Low Bar Back Squat

In this article we will do an in-depth analysis of the low bar back squat, offering coaches and athletes all the resources the need to maximize low bar back squat performance. In the below sections you will find:

  1. Low Bar Back Squat Technique Video
  2. Advanced Low Bar Back Squatting Tips
  3. Muscles Worked
  4. Benefits of the Low Bar Back Squat

Muscles Worked

The low bar back squat is a squatting variation that has the lifter place the barbell slightly lower on the back than in the high bar back squat. By doing so, the loading is shifted slightly more to the posterior chain (see muscles below) due to the lifter assuming a more horizontal back angle (as opposed to the more vertical torso position in the high bar back squat). The below muscle groups are primarily targeted when performing the low bar back squat, in no specific order.

  • Gluteals
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Posterior Shoulder and Traps

Low Bar Back Squat Exercise Demo

In the below video the low bar back squat is demonstrated, along with some helpful low bar back squat tips to maximize squat strength and performance.

Who Should Low Bar Back Squat?

In an earlier article we discussed the low bar back squat vs the high bar back squat, and what athletes and coaches needed to keep in mind when determining which squat variation they should use. The most important aspect is to determine why you are doing squats and select based upon your goals.

Goal #1: General Strength and Muscle Hypertrophy / Fitness

This goal is pretty broad, as it includes nearly everyone other than powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters. Including low bar back squats is just as important as including high bar back squats and other compound lifts (like deadlifts, carries, etc). A well-rounded squatting ability can help to build strength and muscle tissue and can really enhance overall progress over time. Neglecting one squatting variation over the other (either because you are better at one than the other, or simply just because) can leave you vulnerable to strength and muscle imbalances and/or stagnation. Coaches and athletes can simply swap squatting styles every cycle or choose to do squatting variations on a rotating basis to combat stagnante squat performance.

Goal #2: Powerlifting

If you are a powerlifter (or have similar goals), they key is to squat as much weight as possible. With that said, the leverages for most people are more advantageous when doing low bar squats; hence why most powerlifters low bar back squat in competition. Regularly low bar back squatting is necessary for skill, strength, and muscular development for these athletes.

High bar back squats, however, should still be included as an accessory lift to aid in the development of the quadriceps muscles and to help round out overall squat development. Getting stronger at high bar back squats can increase overall leg strength and size, which can lead to overall performance enhancements in the low bar back squat (assuming the athlete still trains the low bar back squat).

Goal #3: Olympic Weightlifting

Olympic weightlifters (and even some competitive fitness athletes) do squats primarily to boost leg strength and development necessary for the Olympic lifts (cleans and snatches). While low bar back squats do target the lower body, the mechanics and joint angles trained during the low bar back squat are significantly different than those needed when doing front squats, cleans, and high bar back squats. For this reason, Olympic weightlifters have primary done high bar back squats and front squats to develop strength in the exact positional alignments needed to transfer over to cleans and snatches (an upright torso with high amounts of knee flexion).

The inclusion of low bar back squats may still happen with these athletes, as increasing low bar back squat strength can still increase general body strength and mass, which may be helpful for some individuals. However, including pulls and squat volume (high bar back squat and front squat) can also have the same effect without altering mechanics and techniques necessary for successful weightlifting.

Why Low Bar Back Squat?

In this section we will discuss a few reasons as to why an athlete or coach may program low bar back squats into training sessions and/or select them as their primary squatting modality. Note, that squatting (all types) plays a significant role in overall leg and back strength and performance. The differences between low bar back squats and high bar back squats can be read here in our Ultimate Back Squat Guide.

Squat More Weight

As briefly mentioned above, if the goal is to simply squat more weight, regardless of joint angles, the low bar back squat generally allows athletes to move greater loads due to the greater leverage the hips and back have (as well as slightly less range of motion needed at the bottom of the squat). Sports like powerlifting (see below) test one’s ability to squat the most weight, which in this case often will direct an athlete to learn and master the low bar back squat.

Sport-Specificity (see goals above)

The above section details out three common goals athletes have when including squats into a training program. The key is to first understand that squats in the general sense are a movement which can help build leg and back strength, improve the quality of life of most individuals, and set a foundation for athletic development (regardless of the style). As a lifter and athlete progresses, the squat becomes either a metric for sports performance (such that it is THE objective metric for powerlifting competitions OR simply a means to increase strength necessary for a specific movement, such as the clean in Olympic weightlifting). Once you determine your need for squatting in your program, you can then determine which squat pattern is best at that time.

Increase Posterior Chain Development

Low bar back squats are done in a way that has the lifter leaning more horizontally in the squat, therefore placing loading on the back, lower back, glutes, and hamstring. By doing so, there is a greater amount of the actual load placed on the posterior chain rather than the quadriceps, (opposite of the high bar back squat).

Issues with High Bar Squats

If you find yourself with long legs and a long torso, you may find it difficult to assume a vertical position in a squat (high bar back squat). Due to your anthropometrics, you may have a tendency to excessively lean forwards in a squat and keep the hips back behind you rather then under. For some individuals, the low bar back squat will allow them to unlock leg and back strength and squat mechanics better than the high bar back squat simply because of their limbs/mobility concerns.

In the event this is you, you need to pay attention however to the amount of quadriceps loading you are missing out on by only performing low bar back squats. You can combat this by including quadriceps training exercise (step ups, lunges, belt squats, leg press, goblet squats, etc) to fully balance out this movement.

Build a Better Squat (Low and High Bar Back Squat)

Take a look below at some of our best squatting guides and tips from the best squat athletes and coaches!

Featured Image: @phil_cfrn on Instagram