Ask the Coaches: High Bar vs. Low Bar Back Squats?

Saturday, November 2
November 1, 2013
Sunday, November 3
November 2, 2013

In light of our current squat cycle, the end of which is only a scant few weeks away, we think it’s time to address what we see as a “fake” controversy in the strength and conditioning world: what’s the best placement of the bar when back squatting, the high bar position or the low bar position?

The following diagram is pretty ubiquitous across the internet when it comes to showing the difference between a front squat (left), a high bar back squat (middle), and low bar back squat (right).

Illustration from Starting Strength, 2nd ed., reproduced with permission by The Aasgaard Company


As the bar changes position, so does the position of the body. This change in position is necessary in order to keep the bar over the middle of the foot (in the “mid-line” of CrossFit lingo). Specifically, notice the difference between the second two postures:

  • In the high bar position, the bar sits across the top of the trapezius muscles, forcing the lifter to sit more upright in the bottom of the squat compared to the low bar position;
  • In the low bar position, the bar sits below the traps, on top of the rear deltoids and along the spine of the scapula, causing the lifter to lean a little more forward than in the high bar position.

(Click the links above to jump to a anatomy illustration posted at

Of course, it would be easy if we could simply turn to some authority to give us the answer as to which position is “better,” but just about every authority out there is going to tell you something different:

Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength = low bar back squat;
Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell = wide stance, low bar back squat;
Glenn Pendlay of CalStrength, Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics, and Jacob Tsypkin of the Juggernaut Method = high bar;
Bob Takano of Takano Athletics = doesn’t acknowledge a high bar or low bar, only that there’s an Olympic squat and a Powerlifting squat (and as an Olympic lifting coach, prefers the Olympic squat); And,
Mike Burgener = Neither – he has his lifters use front squats and lots of clean and snatch pulls.

Or, consider your two head coaches: Tom is an experienced low-bar back squatter, while Chris has always preferred the high-bar back squat. And of course, there are many more takes on the subject out there. Our point is that there’s no right way or wrong way – there is only the way that benefits you and your training the most.

 Mike Choi Back Squat
Coach Mike Choi : Olympic Lifter : High Bar Squatting : Unsurprising


It’s no coincidence that of the above coaches, the majority of those who promote the high bar position are Olympic weightlifting coaches. Although the high bar back squat is primarily a strength exercise, it’s also a skill transfer exercise, in that it helps our bodies develop strength and positioning for the Olympic lifts. Remember: we’re CrossFitters – we CrossFit. CrossFit loves the Olympic lifts. No matter how constantly varied your programming, you will at some point be performing the Olympic lifts, for weight, for reps, and for time. As your coaches, our job is to prepare you for any of these occasions. Teaching the high bar squatting style enhances that preparation.

That being said, we recognize that there are certain imbalances that can occur via reliance on the high bar position. For example, the high bar squat places slightly more emphasis in the quads, rather than the hamstrings and back. As such, we structure our programming to offset these imbalances by including movements such as wide stance box squats, RDL’s, good mornings, and deadlifts, both conventional and Sumo-stance. For example, check out the program from Sunday, Sept. 29: back squats followed by RDL’s.

We believe that the high-bar squat best complements our style of training. Other programs, with other training goals, may emphasize a different approach – and rightly so. This isn’t a controversy, simply a difference in purpose and priority. We also recognize that everyone is subject to different limitations in mobility which may necessitate the use of one style over the other. However, our stance on proper execution remains firm. Regardless of bar position, what truly matters most is that you observe that one inviolable tenet: a squat is only legit if it’s below parallel.

No questioning whether Dave’s squat is legit

Comments are closed.