Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Squats Part 5(a) Low Bar Back Squat

This is the fifth Part of a series on Squats, the earlier posts can be found here: 

In the previous sections we've discussed that the back squat is a primal motion, it is not an invented exercise, it's something that we all do everyday in different forms.  While it is a basic movement when we load it with weights there are several points to make it a safe and efficient exercise.

The Low Bar Back Squat

The low bar back squat is often referred to as  Power Lifter style.  It is the form of squat recommended by .
Mark Rippetoe, in Starting Strength

When we do any functional weight training movement we want to bring as much muscle mass into the exercise as possible. The low bar back squat recruits more muscle mass then the high bar back squat or the front squat. While all of the squats train the glutes,  posterior chain and core stabilizers the low bar back squat recruits the hamstrings and glutes much more than the other two,  which place a much greater emphasis on the glutes.

Bar Path Concept

As the weight on the bar becomes heavier the center of gravity of your body and the bar approach the center of mass of the bar.  

Low Bar Back Squat
- More horizontal back
- Less knee bend, less quad activation
- More hip angle, more hamstring and glute 
In order to remain stable the the center of gravity of the load must stay over the the balance point, which in this system is the back 2/3 of the shoelaces.  Your foot provides the levers to keep you standing, with the ankle being the fulcrum, positioned toward the back of the foot.  The heel distance to the fulcrum(ankle) is much shorter than the distance to the toes. Because of this arrangement the center of gravity occurs about 2/3 back from the length of the shoe laces.  Imagine a slot positioned vertically and extending from a point 2/3 back from your toe on your shoelaces.  This is the path the bar must travel to remain in balance and aligned with your center of gravity. for the rest of this article will refer to this position has the middle of the foot.just remember, it is the middle of the whole foot the middle of the fore foot. Remember, think of a slot rising vertically from this point, this is the slot you want to keep the bar in the entire lift. 

If the weight is not balanced, leverage inefficiencies occur which will make the lift much harder to complete than the correct bar path would. Any deviation form our imagined slot will add inefficiency, difficulty to the lift in manner that will not benefit your training goals. 

High Bar Back Squat
- More vertical back
- More knee bend(More Quad Activation)
- Less hip bend(Less Hamstring and Glute 
This center of gravity concept also explains the difference back angles required for the high bar back squat and the low bar back squat. The high bar back squat is a more upright torso which is caused by the need to keep the bar over the center of gravity(or in our imagined slot). In the case of the low bar back squat back angle angle of rotation at the hips is going to be somewhat more horizontal, keeping the lower bar in the same imagined slot. You will bend at the hips creating more of an angle on the back(with respect to the floor - REMEMBER THE BACK ITSELF STAYS STRAIGHT) so that's a bar remains over the shoe laces(our imagined slot). 

Remember this is a angle created by bending from the hips not a flexion of the back. The back always remain straight the angle comes from rotation around the hips. As we will get to in the next post the front squat is a movement with an even more vertical angle on the back then high bar back squat due to the position of the bar in front and on the rack position.

The grip has your hands over the top of the bar.  You should be supporting no weight if the bar in your hands or arms, all of the weight is resting on your back. They are simply there for light positioning.

If flexibility will allow a narrow grip will help you to contract your upper-back more providing a padded rack toward the bottom shelf of your scapula. Some people will have difficulty with a narrow grip until shoulder flexibility improves. I will post more on shoulder flexibility in a future post.  In the mean time see Increase Shoulder Flexibility Fast with This Shoulder Stretch

Spotting the Back squat

For all practical purposes I DON'T believe the back squat can be spotted effectively.

You'll see two ways 

Behind with arms wrapped around the torso. 

  • Really, how much assistance can be given?
  • This just looks silly.

Two people on each side of the bar.
In practice, in my experience, two people on either side of the bar cannot lift at exactly the same time with exactly the same force, regardless of the level of communication.  This causes, however slight, a torsion on the bar, which is exactly the last thing you want when attempting to lift a too heavy weight.  Most back injuries are caused by torsion, twisting of the spine under load. 

Use a proper squat rack with safety bars or Bumper plates that you can dump.

I know this position on spotting the squat will be controversial.  I would appreciate any comments and am happy to entertain disagreement.  Please comment if you disagree,

This post will continue as Part 5(b) Low Bar Back Squat
After that we will tackle the Front Squat in Part 6 and try and wrap up Squats(For now) in Part 7

Previous Sections Can Be Found below:

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