High Bar Squat vs Low Bar Squat

High bar squat vs low bar squat: What’s the difference? The following chart explains each squat variation in detail. And the pictures below let you see the differences, visually.

 

High Bar Squat Low Bar Squat
Bar Position: On upper trapezius On middle trapezius, and across the top of rear deltoids
Grip width: Wide; forearms should be approximately perpendicular to the bar Wide; should be wider than a high bar squat grip width; but not wider than is necessary, since you can tighten your upper back muscles with a (relatively) narrower grip
Grip: Use an overhand grip, squeeze the bar tight and pull down through elbows to bring bar tight against your traps Same, except grip style should be thumbless
Wrist Position: Ideally, wrists should be straight; practically, though, the wrists will bend somewhat, especially with heavier weights Same
Elbow/Forearm Position: Elbows point down, such that they are almost directly under the bar Elbows point down and back (approx. 35° angle); they won’t be directly under the bar due to your torso and bar position *
Chest Position: Chest up as high as possible Same
Stance Width: Hip width Shoulder width or slightly wider
Foot Angle: Toes pointed out at 10-30° ** Same **
Spine arch: Lumbar spine (lower back) arched; thoracic spine (upper back) elongated/extended but not fully arched Lumbar spine (lower back) arched; thoracic spine (upper back) fully arched
Head Position: Neutral neck; looking straight ahead (i.e. bottom of chin parallel to floor) Neutral neck; looking diagonally down/forward at the floor
Motion: Move hips (more or less) straight down and up Push hips out to sit back into the squat, then drive hips up and forward to squat up
Driving Force: Leg drive; pushing through middle of foot Hip drive; pushing through heels
Muscle Recruitment: Quadriceps dominant Glute dominant
Knee Position: Knees pushed out to sides as far as possible by activating the hip adductors (inner thighs) *** Same ***
Knee Position (2): Knees will travel a few inches beyond your toes at bottom of rep Knees will travel so that they are directly over, or just slightly beyond, your toes at bottom of rep
Squat Depth: As low as you can go; if flexibility allows, hamstrings should touch the calves at the bottom of the rep To where the tops of your thighs are parallel to floor.
Torso angle at
bottom of rep:
As upright as possible; approximately 70° relative to the floor Since the bar is lower on the back, your torso will be at a lower angle; approximately 50° relative to the floor
* There are 2 basic schools of thought on elbow position for the low bar squat:

  1. Lift elbows up (not using internal shoulder rotation) to bring out the rear delts and create a larger solid “shelf” to support the bar (see this video @07:35).
  2. Push/shift elbows forward (using external shoulder rotation) as if trying to bring elbows under bar to emphasize upper back arch, which in turn helps accentuates the “shelf” on the rear delts/traps (see this article).

** If hip/ankle/knee flexibility and mobility allow, a more “forward” foot angle of 10° provides a more even activation of leg musculature and better force production. That said, many people lack the flexibility and mobility required for this (especially on the high bar squat) and should therefore stick to a 30° foot angle. See this video for a detailed explanation of this concept.

*** For most people (i.e. those using a wider foot angle of ~30°), knees should point out in the same direction as the feet. However, if you’re using a more “forward” foot angle of ~10°, then your knees should point outside of your feet.

High Bar Squat vs Low Bar Squat Pictures

High Bar Squat Pictures Low Bar Squat Pictures
high bar squat position rear view low bar sqaut position rear view
high bar squat position side view low bar squat position side view
high bar squat position standing rear view low bar squat position standing rear view
high bar squat position standing side view low bar squat position standing side view
high bar squat position standing front view low bar squat position standing front
high bar squat position rear view bottom low bar squat position rear view bottom
high bar squat side view bottom
low bar squat side view bottom

Note: Squat depth should be lower than is shown in pic; top of thighs should be parallel to floor.

high bar squat front view bottom
low bar squat front view bottom

Note: Squat depth should be lower than is shown in pic; top of thighs should be parallel to floor.

high bar squat stance width low bar squat stance width

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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1 comment
Carl J. says November 3, 2012

Very informative article Alex! Thanks for your hard work.

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