Low-Bar Squat Uses More Muscle?

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jca17

More than 300 posts
I guess there's clearly a continuum of placement possibilities, but I thought that low bar and high bar were the standards because of the anatomy of natural "shelves" in the back musculature. Don't you kind of end up in no-man's land if you try to go below traps but above the delts?
 

kennycro@@aol.com

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Powerlifters seem have less muscle definition in the legs, even at a comparably low body fat percentage.
Muscular Definition

Body fat percentage is the determinate factor in Muscular Definition.

Thus, a Powerlifter and a Olympic Lifter at comparable body weight and body fat percentage will display essentially the same Muscular Definition.

The Difference In Olympic Lifter Leg Development

1) Full Range High Bar Back Squat engage and develops more muscle fiber/muscle mass.

2) Full Range High Bar Squat produce greater "Muscle Damage" than Partial Range Powerlifting Squats.

"Muscle Damage"

Dr Brad Schoenfeld's research determined there are three key elements that increase muscle mass, Hypertrophy. "Muscle Damage" is one of the these three.

There are several factors that trigger "Muscle Damage". One of them is...

Placing Muscles Under A Loaded Stretch

Olympic High Bar Full Squat do just that; the bottom part (a#@ To Grass) Squat position places both the Quad and Glute under a loaded stretch.

1) John Parrillo (great Bodybuilding Coach of the 1990's) found that his Bodybuilders that stretched between work sets were able to increase muscle mass.

2) Dr Jose Antonio's (around that same time period as Parrillo) research with bird determined that loaded muscle stretching increased muscle mass, as well.

3) Dr Jake Wilson's research in his tenure at the University of Tampa Human Performance Lab expanded on Antonio's research with real people. Wilson found loaded stretches between sets (as Parrillo utilized) were effective with increasing muscle mass.

Wilson's determined that loaded stretching muscles for 30 between training set, increased muscle mass.

Summary

1) Muscular Definition is determined by Body Fat Percentage.

2) Full Range Movements elicit and develop more muscle mass.

3) "Muscle Damage" is a key component of Hypertrophy. One of the elements of "Muscle Damage" occurs when a loaded stretch is place on muscles; such as the Full "a#@ to grass" Squat performed by Olympic Lifters.

Kenny Croxdale
 
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Rif

More than 500 posts
Master Certified Instructor
You meant it doesn't matter if it is HBBS or Front SQ as they are the only ones that allows upright stance for most people? Is that what you meant by 'regular style back squat'? They are the only two choices, yes? Clearly LBBS, as you mentioned, does not let you do that.
Abdul, yes, they are the two choices but there is an olympic style hi bar where the bar is very high on the traps and 'regular style' back squat where it is not very high, nor low bar but I'm confusing the issue I think. The key is that one can stay upright at the start and finish of the lift.

Some low bar squats in power competitions can be on the rear delts and not the traps which causes one to lean a lot
Hope this clears up the confusion
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
1) Muscular Definition is determined by Body Fat Percentage.

2) Full Range Movements elicit and develop more muscle mass.
Cyclists have the best legs, anyway. ;) Just my opinion. And somehow they get that way, despite a relatively small range of motion...
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Cyclists have the best legs, anyway. ;) Just my opinion. And somehow they get that way, despite a relatively small range of motion...
Cyclist do have great legs as do Track Sprinters, great Quads and Glutes.

Both Cyclist and Track Sprinters also have fairly low body fat percentages. Great Muscular Definition in their legs, arm, abs, etc.

Kenny Croxdale
 

Bill Been

More than 500 posts
Anna nailed it. I used to race BMX and I have stunningly beautiful legs.

I’m hoping someone familiar with the details of Rippetoe’s argument that a low bar back squat uses the most muscle mass will chime in with a counter argument.

The moment arms that come into existence during a low-bar squat are different- by necessity- to those created in a HBBS or FS. There are unavoidable implications associated with the lengths of these moment arms and where they are reacted out. In one case they are reacted out to greater degree by the largest muscle groups on a human body. In the others, less so. With this information at hand, we can figure out a way for some other squat variant to use more muscle mass than a LBBS.
 

Steve Freides

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Senior Certified Instructor
@Abdul Rasheed, if you try a barbell front squat, try the Franken-squat version - get the bar on shoulders in the front, but stick your arms straight out in front of you, like Frankenstein's monster, then do a front squat. You will be highly motivated to maintain an upright posture. I _love_ this lift, and when I do it, I often do it in Olympic lifting shoes to maximize the effect (but I'm fine barefoot as well).

The high bar back squat is an interesting, and very valuable, in between. Because the bar is behind you, you have some ability to lean forward without dumping the bar, but still not much, and as the weight gets heavier, leaning forward will work less and less well. I love this lift, too.

In my current training, I sometimes do a prying version of the high bar back squat, in Olympic shoes, where I go rock bottom, exhale, and move around before re-pressurizing and coming back up. I just use enough weight to notice, around 2/3 bodyweight most times, which for me is not difficult to stand back up with after hanging out in the bottommost position for a while. I find it a wonderful tonic for my lower back after bench pressing.

-S-
 

MikeTheBear

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The moment arms that come into existence during a low-bar squat are different- by necessity- to those created in a HBBS or FS. There are unavoidable implications associated with the lengths of these moment arms and where they are reacted out. In one case they are reacted out to greater degree by the largest muscle groups on a human body. In the others, less so. With this information at hand, we can figure out a way for some other squat variant to use more muscle mass than a LBBS.
Moment arms. Physics. Great stuff. And also a lead in to my post.

WARNING: This will be very long. That's why I waited until the weekend to post this. I'll start with an observation that I have made after years of reading about fitness and doing fitness (is that an expression?) Here is that observation: the human body doesn't always respond to training they way we would expect it to respond. I can think of several examples but here is one that many on here can relate to because many of us have read Kenneth Jay's Cardio Code. The basic idea is this: just because you have a high heart rate does NOT mean you are developing cardiovascular fitness. That means the whole idea of "lifting weights faster" as a substitute for traditional forms of cardio is flawed. This is frustrating. I wish it were not true. I wish I could meet all of my fitness needs with weight training. After all, "common sense" says that if my heart is beating fast it must be getting some benefit, right? But it doesn't matter what I want or what I "think" the result should be, even if that result seems to be based on "common sense." The plain fact is that the science shows otherwise. How we "think" the body should response after "lifting weights faster" is not how the body actually responds.

Let's go back to the front squat. Now, before I start, let me state that I am not trying to make the argument that front squats are the best squat. It is going to sound that way, but that is not the point. Rather, the point will be to illustrate the "physiological paradox" I described above. Let's begin.

As one of the posts on here mentioned, Marty Gallagher, former powerlifter, recommended the front squat as the best type of squat for general athletic training. I recall reading that myself although I cannot seem to find the article where he stated that. Marty is not alone. Here are other coaches who speak very highly of the front squat for general athletic training:

Charles Poliquin: Poliquin has stated that the front squat "is a true measure of athletic strength. Over the years, I have used the front squat in predictor lifts formulas to assess one’s sport performance. For example, in speed skating the front squat combined to the incline press can establish very accurately your 500 meters skating time. In bobsleigh, knowing how much you can front squat, close grip bench press and power clean can estimate your start time with the sled."

J.V. Askem: Many of you have probably not heard of J.V. Sadly he passed away in 2003 of brain cancer. At the time I was trying to read everything I could about Olympic lifting in an effort to teach myself the lifts and J.V. was one of the few who wrote articles on the lifts. His old articles are still preserved by a lifter in Ontario. J.V. wrote the following concerning front squats: "When incorporating leg exercises into one's training schedule, the FRONT SQUAT is probably the purest test of usable leg strength there is. Unlike the back squat, where a trainee has a tendency to lean forward, and use more of the back sided muscles than might be desired, the front squat keys more on the muscles that straighten the leg, namely the quads." Did you catch that? It is "the purest test of usable leg strength."

Dan John: Not sure where I read this but I recall Dan writing that he liked the front squat better for developing strength using low reps and preferred the back squat for higher reps. His beginner Olympic lifting program only uses front squats.

Ivan Adadjiev and Bulgarian weightlifters: Abadjiev removed back squats from the training of his lifters and had them only do front squats. I realize that what Bulgarian weightlifters do is not the best example of what should be done for general athletic training. For one, they trained for weightlifting and not for general athletic training. They were also elite lifters with great genetics and used drugs. Still, it is a relevant data point.

Chet Morjaria: Chet is not nearly as well known as the coaches above. I came across his articles on Breaking Muscle. Concerning the front squat he wrote: "From an athletic perspective, front squats facilitate awesome core strength and have incredible carry over into other strength movements - not just strength-wise, but in terms of position and mechanics too. I’ve found that when I treat front squats with reverence, they pay me back in kind, and everything from my deadlift to my pull up numbers go up." I mention Chet because, based on the photos of him in his articles, he and I seem to have the same body type. So if front squats did good things for him, perhaps they would do good things for me. I experimented and did only front squats for several weeks. I also noticed that front squats seemed to "improve many things."

So what's going on here? Of the three main barbell squats - high bar, low bar, and front - the front squat is the "weakest" of the three. (I am not counting overhead squats as a "squat" because the amount of weight used would not be enough to contribute significantly to leg strength.) The front squat uses the least amount of weight, and as Rippetoe has mentioned, it uses minimal if any hamstring strength. (What he leaves out, however, is that front squats do rely a lot on the glutes.) Despite all its "weakness," the front squat seems to come out on top among coaches who train athletes. To be fair, the above evidence I mentioned is anecdotal. Other than Poliquin, who supposedly created formulas based on front squat numbers and performance in other athletic tasks (although we can question just how accurate these are), all of the other coaches presented no actual data to support their contentions. It was just their observations. Still, when several respected coaches have the same anecdotal observations, we should take notice.

So I ask again: what's going on here?

If Rippetoe is correct that the low bar squat uses the most muscle mass and, because it uses the most weight, should produce the most strength gain. As result, "common sense" would say that the low bar squat should have the most carryover to general athletic endeavors. And yet it doesn't, at least not according to the coaches I listed above.

There are two explanations for this. The first explanation is that Rippetoe is wrong. The low bar squat does not use "more muscle mass," and the fact that more weight can be used is due only to a leverage advantage and the additional weight will not result in stronger muscles. The second explanation is that Rippetoe is 100% correct, but we have a "physiological paradox" where all the moment arms and angles and whatnot simply do not translate to better athletic performance.

I am willing to accept the second explanation. Even if I concede that Rippetoe is 100% correct, it doesn't matter, and the reason it doesn't matter is that, as J.V. Askem put it, the low bar squat does not produce "usable" leg strength. That doesn't mean it's completely useless. But let's be honest: the low bar squat is not a natural squat. It needs to be taught and for many their first experience with it is discomfort. It is a deadlift with the bar on the back. To lift the most in a PL meet it is absolutely the right technique. And as has been mentioned, it can be very helpful for increasing deadlift strength. But if you want to improve your athletic performance, then maybe, just maybe, you would be better served with the high bar or front squat.
 

mikerobinson

Double-Digit Post Count
@MikeTheBear

Thank you for the post. If I've understood you correctly, you are stating that the front squat may be superior for the legs, and may have the greatest carry over to athletic performance.

However, what if a person didn't prioritise those two things. What if they wanted the most 'bang for their buck' from one exercise for either all over body strength or building all over muscle mass, not just the legs? And they weren't interested in sport performance or competing in powerlifting.

Aren't we back to beginning: the HB or LB or somewhere in between per @Rif (and actually per Andy Bolton) for generating all over strength or muscle?
 
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Kettlebelephant

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However, what if a person didn't prioritise those two things. What if they wanted the most 'bang for their buck' from one exercise for either all over body strength or building all over muscle mass, not just the legs? And they weren't interested in sport performance or competing in powerlifting.
But wouldn't it be better to use the FSQ, because it uses more quads if you're already doing deadlifts?
Why would you do 2 lifts that use a lot of posterior chain and relatively little anterior chain if you could do one that uses mainly anterior and one that uses mainly posterior chain?

The following is just an exegerated example so please don't take it too literally.
The triceps makes up the bulk of your upper arm size (~2/3), while the biceps only takes up 1/3.
If you want big and strong upper arms would you rather do 1 biceps and 1 triceps exercise or just 2 tricep exercises?
 

mikerobinson

Double-Digit Post Count
@Kettlebelephant

That's the thing. I didn't mention deadlifts. Nor did (I think) the original post.

It might be a person isn't or can't deadlift, perhaps because of injury, or their current cycle. Therefore, is after a squat that is going to give them the most bang for their buck in terms of all over strength and muscle development.

I have no bias in this, or preference, just trying to figure out the answer like everyone else.
 

Oscar

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
But wouldn't it be better to use the FSQ, because it uses more quads if you're already doing deadlifts?
I don't disagree with this idea, but I'm not sure the front squat uses more quads.

Even if the low bar back squat is "posterior dominant" as they say, the quads are under heavy load. For once, the knee is extending. But additionally, both the hamstrings and calves are trying to bend the knee, so the quad is working against those muscles too, being the only knee extensor. Knee flexion range of motion is a lot less for sure.
 
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