The straight barbell is king. If you have a quality barbell, a platform, and some squat stands, 99% of your training needs will be covered. You don't "need" dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, or chains. Still, that doesn't mean you can't add some variety into your training – especially if you've got a few years under your belt and a thick callous on your back.
“For me, ever since I started training 18 years ago, the straight bar was always my choice when it came to squats. Lately, I’ve been using the safety squat bar more and more for a variety of reasons, and my performance has only gone up.” – Scott Herman
Four Specific Advantages To Ditching The Straight Bar
1. Better Core Stability, Less Lower Back, Hip & Knee Stress
For starters, the safety bar sits a bit higher than a standard bar and the camber pushes you forward, forcing you to fight to stay upright. Therefore, you will be a bit more upright than a high-bar squat and a lot more upright than a low-bar squat.
Generally speaking, the more upright your torso is, the less pressure is placed on your lower back. And with the safety bar, the pressure will be displaced more towards your glutes and quads without putting your lower back in a tough spot.
This will in term, prevent your core from collapsing and will allow you to open up your hips and knees more freely, which is a mechanically advantageous position to squat with lower chances for injury.
In order to better demonstrate this, think about the difference between the deadlift and the squat. With the deadlift, the weight is in front of your center of gravity, which means that you absolutely need to use your back to pull the bar off the floor. With the squat however, the weight is almost directly on top of your center of gravity which means there will be almost zero lower back strain when squatting.
Now, the safety squat bar places the load exactly on your center of gravity and a result, helps you maintain proper form without thinking too much about it. Your knees, hips and spine will be automatically locked in space as soon as you get under the safety bar. It’s simply easier to just squat and not worry about the angle of your pinky toe. It's a nice refreshing departure from what can become an overcomplicated lift.
2. A Comfortable Squatting Solution For Athletes With Limited Shoulder Mobility
Due to our mostly sedentary lifestyle, many people tend to be tight around the shoulders and chest area which is certainly not natural but it is typical. Most of the time, beginners will not have the shoulder mobility to get in a straight bar squat position, their elbows will start pointing backwards instead of down and their whole upper body will collapse making the squat particularly inefficient, not to mention dangerous.
Of course the long-term solution is to work on your mobility via a series of dynamic and static stretches but that might take a while. In the meantime, the safety bar squat is an excellent alternative. Zero external shoulder rotation is the main reason why the safety bar squat is suitable for virtually everyone. With the handles being right in front of you, you don’t even have to get a grip on the bar in order to perform your squats.
Just let go completely of the bar and it will stay securely positioned with the load spread comfortably over the 3 pads.
Another serious point that needs to be mentioned here is simply shoulder preservation and recovery. Even if you don’t overhead press a lot, you are bench pressing, which can be just as stressful on your shoulders. You don’t have to put additional stress on your shoulders on your leg day as well.
Want to build a bigger bench press? Save your shoulders and maximize recovery!
3. A Smart Way To Increase Your Back Squat, Deadlift & Overall Performance
Will the safety squat bar translate to the straight bar? The simple answer is yes.
In fact, it will “teach” your body what proper form feels like and it will strengthen your core and legs at the same time. As an overall movement, you should think of it as a similar exercise to the front squat, yet less demanding on the shoulders.
Forcing you to maintain an upright torso position, it almost replicates the back position during a deadlift and really forces you to strain in this position. And while this can certainly help your pull, having extra leg and back strength is never a bad thing when trying to improve your squat.
As far as your overall power and performance are concerned, the safety squat bar is a viable and, often times, advantageous alternative to the straight bar squat. However, if you feel like you need to use a straight bar from time to time to preserve your skills, go for it.
As mentioned in the beginning, variety is a good thing and that’s why it’s advised to get the best of both worlds!
4. Highly Versatile – Compatible With Many Lower Body Movements
Back squats are not the only exercise you can perform with the safety squat bar. It is excellent accessory equipment for many lower body movements including:
- Box Squats
- Suspended Squats
- Good Mornings
- Zercher Squats
- Front Squats
- Walking Lunges
The walking lunges in particular can be performed much more comfortably by using the safety bar. Most people favor the dumbbells when it comes to lunging but it gets more interesting with the barbell since you will be able to lift more weight without being limited by your grip strength. The only problem with the straight bar is that you constantly have to be grabbing the bar and that might cause you to lose your balance as you lunge forwards or backwards.
The safety bar though, will just rest on your shoulders enabling you to focus just on the actual lunging and if you have a relatively large, long space you should take advantage of that by choosing to perform one of the best lower body exercises, the walking lunges!
By now it should be clear that the safety squat bar is an excellent and very versatile piece of fitness equipment. You can either use it as an accessory to perform safety bar squats aiming to increase your strength and power or as an opportunity to give your joints a break from the constant abuse of training hard day after day, week after week.
Particularly applying to athletes on their off-season, the safety squat bar can be an excellent addition to their training. The off-season is a time to work on rehabilitation, re-establish a strong foundation and work on your weaknesses…and there is no better equipment for those goals than the safety squat bar.
Besides…some of the world’s top powerlifters and strength athletes train their squats almost exclusively using the safety bar. Give it a try yourself and share your experience by tagging #GronkFitness in your post!
And don’t forget to check out Scott Herman’s video on the safety squat bar! He was Gronk’d up a few months ago and after trying the bar for a while, here is his review: