yes. It lets you move more weight, right? So it likely recruits more muscle. I think Pavel talks about this as well in NW.

I´m not very experienced with the squats anyway, lets see what others have to say.
 

Bill Been

Level 6 Valued Member
If you refer to the other book - the blue one - the explanation of why this is believed to be true is well explained. Moving the greatest moment force to the posterior chain us the nub of it.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
I see the low bar squat have better leverage for the squat, so that less of the load will be on the midsection and more on the lower body. And because the midsection is weaker than the lower body, one gets to have more weight. We can then, by weight, in a way relatively approach a load that makes the same demand on the midsection as the high bar version with a lighter load would, yet have an increased load on the lower body, which means there's more muscle mass involved.
 

ShawnM

Level 8 Valued Member
I think the biggest difference between the two is that with the low bar squat you are not sitting down so much but sitting back. This throws a lot for of the weight to the glutes, hips and hamstrings as opposed to high bar which stresses more quad. Both variations hit all the area but I believe the low bar hits a higher percentage of the glutes, hips and hamstrings.
I understand their point, I don’t really agree all the way with their stance on high bar. Olympic lifters seem to do just fine.
 

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
IMO the "more muscles used" is BS.
If you go by the amount of muscles used the frontsquat beats the backsquat. Both use exactly the same muscles, but the front squat also involves the shoulders which the backsquat (low and high bar) doesn't use at all or at the very most just a tiny bit of the posterior deltoids.
So the argument of "more muscles used" is not valid.

The other argument for the low-bar backsquat is that you can use more weight and therefore work the used muscles more.
But you also shorten the ROM compared to a high-bar backsquat.
Everyone who has done a real low-bar squat knows that you can't go much lower than parallel without compromising form.
On a high-bar squat on the other hand you can go significantly deeper -> bigger ROM.
Nobody seems to care about that but when someone recommends a rack pull everybody lose their mind...
The rack pull is the same as a deadlift and uses the same muscles. It just has a bit less ROM, but because of that you can lift more weight.
More weight = muscles worked harder.
So why is this "same movement with less ROM but more weight"-thing totally exceptable and even an argument for the low-bar squat, but heresy when it comes to deadlifts and rack pulls?
If you use the "more weight = more muscle activation"-theory to justify the low-bar over the high-bar squat then you also have to recommend rack pulls over traditional deadlifts otherwise you're going against your own logic.
 

krg

Level 5 Valued Member
High-Bar Versus Low-Bar Squats: Their Differences and When to Use Them - BarBend

I'd always thought any differences would be miniscule.

This was an interesting read for me. There's even some force production data at the end. There looks to be significant differences in force production though hips and knees between the two lifts - whether that translates to a training benefit I have no idea.

I get the argument that low bar lets you move more weight - but that only really feels relevant to me if you are competing or running a linear progression and are constantly training near your limits.
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
This recommendation was followed by a litany of why the high-bar is "inferior."
Inferior To What?

I find it interesting that conclusions like this are based on what someone think without any research data. They take a snapshot of something rather than looking at the whole picture. Then end result is the come up with the wrong answer.

It remind me of the story of aliens who watch a basketball game. They report back that playing basketball makes you tall, sitting in the bleacher make you short.

does the low-bar squat really used "more muscle?" This is the book's main argument about why the low-bar is better. I've read other analyses stating that the two back squat variants use exactly the same amount of muscle mass, it's just that the muscles are used differently. This makes more sense.
Different NOT More

Let's start off with a...

Bench Press, Incline Press and Decline Analogy

Which one uses more muscle?

NONE! Research (as you noted) has demonstrated that the same muscle groups are being employed in the Bench Press. Incline Press and Decline Press. What changes is the shift in muscle activation.

The Incline Press involving more Upper Pectoral.

The Decline engaging more Lower Pectoral.

The Flat Bench Press somewhere in between.

Low Bar Squat Vs High Bar Squat

The same occurs when with the Low Bar vs the High Bar Squat.

Placing the bar high or low on the back equates to changing the angle in the Bench Press, Incline Press and Decline Press.

It the same muscle groups in the either Squat. However, the loading on the muscle is shifted due the High vs Low Bar Placement and Foot Stance.

LBBS: Low Bar Back Squat

HBBS: High Bar Back Squat

The LBBS can also be characterized by a greater muscle activity of the erector spinae, adductors, and gluteal muscles, whereas the HBBS can be characterized by greater quadriceps muscle activity.

Resource: A Review of the Biomechanical Differences Between the High-Bar and Low-Bar Back-Squat

Glassbrook, Daniel J.; Helms, Eric R.; Brown, Scott R.; More
The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 31(9):2618-2634, September 2017.

https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/pages/results.aspx?txtkeywords=powerlift+vs+Olympic+Squat

This is one of many National Strength and Conditioning Research articles based on research the echos the same data.

Kenny Croxdale
 

the hansenator

Level 6 Valued Member
I

The other argument for the low-bar backsquat is that you can use more weight and therefore work the used muscles more.
I've always been a little suspicious of this argument. Does being able to lift more weight in a certain exercise really make it more effective or does it just mean you have better leverage?
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
IMO, caring about this issue is a weakness of character.

Find a style you can execute safely and comfortably and go squat in peace.
I agree. I personally don't care how people train or what style of squat or deadlift or bench press or whatecer they do. If someone said they prefer doing leg presses over squats because loading up all that weight on the machine really motivates them to train I'd say Great! Do whatever motivates you. I am not here to bother the people who pick a style and "go squat in peace." You do you and I could care less. However, when someone claims that exercise X is better than exercise Y, then they are doing more than "squatting in peace." They are recommending/advocating one exercise over another. What I do care about is accurate and truthful information. So when a book or website recommends a particular exercise or exercise routine, I am going to ask what facts and evidence were relied on to come to this conclusion. The question is a valid one.
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
Low-bar can help a PLer's DL more than high bar, IMHO.

-S-
That's not just an opinion nor do you need to be humble about it. I believe there is some data (and it may just be anecdotal) that the low-bar squat improves the DL. This is because the low-bar squat does involve the hips more.
 

Steve W.

Level 7 Valued Member
What I do care about is accurate and truthful information. So when a book or website recommends a particular exercise or exercise routine, I am going to ask what facts and evidence were relied on to come to this conclusion. The question is a valid one.
My comment was aimed more at the sources you were questioning, not at you for questioning them.
 

jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Does being able to lift more weight in a certain exercise really make it more effective or does it just mean you have better leverage?
It's an interesting question. In some cases, it seems clearly not, for example any exercise you can shorten the range of motion to lift more weight. Yeah, it will work that range of motion harder than it would have been worked with a weight you could do the full range of motion with. But, you miss out on strengthening the weaker ranges of the lift, which is where you miss a lift.

In other cases, lifting more is an indicator of the amount of muscle being used. Stiff leg deadlift vs conventional deadlift. Similar range of motion, but you can lift a more with conventional. More muscles are more prominently involved.

Valentin Dikul I think advocated intentionally training at disadvantaged leverages and out of your normal lifting groove during the offseason to build more all around strength that wasn't as groove specific. For example, let the bar drift an inch forward from normal on your deadlift. Then in preparation for a meet he would hone his technique and groove again. That sounds like an advanced tactic that isn't recommended for everyone. Watch a video of him juggling 70 pound spheres with his neck. I don't recommend all his training and feats to everyone ;)
 

Steve W.

Level 7 Valued Member
Low-bar can help a PLer's DL more than high bar, IMHO.

-S-
That's not just an opinion nor do you need to be humble about it. I believe there is some data (and it may just be anecdotal) that the low-bar squat improves the DL. This is because the low-bar squat does involve the hips more.
By many reports, this is true. But it isn't really a reason anyone decides to use the low bar SQ versus high bar.

In the context of powerlifting the choice of squat style is going to be dictated purely by the amount of weight you can lift within powerlifting rules. Just like snatch style in the context of GS is going to be dictated purely by how many reps you can do in 10 minutes with one hand switch. No competitive GS athlete is going to use hard style in competition, but that doesn't necessarily make GS style "better." Conversely, some people who just use kettlebells for general fitness are going to gravitate to GS style, and there's nothing wrong with that either.
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
Valentin Dikul I think advocated intentionally training at disadvantaged leverages and out of your normal lifting groove during the offseason to build more all around strength that wasn't as groove specific.
The Turkish get-up is probably the most extreme example of this. If I were ever in a situation where I happened to be lying on the floor, and next to me there happened to be an object that I needed to pick up, the most efficient way to do this would be for me to get up from the floor first, then pick up the weight. I could also "lift more weight" this way. The TGU is probably the most inefficient way to pick yourself and an object up from the floor. But that's the whole point. Yes, I have learned to like the TGU.
 

jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Marty Gallagher coached and trained with legends of powerlifting. If anyone were to be partial to lowbar squats, you'd think it would be someone this invested in maximum poundage techniques, like parallel low bar squats. But, its different when you aren't on the competition platform:

"We somehow have been talked into the weird equivalent of not lowering the bench press bar all the way down to the chest: why wouldn't we squat all the way down? Why do we purposefully curtail the rep stroke length, and thereby the results - by only descending to parallel - or higher. Those few that bother to squat in our Virtual Age will do half squats, the exact equivalent of the guy that only lowers the bench pressing bar six inches. At least the parallel squatter goes halfway down. While we have no problem grasping the ridiculousness of the half-bench or the six-inch bench press, the ludicrousness of the half or parallel squat eludes us."

Also:
"A limit set of squats activates every muscle on the human body to a greater or lesser degree: traps are maximally stimulated when you set a weighted barbell atop them..."
Sounds like a description of high bar. Plus, as has already been pointed out, a true low bar squat makes it very difficult to properly get the full range of motion that Marty is advocating.

From
King Squat Why we squat the way that we do; and why you should also

I just discovered these articles recently, so much good stuff. I can see how Marty and Pavel hit it off so well from the start. Interestingly, they represent complete opposite views when it comes to failure and volume. That's what I've appreciated in reading more of Marty's work. Two brilliant minds with lots of history behind effective systems. So much to learn.
 

jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Is there actually a difference in the distance that the bar travels, from the top to the bottom of each?
If going to powerlifting parallel, I imagine the distance traveled is similar. The thing I would consider is that you can work a greater range of motion with a higher bar. The legs can be worked through a greater range of knee flexion.

The next question becomes: then why not just front squat for that stimulus? I think then we get back to: because you can lift more with the high bar back squat. Then why not just train low bar to lift even more. And so on for an eternity of squatting conversation/debate... :)

Personally, for my long femurs, I like not having to lean as far forward in the high bar squat. Plus, I like that you do get that full range of motion plus using more weight than front squat. Somewhere I heard that the biggest limiter on front squat is actually back strength required compared to backsquat. Not necessarily back strain on the structures (since there's not as much sheer force), but since the bar is further forward from the spine, the leverage is more difficult. Deep high bar squats for legs it is for me. Now may I squat in peace ;)
 
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