One of the most common discussions in the training world is whats the better squat – a lowbar or highbar squat?
Similar to the discussion between a squat with elevated heels and flat heels, there is no best squat.
Both Techniques, the Lowbar Squat which I call Power Squat and the Highbar Squat which I call Olympic Squat have their advantages.
So it's not either or. Its when to use which variation for the most benefits.
First, whats the difference between Power Squat and Olympic Squat:
– You put the bar low on your back, so it sits on mid traps and rear delts
– You take a wider grip on the bar
– You let your elbows move behind the bar
– You initiate the descend which moves your hip back
– You keep your knees over your ankles at all times
– You lower till you hit parallel or slightly below
– Then you lift the weight back up by extending your hip
– Then you lift the weight back up by extending your hip and knees
After looking at the technical differences in execution of the two lifts, lets look at their individual advantages:
Advantages of the power squat
1. Higher Loads – Due to the higher involvement of hip extension, less knee flexion and lower range of motion much higher loads can be used in the Power Squat.
2. More specific to the sport of powerlifting - The sport of powerlifting is all about moving the highest loads possible over a specific range. The technical advantage of the Power Squat makes it the #1 choice for a Powerlifter.
3. Easier to learn – especially for beginners who lack mobility and muscular balance the Power Squat is easier to learn from a recruitment and range perspective.
Advantages of the Olympic Squat
1. Increased Recruitment of the Vastus Medialis (VMO) – Due to the increased knee flexion, the knees moving past the toes and a greater range you recruit more Vastus Medialis, one of the main knee stabilizers, in the Olympic Squat.
2. Increased gains and maintenance of mobility - All major joints - ankle, knee, hip and shoulder - need to have great mobility to be able to get in the lowest position of the Olympic Squat with your hamstrings covering the calves and your elbows being vertically under the bar.
3. Increased gains and maintenance of Muscular Balance – To descend into the lowest position of an Olympic Squat and to stand back up with an erect posture all the major muscles of the hip and knee need to be balanced. Otherwise your knees will buckle, you will forward in the descent or shoot your hips back trying to come back up.
So both variations of the Squat have their advantages which you can use in your training and the training of your clients and athletes based on their weak links and goals.
One of the best examples of how to implement these two variations comes from Ed Coan, the greatest powerlifter in history and the only man to ever squat over 1000lbs raw in over 18 events. I spent 4 days with him in February 2016 when we both presented at the Hawai'i Strength Conference. I were some of the best talks I've ever had. And one of my main take-aways was how he implemented both Olympic and Power Squat in the preparation for his sport – Powerlifting. What he did was to use an Olympic Squat in the offseason, because it was his weak squat and he believed that the weak links are what limits the chain, so he focused on it, in his offseason. Once he started preparing for a competition about 12 weeks before the event, he moved to the Power Squat because its more specific to his sport. Considering his success this is a valuable point. One of the best pictures of him squatting you find here.
Personally in my daily work I primarily write programs and train General Population and Athletes. In both cases I exclusively use the Olympic Squat primarily for its Muscular Balance and Mobility Benefits. Which is the basis of Functional and Sustainable Strength…
Picture: YPSI Online Client and Personal Trainer Thomas Dybdahl from Aarhus, Denmark demonstrating the proper bottom position of an Olympic Squat.