by Gage Reid of Nova Strength Training Systems
In the past I've discussed how Front Squats, High Bar Squats, and Belt Squats (among others) are highly useful in developing the Raw Squat- in fact, if I were to pick just one variation to build the Squat, it would be the High Bar Squat and all the potential variations that goes with it. In the following article I’m going to discuss why the High Bar Squat is an extremely useful training tool, how it should be utilized in a training cycle and why YOU should be using it too.
The Raw Squat
The reason I have to emphasize the “rawness” of the Squat is because the High Bar Squat has a direct carryover to the Raw Squat (with sleeves or wraps), whereas a Single-Ply or Multi-Ply Lifter wouldn’t get as much of a benefit from it due to the differences in mechanics and muscle groups involvement.
Contrary to popular belief amongst some individuals in the fitness community, the prime movers in the Squat are the quadriceps- NOT the hamstrings. Although the hamstrings do have a level of involvement in the top half of the Squat, it is only minor in comparison to the importance of the quadriceps.
“If you want to get a massive squat you should train your quads, try to minimize forward lean, and not concern yourself with hamstrings involvement when squatting. Squat for a huge squat, and pull or do direct hamstring work to turn you hamstrings into pork cords. Purposefully trying to increase hamstring involvement in the squat is an exercise in futility if your goal is to move more weight and get stronger.” - Greg Nuckols (“Hamstrings - The Most Overrated Muscle Group For The Squat”)
So now that we’ve established that the Hamstrings have little importance and the Quadriceps are the prime movers in the Squat, where do we go from here?
The High Bar Squat: Technical Breakdown and Proper Execution
The High Bar Squat (HBS) is a Squat performed with the bar on your traps (not necessarily on top of your traps like you see some Weightlifters do, but relatively higher than a Low Bar position) and an upright, vertical torso. Since the HBS is performed with such an upright torso, you are forced to drive your knees forward at the bottom, thus raising quadriceps involvement. If done correctly, the HBS is extremely difficult and puts you in a longer range-of-motion (ROM), as well as mechanical disadvantageous position- which is key for both Hypertrophy (increased ROM leads to increased muscle fibre recruitment) and technical development.
Practical Application in Training
If you’re a competition Low Bar Squatter you should be performing the High Bar Squat early on in a training cycle while consistently driving the amount of volume you are doing- 5x10’s or 5x8’s are great ways to develop the quadriceps and accumulate a ton of volume. Due to the nature of the HBS (upright torso, more quadriceps involvement meaning less stress on your lower back and hips) you are able to train it more frequently and with more total volume, without risking fatigue-induced injuries (like you would with higher repetition, higher frequency Low Bar Squatting). Being able to load the quadriceps with high volume and a lot of weight is key for success down the road- potentiating future gains through developing the prime movers in the Squat.
Unlike the Front Squat- which many people point to as a key quadriceps developer- the High Bar Squat doesn’t limit the amount of weight you can do during a given set. Front Squats are often much harder to learn, and harder to load with a significant amount of weight- thus making the HBS a more suitable training tool in the short term. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Front Squat and I utilize it with a majority of my athletes as well as myself, but if I had to pick just one accessory, it would hands down be the High Bar Squat.
Technical Proficiency: Reinforcing Proper Mechanics
One of the little known facts of the High Bar Squat is that it is FANTASTIC at improving mechanics and developing efficient movement patterns that carry over into all other Squat variations (including the Low Bar Squat).
The High Bar Squat forces you to drive your knees forward- which is a key component in the Squat, both High and Low Bar. By driving your knees forward you are able to recruit more quadriceps involvement, as well it teaches you to drive straight up- maintaining a consistent bar path and not having your hips shoot back out of the hole (which will inevitably put you in a sub-optimal position, taking your quads out of the Squat and forcing the load onto your back).
I’ve successfully used the HBS in the past to improve an athlete's technical proficiency in the Squat, while simultaneously building the Quadriceps. It’s proven to be a highly successful training tool and other coaches such as Chad Wesley Smith and Max Aita are huge proponents of it. It’s a time proven way to build your Squat and it’s versatility, as well as its application is almost endless. Beltless, Paused, Double-Pause, High Rep, Low Rep- the possibilities are endless and the training value is highly underrated.
How to Properly High Bar Squat by Omar Isuf
#1 High Bar Squat Mistake: Bar Position by Omar Isuf
Summary and Conclusion
The High Bar Squat is one of the most underrated and under-utilized tools in developing the Squat. Furthermore it’s ability to improve an athlete’s technical proficiency across all Squat variations is second to none. I hope this article has been informative and inspired you to program High Bar Squats into your training and reap the benefits of it. As well, I hope you have a better understanding of the Squat- in particular, the role the Hamstrings and Quadriceps have.
As always, if you have any questions or comments leave them in the comment section below or on Facebook.