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High Bar vs. Low Bar Squatting – A Biomechanical Analysis

June 2, 2013 - Uncategorized -

     There exist many controversies within the field of strength and conditioning.  Coaches argue their points of view regarding training modalities, methods, and exercise selection, often times obtaining little success in reaching any point of enlightenment regarding a topic.  Through my experience as a coach, and having participated in many such conversations, I can say two things for sure.  First off, these “discussions” rarely become situations in which one person speaks and another person attentively listens.  Second, nine times out of ten, people’s paradigms about a topic have been set in place from some other more successful person or establishment, without proper discovery by themselves or conducting (any) research whatsoever.  In life as well as in fitness It’s important to listen to many, and construct your own belief system; lets just consider this “professional integrity”.  Especially those of us who work under the grand umbrella that we call “health and fitness,” which is filled with more ambiguous bullshit information than any other field of study on the planet.  It should be concretely fixed into your mind already that anything you are told must be taken with a grain of salt – and that includes any suggestion that I myself make on this blog.  However, that being said, points of view, or suggestions backed up with practical evidence or detailed explanations on WHY things are done a certain way, simply cannot be ignored.  This discussion will focus on low bar vs. high bar squatting. Before we do, however, we must first explore some bio-mechanics which will make things clearer for us later on in this discussion.  
     When considering how one trains with barbells to get stronger, forces are, at the root of the movement, the most important explanation of why barbell training causes strength adaptations in the human body. Without them, getting stronger would just not be possible. The term force is used to describe any influence on the change of movement, direction, or geometrical structure of an object.  Barring wind resistance, all of the forces that exist in our physical world play a vital part in the completion of the lifts, and omitting just one of the necessary forces from the equation would hinder the effective execution of the lifts. As we squat, bench press, deadlift, press, or powerclean, each of the forces we encounter has its own individual role to play while at the same time acting in conjunction with the others.  These forces working together allow us to become stronger and lift more weight in a reasonably predictable manner. They also allow us to construct a replicable model, which we as coaches can compare each lifter’s unique anthropometry (the physical measure of an individual). When training with barbells, our bodies must overcome external forces by applying internal forces and taking advantage of our lever systems comprised of bone and muscle. 
  There are three different types of forces that we will discuss which will help us with our bio-mechanical analysis of the lifts.  These forces include compression, tensile, and moment forces.  Each of these forces is involved on the platform, and each plays an important role.  Furthermore, there is one force that supersedes all others in order of importance and without it, it would be physically impossible for us to strength train, the force of gravity.  Without gravity, no mass would constitute any weight, and without weight, we would have no external resistances to overcome. 

  The axial forces that we encounter during barbell training are the opposing forces of compression and tension.  Compression forces cause objects to shorten and occur when force is applied inward from opposite ends of an object. On the contrary, tension forces cause objects to lengthen and occur when force is applied outwards from opposite ends of an object. Everyday examples include squeezing a grape with our fingers and pulling a string taught, respectively.  Examples that fit our discussion more appropriately include the compression of our vertebral column during the back squat and the tension applied to the bones of the arms during the deadlift.  Compression and tension work in parallel and cannot exist without the other.  Assuming that we have the barbell balanced over mid-foot, when we walk out of the rack before we squat, the barbell’s weight is compressing the bones of our back and supporting structures in a plumb vertical line downward (because gravity always acts straight down).  At the same time however, our muscles are producing tensile force throughout our body to keep us upright and to overcome this compression force that gravity has on the mass of the barbell and ourselves (weight).  This concept can be further extended to our skeleton.  In order for our bones to keep their geometric shape, their composition must produce enough tensile force to counteract the compression force of the weight pushing down from above and the normal force exerted from the floor below.
  Moment force (also referred to as torque or moment) refers to the tendency of a force to cause rotation around an axis.  Depending on the type of barbell exercise, the three diagnostic angles (back, hip, knee) are all subject to some varying degree of moment force. It is this force made possible by gravity that must be overcome in order to successfully complete each lift and get stronger.  
From “Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition”

When considering the effect that moment has on various body segments during barbell training, we must consider a few things. In the wrench example indicated by diagram 1, the wrench represents the segment (or lever) in question, the bolt represents the fulcrum corresponding to the segment, and the hand represents the force acting on the segment.  When considering the biomechanics of barbell training, this external force vector represented by the hand will always conveniently act vertically downward due to the nature of gravity, and the external force applied to the system will simply be the weight of the barbell.  The moment arm – indicated in orange – is measured as the perpendicular distance away from the fulcrum (bolt) and the point where the force is applied (hand). In the context of barbell training, this will be the perpendicular distance between the barbell and the joint in question.  In diagram 1, this distance is 9 inches.  Now, to determine the amount of moment force being applied to the wrench, we simply multiply the moment arm distance by the weight of the barbell.  Assuming a 200 lb weight, the moment force on the bolt would be 1800 in•lbs.
     Diagrams 2 and 3 display the effect that manipulating the segment angle (with respect to gravity) and segment length have on moment force.  In diagram 2, the angle between the wrench and the weight has remained constant while the segment length has lengthened from 10 in to 14 in.  As a result, the moment arm distance increases from 9 in to approximately 15 in.  The product of the lengthened moment arm and the weight now equals 3000 in•lbs of torque around the bolt.  Therefore, all things equal, a longer segment length will correspond to a longer moment arm and yield a higher moment force.  With respect to barbell training, this is expressed as an increase in leverage.
From “Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition”

     Diagram 3 shows the effect that changing the segment angle has on the moment force of the fulcrum.  Here, the segment length stays the same as it was in diagram 1, but the angle has changed from 45 degrees to 90 degrees.  It is worth noting that moment force is greatest when force is applied at 90 degrees to the segment.  This is because the moment arm is the longest it can possibly be (moment arm length can never exceed segment length).  Here, the moment arm is expressed by the entire length of the wrench – a full 10 inches – yielding the highest amount of moment force that this combination of segment length and applied force can generate at 2000 in•lbs.  
     The chart below compares the 3 wrench examples and shows the effects that varying segment angles and lengths have on the leverage on the entire system.  As you can see, diagram 2 represents the greatest mechanical advantage to turn the bolt, and diagram 1 represents the least.  Notice that diagram 2 does not offer the most optimal set up possible with the application of force being 45 degrees to the wrench, however, it still offers more leverage than diagram 3 which displays a more efficient 90 degree line of pull to the wrench.  The 6 inch addition of moment arm length still overpowers – in terms of leverage – the more efficient line of pull in diagram 3 (Compare this example with using a cheater pipe on an actual wrench).

Variable
Diagram 1
Diagram 2
Diagram 3
Joint angle
45°
45°
90°
Segment length 
10 in
14 in
10 in
Moment Arm length
9 in
15 in
10 in
Total Moment Force (MA length X 200 lbs)
1800 in•lbs
3000 in•lbs
2000 in•lbs
     

      Below are two practical expressions of when the system represented in Diagram 3 is observed during training. 

     In both of the above diagrams you see the moment arm length equaling the segment arm length resulting in the most moment force around the joint in question.  These are the most difficult points during these two movements.  In the bicep curl diagram, where the forearm is perpendicular to gravity (the external force),  the biceps and other elbow flexors must produce the most force due to the greatest moment arm, and the same applies to the deltoids and other shoulder abductors during this point in the lateral raise.  This situation, when we see moment arm = segment length is commonly referred to as the “sticking point”.
   
APPLICATION
    Now that we have a nice understanding on how gravity, compression, tension, and moment forces are expressed in the context of barbell training, it’s time to discuss the squat.  The first thing to point out with the squat, as well as with any barbell or free weight exercise, is that in order to make efficient use of our lever systems, we must keep the weight in question over our center of balance.  For the squat, this position is directly over our mid foot.  Any horizontal deviation of the barbell from this balance point will produce an unwanted moment arm with a rather large segment length measuring from our mid foot all the way to the barbell (figure 2).  Even the smallest degree of forward (or less commonly backward) movement of the barbell from this point will create a leverage – that the body must somehow overcome – significant enough to drastically decrease the mechanical efficiency of the now “unbalanced” system.   This reasoning becomes obvious when you imagine leaning forward while standing with the bar on your back, or performing a deadlift with the bar over or in front of your toes.  This wasted energy will constitute a less than optimal application of force to the weight lifted and may result – especially during a near max effort – in a missed rep.  Assuming that the barbell is kept over mid foot at all times during the lifts, let’s begin to apply our knowledge of forces.   
From “Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition”

     In the three aforementioned wrench examples,  we were only concerned with how moment force affected one lever – the wrench, in what we call a single or uni-lever system.  The lateral raise and bicep curl examples were also examples of uni-lever systems dealing with one segment and one joint angle.  However, the squat is a multi-lever system composed of three main levers, namely, the back, femur, and shank.  These three levers rotate around two different joints to create what we call the three diagnostic angles.  They are: the back angle formed between the back and the floor,  the hip angle formed by the back and the proximal femur, and the knee angle between the distal femur and the shank.  Notice how they are separated by the invisible gravity vector bisecting the femur and the feet.  Just as we analyzed the wrench examples,  we will now be able to take an objective look at what each different type of squat offers us as a training stimulus.  
From “Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition”

    When we are standing upright out of the rack with our body held  with the barbell directly over our mid-foot, these diagnostic angles are exposed to very little – if any – moment force. Once we begin to descend however, these angles now begin to horizontally shift away from the gravity vector bisecting the femur, and resulting moment arms are developed. 
     The diagnostic angles are present regardless of the type of squat being performed, and the can offer an explanation for why we choose to perform one type of squat over another.  In the aforementioned bicep curl example, the moment arm created between the dumbbell and the humerus as the elbow begins to flex places turning force on the elbow joint. This moment force must be overcome through the application of force by the elbow flexors in order for the movement to be completed.  In the analysis of the squat,  the same rules apply regarding the size of the moment arm as well as the joints in question and all the muscles that affect the actions at those joints.  The diagram below illustrates these relationships.
From “Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 2nd Edition”

     As you can see, the front squat creates the longest moment arm between the knee and the gravity vector and the shortest moment arms for the back and hips.  Because of this, the muscles that extend the knee are going to be the primary movers of the lift, namely the quads.  On the contrary, the low bar position creates the longest moment arm for the hips and back, with the knee’s moment arm procuring the shortest.  This results with the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors (groin muscles) carrying the brunt of the load, requiring them to overcome the most leverage, and contributing the most to lifting the weight.  Equipped with this information, why do we choose one style over another?
    
**     It is also very important to note the relationship between these three squat styles and back moment.  Up until this point,  we had previously believed that moment force on the back segment when comparing the high bar and low bar was the same due to the relationship between the change in segment length and back angle.  However, after staring for hours at the picture above comparing the varying angle changes in the three squats, the mystery of whether or not there is more moment on the back during the low bar vs. the high bar suddenly became clear. First, let’s agree that the bar and the gravity vector are equal in terms of position over mid foot. We then calculate the moment arm at the hip as the horizontal distance from the gravity vector to the hip joint, and the moment arm on the back as the horizontal distance between the bar to the hip joint.  Consequently, assuming the bar stays over mid foot, moment force on the back must be equal to moment force on the hip regardless of segment length.  Therefore,  if there is more moment on the hip,  then there is also more moment on the back and vise versa.  This finding may be useful in the future when comparing various lifter anthropometries and searching for the optimal set up.      
     Furthermore, (in my experience) for the 20% of the general public who cannot low bar squat due to shoulder immobility, injury, being a motor moron, etc., it has been generally accepted that high bar squatting with a low bar mechanic would be bad because of the increased moment the back would experience due to the increasing of the segment length.   With these clients, most coaches resort to Olympic squatting.   However,  due to the aforementioned epiphany about moment on the hip equaling moment on the back as a result of the barbell and the gravity vector occupying the same plumb relationship,  it is clear now that this commonly held belief isn’t true.  High bar placement with a low bar mechanic will result in no more moment on the back than a low bar placement with a low bar mechanic.  However, things to consider with this set up include: a more open hip angle reducing glute activation, a possible decrease in hamstring activation due to the decrease in back angle,  as well as the observation that although moment isn’t increasing, it is, however, being experienced by a less stable segment i.e. more cervical vertebrae contributing to maintain a ridged segment.  **
       
    
     The majority of our lower body musculature surrounds our hips.  The term “seat of power” refers to the fact that the muscles surrounding our hips are the largest in the body in terms of cross-sectional area and potential to produce force when used efficiently.  This includes the glutes, hamstrings, adductors, as well as the thick erector muscles of the low back which work to stabilize and transmit force up our back to our extremities.  These are the muscles that make up our posterior chain and are the primary muscles involved in locomotion and use of our bodies.  Our hips are the dominating “engine”, so to speak, which enables us as humans to manipulate and use leverage to our advantage.  Some of the strongest men in the world able to deadlift 1000 pounds or more provide an excellent example of this “power” that our bodies are capable of.  
*Power is defined as the ability to generate strength quickly, and is demonstrated when a golfer tees off or a sprinter takes off at the sound of the gun. “Power” is used in the previous paragraph to raise awareness that the ability to lift a maximal load, such as a 1000 lb deadlift, for one repetition is a textbook example of strength, and that the sport of “powerlifting” is ironically and poorly named.  
     As we move distally from our hips and body’s center we notice that the potential for force production drastically decreases.  It’s not surprising either that these weaker muscles are also much smaller in comparison to those most proximal to our hips.  If we rely solely on these muscles to get stuff done, tasks become a lot more difficult to perform.  However, it is the existence of the large and powerful musculature around our hips and low back coupled with the large ranges of motion allowed by our joints which enable us to manipulate leverage and use our bodies to our advantage.  Baseball players don’t hit 500 foot home runs solely with the strength in their arms, and grandma couldn’t possibly pick up her 40 pound grandson with just her biceps.  Our hips and “core” are what drive us, so to speak,  and continuing the vehicle analogy, what would you rather be,  a Ferrari pushing 900 hp or a Honda Civic? Therefore, if we want to most optimally improve performance, we need to provide the best stimulus for our hips and back as possible.
    When we consider training for general strength and performance purposes, there are three parameters that we want to abide by when making our exercise selections.  We want to (1) choose exercises that enable us to involve the most amount of muscle mass, (2) use this muscle mass over the largest efficient range of motion, and (3) lift the most weight without violating either of the first two parameters.  That is what getting stronger is all about.  If we want to strengthen the musculature in our upper body, the overhead press, bench press, and a pulling exercise such as pull ups would be our choices.  These three movements satisfy all three criteria and we know through practical application that this has been done effectively to produce some of the strongest humans of all time.  it’s obvious that if we were to use the narrow grip bench press,  the narrow grip shoulder press, and standing cable rows as the primary exercises for building upper body strength, this would result in less than optimal strength adaptations due to their limiting nature in regards to amount of muscle used and amount of weight that can be lifted.  Moreover, bench pressing or squatting enormous weights through partial ranges of motion will also result in subpar strength adaptations (although many don’t understand this concept).
    When we consider squatting for general strength purposes, we also want to be able to use the most amount of muscle mass over the largest efficient range of motion and lift the most weight.  In order to best fit these criteria, the low bar back squat is the most appropriate.  Furthermore, the low bar back squat most optimally trains the all-so-important seat of power muscles surrounding our hips,  core and back.
     Barring any constraints or limiting circumstances (lack of good coaching being the biggest and most obvious one),  the low bar back squat should be taught to both the general public as well as to athletes.  Generally speaking, and through practical observation, the low bar back squat is a little more difficult to coach as well as to perform CORRECTLY.   However, all fitness professionals who instruct others on how to lift with barbells need to become aware of how to correctly perform and coach the lift.  For those of you who are athletes who want to take your game to the next level, or just someone who wants to optimally improve your ability to use your body,  it would behoove you to learn how to perform the lift, or seek out a competent strength coach who can show you how.  An example of the former recommendation would be to buy and read Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training Volume 3 or go to Startingstrength.com and start watching some videos.  Anything less will result in less than optimal results for you – and if you’re a professional, yourself as well as your athletes or clients.  An unwillingness to achieve optimal results, for whatever reason, is just stupid.  

Further Discussion
     
      It has now been made clear on why other strength coaches and I choose to teach the low bar back squat for general as well as athletic strength and performance purposes.  If an activity requires lower body strength to perform, then all things remaining equal, getting stronger would result in a performance increase.  If we, by some means, were able to quantify physical skill levels, then taking two athletes of a similar skill level, the stronger athlete will be the better athlete. This is of course taking into consideration the ratio of physical skill (technical ability) and physical strength the activity is dependent on.  For example, golfing is an example of a high skill/ low strength dependent activity.  Increasing one’s lower body strength will result in the ability to hit balls further, but not the ability to hit balls more accurately.  Getting stronger may – for argument sake – increase overall golfing performance anywhere from 1-20% depending on the athlete and their current performance.  On the total opposite side of the coin, powerlifting is an example of a high strength/ low skill dependent activity.  So much so, that there is a direct relationship between performance and strength. As one increases, the other must increase and vise versa.  An increase in strength for a powerlifter may increase performance anywhere from 1 – x where x is the undefined limit that we call strength genetic potential.  X is essentially an unknown value since the upper limit of what humans can achieve in terms of strength is still undefined.  The charts below help illustrate the effect that strength training has on performance increases.  Increasing one’s strength for any activity below that falls into a “low strength” category will have little – if any – increase in performance.
High Skill : Low Strength
High Skill : Moderate Strength
High Skill : High Strength
Ping pong
Tennis

Badminton
Soccer

Archery
Basketball

Skeet Shooting
Rock Climbing 

Diving
Golf

Driving
Hockey 

Frisbee 
Swimming

Bicycling
Lacrosse 


Skiing 


Wrestling 


Baseball
Low Skill : Low Strength
Moderate Skill : High Strength 
Low Skill : High Strength
Chess
Football 
Powerlifting 
Poker
Rugby
Sprinting
Photography
Sprint Cycling
Football Linemen 
The Culinary Arts
Olympic Weightlifting 
Strongmen 
Marathon Running
Crossfit Games

Elite Endurance Competitions 
Discus Throw


Hammer Throw


Javelin 

     
    Take into consideration that these are generalities and that not all activities listed in the same category have an equal demand on physical skill and strength.  For example,  hockey players need to be stronger than soccer players if participating at a competitive level.  The categories are merely guidelines to establish an understanding of what must be focused on in training to perform at the highest levels in a sport or activity.  When it comes to deciding what one needs to focus on most in training – skill or strength – one needs only to consult the chart.  If a ping pong player wanted to compete in the Olympics, playing ping pong and practicing their skills should make up the overwhelming majority of their training time since it is a highly skill dependent activity. A strong person has no advantage in a ping pong match.  Conversely, a strongman needs to get as strong as possible.  Getting better at picking up huge cylindrical objects will improve when their squat, press, and deadlift do.  
     The high skill : moderate strength activities require a great deal of technical ability,  however, here is where strong vs weak often times separates the good athletes from the best.  Barry Bonds was a professional baseball player before taking steroids.  He was good enough to be considered to be in the top .0001% due to his skills.  However,  getting tremendously stronger was the only thing that made him one of the best.  On the contrary, it’s easy to understand that if someone is a strong person, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are very good at a sport.  Taking a soccer player who can’t dribble well and making him stronger won’t make him dribble any better; he needs to practice more.   There are athletes competing at very high levels without ever having entered a weight room and taught how to lift correctly, but there is no one competing at high levels in this category solely due to their strength.  Increasing strength is simply a way to turn already skilled athletes into better ones, and to set the foundation for skill aquisition in young athletes (it’s easier to learn physical skills if a base of strength is already established).   However, for athletes in this category,  it’s very important that this strength be gained in the offseason, and that technical practice still constitute the majority of an athlete’s training priorities.  Michael Jordan was the best because he practiced the most (although his anthropometry and a 48” vert certainly helped).  He was sick-nasty at passing, dribbling, and shooting because he practiced passing, dribbling, and shooting A LOT.  That being said, getting stronger would only have made him better.  Bare in mind, however, that any activity that falls in a moderate strength category contains an upper “efficient limit” of how much strength should be built.  Any athlete that falls in this category who builds strength past their “linear progression” or LP, will probably begin to lose performance due to the extensive energy that will be sacrificed from skill work and be put into getting stronger.  Squatting 315×5 for a 160 lb. soccer player probably represents an unnecessary strength gain. 
    For the athletes that fall under one of the two “high strength” categories, competing at a high level means being really strong.  You can be as quick and slippery as you want, but you’re not making it into the NFL as a lineman if you weigh less than 250 lb. and not squatting close to double bodyweight.  For these athletes, strength and power are the goal and skill work is the secondary focus.  
     Notice that the high strength : high skill category is empty.  This is not a subjective opinion, but rather a fact when applied in congruence with this system of classification.  The body has limited adaptive capabilities, and in order to reach peak performance in a sport or activity, something has to give.  Using the aforementioned examples, a powerlifter will attempt to get stronger until his career is over.  The upper limit of human strength is unmeasurable and therefore unreachable.  A golfer on the other hand will practice getting better until he retires.  No one can hit a hole in one on a par three every time,  hit 100% of fairways, and 100% GIR.  There is no limit to how skilled one can become at golf.  There is, however, a limit to how skilled a powerlifter can become at performing a deadlift, squat, and bench press.  Novices can become quite proficient at these lifts after 3 sessions and master them not too long after.  After they are mastered, only getting stronger is important.  Moreover, once a golfer reaches the end of his LP, he may lift very seldom now and then to maintain strength, but after that, the time spent on skill : strength will be close to 95 : 5.  Every sport has its own unique requirements, but no sports require one to be as strong as they physically can while becoming as skilled as possible; something has to give in order for peak performance to be attained.  


The Olympic Lifting Squat Debate
     The use of the low bar vs. high bar back squat is a longstanding debate in the Olympic lifting community.  Let me rephrase that.  It is a longstanding debate between the strength & conditioning community and the olympic lifting community.  Traditionally in olympic weightlifting,  the high bar squat has always been performed.  This is the main reason why it is still performed and taught by most coaches.  Conventional methodologies are the culprit here.  Holding on to a way of doing things even in the face of something potentially better.  Same reason why baseball players swing weighted bats before approaching the plate.  Even though it has been proven that this actually inhibits performance to some very small degree, it’s still done.  By EVERYONE.      
     Strangely enough, back when olympic lifting first began, the relationship between strength and power was very misunderstood.  For a time, American coaches in the last century actually thought that performing “the slow lifts”, namely the squat and deadlift, would slow down their fast and powerful athletes.  Today, the irony of this paradigm is made obvious through our (hopefully thorough) understanding that there is a direct relationship between strength and the ability to generate power against an external resistance.  The not so obvious irony was the fact that their athletes probably weren’t very powerful at all if they weren’t strength training.  
    The low bar squat allows us to use more muscle, move more weight, generate more force, and get stronger.  If the low bar squat allows us to get stronger, and there is a direct correlation between strength and power, then why don’t we low bar squat with olympic lifters whose sport is highly dependent on power?  There are several reasons.
    The first reason is that no one has ever low bar squatted for enough time for them to make it to the Olympics.  It is still a relatively new concept and hasn’t been adopted very strongly.  The people who are experimenting with it are in college weight rooms, Crossfit gyms, and strength and performance centers working with high school and college athletes.  Most kids who show promise in weightlifting usually go and train with one of the best coaches, one of the best lifters, or go and train at a weightlifting club owned and operated by a great coach.  And since all the best coaches were once the best lifters who all used the high bar squat, the cycle goes around and around.  For the people who are self taught olympic lifters, (the guys you see at your gym), how did they teach themselves?  They went online and watched the best lifters or read a book written by one of the best lifters.  These coaches are coaching and basing everything off of a system that is already set in place, long before anyone had the understanding about the lifts that we do today.  The numbers that a kid should be squatting, deadlifting, powercleaning, snatching, and jerking are all based off of a model which uses the high bar back squat as its main strength exercise.  The low bar just hasn’t been given a chance.  All of us who support the adoption of the low bar squat could be dead wrong, but time will just have to tell.
     The second reason why high bar squatting is preferred by Oly lifting coaches is because it makes sense to them from a sport specific point of view.  In their eyes, high bar squatting as the main lower body strength exercise mimics the more open back and hip angles experienced in the bottom positions of the snatch and clean better than the low bar squat does.  This is an astute observation.  The only problem here is that sport specific strength training is bogus.  We all know that doing explosive weighted cable machine trunk rotations is not going to increase one’s drive in golf.  Kicking a weighted soccer ball is not going increase the power of one’s shot.  Balancing on a wobble board is not going to make one a better surfer, and doing speed skaters on a slide board is  not going to make you a more agile hockey player.  These are examples of the all so common “sports specific” mindset.  Believe it or not, people actually write books and hold seminars about this stuff.  I can see how it does in some way “make sense” and I can also understand why the lay trainee receiving no or very poor instruction may go to the gym and swing a weighted rod like a golf club and think this will give them a stronger swing.  However, sport specific weight training does not work.  Building full body strength and then practicing your sport is what does.  People don’t like to hear this, though, because they want new, fun, and exciting techniques to improve their game.  Furthermore,  magazines,  T.V. Shows, and crappy personal trainers and strength coaches need this crap in order to sell products and appear intelligent to their clients.  Increasing full body strength coupled with practice in one’s sport is how one improves performance.  For olympic lifters, as well as everyone else, the best way to build the most full body strength is by low bar back squatting – it incorporates more muscle.  All Oly lifters need to do is make sure that they keep practicing their techniques and translating that strength to their sport.  Don’t worry about catching the bar in a deep squat position; as long as you keep doing it, you will be able to continue to get better doing it.  Choosing a squat that limits  the amount of force you can generate is just a silly way to prevent you from becoming the strongest you can be in a sport that is predominately dependent on strength.  Plus, if you wanted to mimic the body’s mechanics during cleans and snatches more, then why don’t you just front squat for strength?  For some reason, that answer is obvious to everyone.  
     I will reiterate by saying I and others could be dead wrong.  We will need to raise young lifters to squat low bar and pull efficiently in order to tell whether or not these changes will make them superior lifters to those who train according to the traditional paradigm.  If we are correct, however,  the bar can and will be set higher (pun), coaches will start to coach the lifts differently, and some new monster standards will be set.  The aforementioned analysis of the low bar squat is long and complicated, but if maximal strength is what your sport is dependent on and someone proposes a way to increase your maximal strength, it makes sense to me to head in that direction.  Let’s see what the future holds.
2 Comments
  • David SchlabachReply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    September 25, 2014
  • David SchlabachReply

    Thanks for sharing Dave. I enjoyed the article.

    I have read many discussions on squat varieties... and appreciate your thoughts and explanations here. As a competitive volleyball player who has quickness and agility, yet wants to increase his strength in order to have more force available to jump higher, I have great interest in finding which squat is best for me... and according to this article, the low bar back squat would appear to be the way to go. In your opinion, does it matter whether someone is a glute-dominant jumper or a quad-dominant jumper?

    September 25, 2014
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