Leg Training – High Bar SquatsPosted: December 11, 2014
Nearly all the techniques described in Brute Force Strength’s Book of Techniques are designed primarily to increase your power. High bar squats, conversely, are a technique used to maximize quadriceps hypertrophy and build muscle.
Muscles Used for this Exercise
- Primary Muscle Groups: Quadriceps
- Secondary Muscle Groups: Glutes, Hamstrings
- Stabilizers: Abdominals/Core, Upper Back (Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Trapezius), Lower Back (Spinal Erectors)
- May be used as a Primary or Alternate Primary exercise if goal is size versus strength
High bar squats increase the emphasis on your quads by using a narrower stance and a more upright torso.
- Equipment: Equipment for high bar squats is the same as for power or low bar squats (aka squats).
- Squat rack – you will be lifting too much weight to lift the bar onto your shoulders. Set the rack height at mid to upper chest height so that you will have good leverage to unrack and walk the weight out. Set the safety pins low enough so that you can squat to full depth without bumping them and high enough so that they can catch the bar if you get into trouble.
- If you can, set up the squat rack so that you face away from the mirror. Your motion in the mirror can distract you causing your form to falter.
- T-Shirt – use a relatively tight t-shirt. The bar will be less likely to slide on a t-shirt than on your bare skin (ie a tank top), and a tight t-shirt will keep the shirt from sliding between the bar and your skin. For additional stability, run chalk along your back and shoulders where the bar rests.
- Shoes – lift in shoes with a solid sole. Running or athletic shoes have soles that will compress under the weight of your body and the bar greatly decreasing your stability.
Basic technique for high bar squatting is very closely aligned to power squats. There are, however, a few differences beyond just bar position.
- Bar Placement: The bar should rest on your traps. When you grip the bar, slide the bar down until it settles into the little shelf on top of your traps. The bar should rest on your traps, avoid placing it directly on your neck.
- Hand Placement/Grip: Grip the bar as close to your shoulders as your flexibility will allow. Moving your hands out wider, further from your shoulders will reduce tension on your shoulders and elbows. If you lack flexibility this can alleviate some strain but it will also loosen your upper back, reducing your stability. Conversely, bringing your hands in will tighten your upper back, increasing your stability.
- Foot Placement: Once set up, your feet should be set at least hip width apart and no wider than shoulder width. Point your toes forward or just slightly out. Your stance for high bar squats should be close to your conventional deadlift stance than your power squat stance.
- Step under the bar using the hand and bar placement as discussed above. To unrack the bar, your feet should be hip width apart, with your toes pointed forward (see the first frame of the walkout diagram below).
- Take a deep breath, filling your lungs and abdomen completely with air. Drive the air down and tighten your core, blocking to create intra-abdominal pressure and stabilize your spine.
- Rotating your torso as a solid unit, drive your hips forward under the bar. Lift the bar straight up out of the rack using strong leg/quad drive – the bar should pop right out of the rack. Let the bar settle before walking out.
- Watch your feet as you walk out, to ensure correct placement. Take two short, quick steps back from the rack to set up, as shown below.
- When ready to squat, take another deep breath into your lungs and abdomen and block again, tightening your core and holding the air in.
- Sit down into the squat as if sitting into a chair. Keep your head and chest up as you descend and your back flat throughout entire lift. Because of the narrow stance, your knees may drift forward, but should not extend forward beyond your toes.
- Depth: Squat as deeply as you can while maintaining good form – head and chest up, back flat. At a minimum you should squat 1-2” below parallel.
- Drive the weight back up to the starting position. Begin to exhale once you pass the sticking point and continue breathing out as the lift completes.
- Complete the lift by locking out your knees, squeezing your glutes to drive your hips forward and bringing your back fully erect.
- Concentrate on moving the bar down and up in a straight line over the middle of your feet, and your center of gravity. Your back should remain relatively upright throughout the lift with very little forward lean. This will maintain tension on your legs throughout the range of motion (ROM).
- If your lower spine curves or flexes at the bottom (sometimes called the ‘butt wink’), keep your depth above the point that your spine begins to flex.
- Select a weight that you can perform all of your repetitions using proper technique. Since the focus is on building muscle instead of power, controlled movements are more important for high bar squats than explosive power and fast reps.
- Strength and weight moved is not the primary goal of the high bar squat. The weight used for high bar squats should be lower than weight used for power squats.
- Leaning forward: Keep your torso as erect as possible and the bar directly over the center of your feet throughout the full ROM. Leaning forward during the lift takes tension off your quads, defeating the purpose of the lift.
- Not squatting to full depth: Complete these squats with the full ROM. At a minimum you should squat to 1-2” below parallel, if your mobility allows it without compromising technique.
- Rounding your back: Keep your back flat throughout the lift, using the breathing and bracing technique described.
- Don’t place the bar directly on your neck, it should be resting on your traps. Resting the bar on your neck could lead to injury.
- Always use a spotter when squatting. Make sure your spotter knows how to properly assist you if you get into trouble with your lift.
- Consider performing your squats in a squat rack or cage with safety bars in case you are unable to complete the lift. Before starting, make sure the safety bars are set properly for your height. You should be able to complete a full squat without touching the bars, but with the barbell on the safety bars you should be able to easily get out from underneath it.
- Never dump the barbell onto the safety bars unless your spotter is aware and able to get out of the way.
- High Bar Squats for Power: If you are built with relatively long thigh bones in comparison to your torso, you may find that using the high bar position can extend your torso lever, helping reduce your tendency to lean. The rest of the lift should follow the power squat technique.