Low-Bar Squat Uses More Muscle?

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Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
Is there actually a difference in the distance that the bar travels, from the top to the bottom of each?
Yes and no.
Take a look at this picture (from High Bar and Low Bar Squatting 2.0 - Strengtheory)
High-bar-low-bar-depth.png
The bar position difference stays the same (-> the initial difference of the high-bar vs. low-bar position).
So if you would be able to squat to the same depth low-bar style that you can achieve with high-bar (like the person who created that picture assumed) the ROM would be the same.
The thing is you just can't go a#@-to-grass with a low-bar position, because it highly compromises the lower back position.
If you just go to parallel or slightly below parallel (a position that's still achievable with low-bar) the ROM stays the same.
But ROM is a very important factor if you want to determine which uses/works more muscle.
See those two articles A Long Way to Press: Work Capacity, Levers, and Tall People | StrongFirst and The Truth for Tall Lifters | T Nation.
Depending on the individual leverages someone with a 300lbs a#@-to-grass high-bar squat might do more work than someone with a 400lbs low-bar squat to slightly below parallel.
 
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Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
I have never seen a serious PL squatter who places the bar high. The HBBS is what Olympic lifters use.

If you're neither a competitive PLer nor an Olympic lifter, the choice is yours, and many might also choose the front squat, which is a third, viable alternative.

-S-
 

Bill Been

Level 6 Valued Member
To understand why it’s wrong to equate half ROM bench presses with parallel, non-ATG squats, you must look at the function of the hamstrings in a squat and what happens to their overall length during vatious ROMs.

Suffice to say you cannot make your hamstrings shorter/less capable of contractile force production (without lying down) than at all he bottom of an ATG barbell front squat, closely followed by the HBBS. In other words, you cannot go beyond parallel without losing the contribution (until returning to parallel) of the hamstrings. There is no comparable loss of contributing muscle mass in a bench press. The ENTIRE ROM of a bench press is effective, so the shorter ROM version is suboptimal. There are also consequences to slack hamstrings at the bottom with respect to the forces at the knee that I’m sure you guys will enjoy figuring out for yourselves.

This is the anatomical basis for the ROM portion of the ACTUAL 3-part statement of Starting Strength regarding exercise selection: choose the exercises that 1) use the most muscle mass, 2) over the longest EFFECTIVE range of motion, 3) which allows the use of the heaviest loads, which will get you the strongest.

For those who’d like lots of peer-reviewed science on such things - don’t hold your breath.

And beware studies that rely on surface EMG to “prove” things about loaded movement.
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
I have never seen a serious PL squatter who places the bar high.
Mike Tronski

There are a few good serious High Bar Powerlfiting Squatters. like Tronski

Tronski (as with the few High Bar Powerlifting Squatters) is a Quad Dominate lifter.

Tronski's Squat at 242 lbs is right at 700 lbs.

I trained with Tronski from time to time.

Jon Kuc

One of the greatest Powerlifter of all time, who dominated the 242 lb weight class was Jon Kuc.



Kuc squatted narrow stance and high bar; he hit 900+ as a super; 832 at 242.
Iron Icons: Kuc & Williams, II | Marty Gallagher

I saw Kuc's 832 lb Squat in person.

High Bar Serious Powerlifters

They are few but if you attend enough meets, you'll see one from time to time.

Kenny Croxdale
 

Hasbro

Level 5 Valued Member
When I started squatting a few years ago I didn’t know what I was doing. I just placed the bar high on my back and went for it. This worked but my quads took a hell of a beating, recovery was super slow, and I seemed to be stuck at about 225 (I’m also not a quad dominant lifter btw). About a year later I stumbled upon the name Mark Rippetoe and bought his book/dvd and started utilizing the low bar technique which emphasizes the posterior chain. It was a game changer for me and I started setting new PR’s every month until I reached 315 a year later at age 58. Here’s Rippetoe’s take on it and I would have to agree.

http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/69_08_low_high_bar_squats.pdf
 

jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Rip has an effective system and he knows it inside and out. Why should he ever stray from it? Marty Gallagher also has an effective system, has lifted more than Rip and has trained far better lifters than Rip, and to him, relegating the squat to a posterior chain exercise, unless youre powerlifting, is leaving a lot on the table with the king of exercises. I posted the article earler in this thread. The point of listing Martys credentials isnt to say his system is better, just that he also knows his stuff, and if anything youd expect him to be biased towards the powerlifting style.

Also, it seems like it would be easier to peak a strong parallel low bar squat from a strong full rom base than to get strong in the partial and decide you want to try to improve the full rom. That sems like the poundage drop could be really frustrating. Gray Cook separately advocates differentiating deadlift and squat between posterior dominant and wuad dominant. Competing in powerlifting? Then DON’T do that, you want the lifts as similar as possible for the most crossover.
 

Hasbro

Level 5 Valued Member
@jca17 I’m not advocating one way over the other and was just stating my preference and what works for me. The OP was asking if the low bar squat uses more muscle but he didn’t differentiate whether that was “total muscle mass” or “total muscle groups”. Marty definitely knows his stuff and makes a good case for his style but even he admits that the quads are doing all the work. Here’s his statement from your article...

“The upright squatter uses an open stance, a "knees-out" ascent/descent and a full ROM. We force the quadriceps to do the all the work. We make squats a leg exercise, not some inferior hybrid/mongoloid technique that spreads the muscular effort between quads/hips/lower back and hamstrings.”

Personally I prefer to spread the effort out and work a larger muscle group than to isolate the quads like that. And I don’t find the extra ROM to be that big of a deal. I’m not a “half way down” squatter or even a “parallel only” squatter. I’ve always squatted below parallel. I do like Marty’s view on making lighter weights heavy (slow on the way down, pause at the bottom, slow on the way up) but that can be done with a low bar technique too. You’re just taking the stretch reflex out of the movement.

So to answer the OP’s question “Does the low bar use more muscle?” I would say yes. Which technique is better? I guess it just depends on who you’re asking.
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
“Does the low bar use more muscle?” I would say yes.
NO

Research doesn't support your belief. The same muscle group are involved.

What the Low Bar Back Squat does is shift the load to the Posterior Chain; the largest muscle of the body.

The largest muscle of the lower and upper body are is the posterior chain: the Glutes and Latissimus Dorsi.

Kenny Croxdale
 

Jeff

Level 4 Valued Member
I think people will opine that the body recovers from squats more quickly than from deadlifts. That is why Starting Strength only includes one set of deadlifts per training session and Greyskull only includes one set of deadlifts per week.

If a program already includes deadlifts, which style of squats would complement deadlifts the most and result in the more hypothetical "all around" strength? The deadlifts already work the posterior chain to begin with. The high bar squats would work the anterior chain a bit more than low bar squats.

Would the body recover from deadlifts faster if the squats were high bar?

Would one set of deadlifts per week be enough if the squats were high bar?
 

Taranenko74

Level 1 Valued Member
I think people will opine that the body recovers from squats more quickly than from deadlifts. That is why Starting Strength only includes one set of deadlifts per training session and Greyskull only includes one set of deadlifts per week.

If a program already includes deadlifts, which style of squats would complement deadlifts the most and result in the more hypothetical "all around" strength? The deadlifts already work the posterior chain to begin with. The high bar squats would work the anterior chain a bit more than low bar squats.

Would the body recover from deadlifts faster if the squats were high bar?

Would one set of deadlifts per week be enough if the squats were high bar?
Personally I like to program as follows:

- fs + dl
- bs + rdl; bs always high bar full depth, rdl medium load

For weightlifters the bs+clean pull is also workable as the cln pull is not so heavy as dl.

Reg training frequency, it depends of the goal of the cycle. 1-2 sessions per week is more like maintaining the current level, 3-4 developing... If you want to drive up the squat, then squat more, if the dl is your priority then lift from the ground several times per week. So simple is that. :) But be careful, normally you can't have both; easy way to overtraining...
 

jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Jeff, thats a very important point. I used to wonder why the popular novice linear progressions had so little deadlift volume, since I was coming from pttp and faleev 5x5, which means Im used to 25-50 reps a week. Then i realized its the frequent just below parallel low bar squatting that needs to be accounted for with dl volume
 

Hasbro

Level 5 Valued Member
NO

Research doesn't support your belief. The same muscle group are involved.

What the Low Bar Back Squat does is shift the load to the Posterior Chain; the largest muscle of the body.

The largest muscle of the lower and upper body are is the posterior chain: the Glutes and Latissimus Dorsi.

Kenny Croxdale
I understand the same groups are involved but they’re obviously not involved in the same proportions....right? And I also understand that the low bar emphasizes the posterior chain which is made up of the largest muscle’s in the body. When I said the low bar uses more muscle I was referring to total loaded muscle mass.

The OP never differentiated whether or not he was referring to muscle mass, muscles groups, etc but I assumed he was talking about total muscle mass. Are you saying the quad dominant high bar squat uses more total muscle mass than the posterior chain dominant low bar squat? If you’re talking about muscle groups or total number of muscles I don’t see the significance of it. I would imagine I use the same high bar muscle groups to some degree to squat down and pick a pencil up off the floor.
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
I understand the same groups are involved but they’re obviously not involved in the same proportions....right? And I also understand that the low bar emphasizes the posterior chain which is made up of the largest muscle’s in the body. When I said the low bar uses more muscle I was referring to total loaded muscle mass.
Exactly

Kenny Croxdale
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
This isn't my experience.
Exception To The Rule

Then you are an exception to the rule.

The lower back is quickly and easily overtrained for the majority of lifters, especially with Conventional Deadlifter.

Another factor that lifters often overlook is how involved the back and core other exercises, like Squats.

Once a week Deadlifts take their toll on the back. Lower back fatigue (Overreaching which precedes Overtraining) is exacerbated with Squat once or twice a week.

Kenny Croxdale
 
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kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
If a program already includes deadlifts, which style of squats would complement deadlifts the most and result in the more hypothetical "all around" strength? The deadlifts already work the posterior chain to begin with. The high bar squats would work the anterior chain a bit more than low bar squats.

Would the body recover from deadlifts faster if the squats were high bar?
Great Question

There is some empirical data demonstrating some validity to your hypothetical.

1) Jon Kuc, #24 Post Above. Kuc High Bar Squatted 832 lbs as a 242 lb lifter and pulled an 870 lbs Conventional Deadlift.

2) A friend of mine trained with a guy, who's Powerlifting Training revolved around High Bar Squat prior to meets. He had a good Squat and really good Deadlift

3) Dr Fred Hatfield. Hatfield was a advocate of utilizing High Bar Squat and then going to Low Bar Squats Training prior to a Powerlifting Meet.

4) My personal experience. High Bar Squats kill my lower back. However, I shifted from a Low Bar Narrow Back Squat Lifter to a Low Bar Wide Stance Squat, employing less back and maintaining a more upright positition with more leg drive.

What I found was the my lower back was good go for my "Lower Back Deadlift Training Day".

Would one set of deadlifts per week be enough if the squats were high bar?
Possibly

Lifters who chronically overtrain their Deadlift need to change something, such as High Bar Squats.

What I found to be the most effective method that increased my back recovery was performing Heavy Belt Squats with a Spud Belt Squat Belt. This minimizes the involvement of the lower back, placing the workload on the glutes, hamstrings and quads.

In conjunction with Heavy Belt Squat, I found pushing the intensity with low volume Low Bar Wide Stance Squats allowed me to maintain my technique and a feel for Heavy Squats.

Take Home Message

If you lower back is chronically tired when it "Deadlift Day", something need to change that allows your back to recover. Some experimentation is required to figure it out.

Kenny Croxdale
 

Jeff

Level 4 Valued Member
There is still another consideration. I am into kiteboarding which is a water sport. I want to look good on the water. Well developed quadriceps look good. So high bar squats it is. That was easier than I thought.
 

Jeff

Level 4 Valued Member
And deep high bar squats are better for mobility which is also a good thing.
 

krg

Level 5 Valued Member
Exception To The Rule

Then you are an exception to the rule.

The lower back is quickly and easily overtrained for the majority of lifters, especially with Conventional Deadlifter.

Another factor that lifters often overlook is how involved the back and core other exercises, like Squats.

Once a week Deadlifts take their toll on the back. Lower back fatigue (Overreaching which precedes Overtraining) is exacerbated with Squat once or twice a week.

Kenny Croxdale
It may just be that I came to barbells from kettlebells and there is enough similarity between the swing hip hinge and the deadlift and that had already strengthened my back. I also lift narrow sumo - just can't get conventional to feel natural at all.

Squats I just find tough - hips more than back
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
It may just be that I came to barbells from kettlebells and there is enough similarity between the swing hip hinge and the deadlift and that had already strengthened my back.
That's Not It

Yes, there is some similarity between the Kettlebell Swing and Deadlift.

Kettlebell Swings are an effective Auxiliary Exercise for the Deadlift. As I have noted in other post, Heavy Kettlebell Swings (with a Kettlebell that is around your body weight or greater) has been shown (Research Dr Bret Contreras) to produce Power Output that is close to the Olympic Movements.

If (as you state) strengthening your lower back was the key to multiple Deadlift Training Session each week, strong Deadlifters would incorporate Multiple Deadlift Training Sessions. However, the inverse is true.

The majority of good and great Deadlifters only train the Deadlift once a week or every other week. Research by Dr Tom McLaughlin determined what Powerlifter knew for a long time, the lower back is quickly and easily overtrained.

Louie Simmons made a profound statement about the Deadlift years ago, "It (the Deadlift) takes more than it give back." That because of the recovery time required for the lower back as well as the strain on the Central Nervous System (think of it as the "Motherboard").

A More Likely Reasons

Based on a cursory reading of your response, it appears that you are a novice to the Deadlift.

Anything and everything initially works for Novice Lifters due to...

Training Age

Your Training Age refers to how long you have been training, not your chronological age. Research and empirical data have demonstrated that Novice Lifters are much slower to adapt to training. That means they are capable of Multiple Training Sessions with the same exercise each week and can train that way for long periods; around 8 - 12 week before adaptation occurs and they need to make changes.

Advance Lifter adapt much faster and need to make training changes more often; around 3 - 4 weeks.

This has to do with...

The General Adaptation Syndrome

This simply means the body will adapt to any new stimulus at some point or die.

I also lift narrow sumo - just can't get conventional to feel natural at all.
Tip: Do the Squat-Stance Deadlift | T Nation

Your "Narrow Sumo" is a Squat Stance Deadlift. Ed Coan uses this method.

The bottom line is do what feels natural and works for you.

With that said, at time performing Conventional and Sumo Deadlifts will increase your Squat Sumo Deadlift.

Kenny Croxdale



 
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