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Should I High Bar or Low Bar Squat? Choosing the Right Squat for You! Personal Trainer Tokyo Titan

Should you high bar squat or low bar squat? I can't actually answer that question for you, but I can tell you how to choose the squat that's right for you based on your own personal goals, whether you're just focused on physique like a bodybuilder, whether you're just focused on increasing your strength like a powerlifter, or whether you're focused on both physique and strength, which is often referred to as a powerbuilder.


Best Squat for Bodybuilders

Best Squat for Powerlifters

What Makes You Stronger

Best Squat for Powerlifters (Continued)

Best Squat for Size & Strength

Best Squat for Bodybuilders

If you're focused purely on your physique and how your body looks, then the most important thing for you is not how much weight you can lift, it's how much stimulus you can provide to your muscles. The more stimulus you can provide with less weight, the better. Using heavier weights has a higher risk of injury. For this reason, the best squat for you is the high bar squat.

In the high bar squat, you place the bar high on the trapezius muscle across the top of the shoulders. In terms of muscle development and the stimulus this provides to your muscles, there are two benefits. The first is that compared to the low bar squat, the weight is further away from your center of gravity, which in the squat and most other exercises is your core.

Having the weight further away from your center of gravity makes it harder to lift the weight, requiring more effort to lift the same amount of weight. The second benefit of the high bar squat for muscle development is that in order to maintain a straight bar path, you need to keep your back angle more vertical. To do a squat, your body naturally wants to bend your back at an angle. But to do this movement in a high bar squat, your body has to work against this natural movement, and it does this by, you guessed it, engaging the muscles more.

And because of these two factors, the weight being further away from your center of gravity and the higher back angle, your muscles have to work even harder in the high bar squat than they do in the low bar squat. So if you identify as a bodybuilder and you're purely focused on your body's physique and muscle development, then the high bar squat is the right squat for you.

Best Squat for Powerlifters

So having just heard that the high bar squat is the best squat for developing physique, for all those powerlifters watching, you're probably thinking: “I'm focused on moving heavyweights, but the high bar squat is less energy efficient for moving weight. That must mean the low bar squat is the squat for me.” That's not actually the case. Yes, because in a low bar squat, with the bar resting on the posterior deltoid, the weight is closer to your center of gravity and you can use a lower back angle in the movement, making the lift more energy efficient and allowing you to lift more weight. But you're best doing both low bar squats and high bar squats in your training. Why is that? To answer this question, we need to look at what makes you stronger.

There are three mechanisms that make you stronger. The first is seen CNS adaption. The central nervous system is what sends a signal to the muscles, telling them to exert the energy you need to lift weights. Can you move those weights, please? Thanks. You can also train your central nervous system to send out a stronger signal to your muscles. Oi! Move those weights! And you can cause this CNS adaption by, you guessed it, lifting heavy weights.

And now you're probably even more ready to vow never again to do a high bar squat in your life. But before you do that, let me tell you what the last two mechanisms are for making you stronger.

The second mechanism that makes you stronger is directly increasing the strength of your muscles. I know that comes as no surprise, but the best way to do this is not through energy efficient movements. It's through inefficient movements that are more focused on the stimulus applied to the muscles rather than how much weight you can lift, much like bodybuilders. As I mentioned earlier in this video, finding ways to put more load on the muscles with less weight is much better for muscle development because it has a lower risk of injury.

The third mechanism for increasing your strength is, wait for it, increasing the size of your muscles. For non-weightlifters, this sounds really obvious, but this comes as a surprise to many weightlifters who are usually more familiar with the first two mechanisms. Muscle size is increased by what is essentially like entrusting a house restoration project to a small child. The body heals the muscle tissue damaged from training by stuffing it with satellite cells, which until then have been doing absolutely nothing. They're kind of like the cotton balls of the human body. These satellite cells fuse with the muscle, but then they also donate their nuclei to the muscle to help grow and thicken the muscle fiber. Okay, so they're a bit more useful and complex than cotton balls.

And these two things are what make your muscles grow in size. But think about it. Thicker muscle fibers doesn't just mean bigger muscles. It also means they have a larger capacity to produce energy. And that is why as a powerlifter, or someone whose end goal is lifting more weight, doing only low bar squats would be a huge mistake.

Best Squat for Powerlifters (Continued)

While it shouldn't be anywhere near as much as bodybuilders, your training should still have some focus on developing your muscles not just in strength, but also in size, which is why your training should incorporate both low bar squats and high bar squats. So what should this look like in your training? Obviously, the low bar squat will be your main lift. For powerlifting competitors and even hobbyists, the end goal is moving as much weight as possible, and you're going to move the most weight with the low bar squat. The high bar squat will be used as a variant in your training, something you do to reinforce your low bar squat.

Now what this looks like in your training will be different for each person. For some people, it might mean training the low bar squat on heavy, low rep days and training the high bar squat on light, high rep days. For some people, it might mean training with the low bar squat two days of the week and training with the high bar squat one day of the week. However you approach it, the low bar squat should be your main lift with the high bar squat acting as a supporting lift.

Best Squat for Size & Strength

So if bodybuilders should be just using the high bar squat and powerlifters should be using both the low bar squat and the high bar squat, where does that leave powerbuilders who focus on both physique and strength? Well, it's going to come down to what exactly you want to achieve by getting stronger. If you don't care about how much weight you can lift and you want to develop stronger muscles with more carryover in your training and even in daily life, then you're better off doing just the high bar squat.

But if you sometimes like to test your limits and see how much weight you can lift, then you might want to consider doing the opposite of the powerlifting group and train your high bar squat as your main lift, sometimes using the low bar squat as a squat variant. Whatever you choose, there is no wrong answer. The best approach is the one that's right for you.

For effective training, contact Tokyo Titan!

I am Tokyo Titan, an internationally-certified bodybuilding specialist personal trainer and nutritionist. Using bodybuilding techniques, together we will create the body that you want in a short amount of time. Lessons are provided in three formats: online, in-person at my private gym in Ota-ku, Tokyo, a few minutes walk from Omori-machi Station on the Keikyu Line, and in-person at a convenient location for the client, allowing for a flexible lesson style that suits each client's preferences and schedule. As a bilingual Japanese native English speaker, I can provide lessons in either Japanese or English, allowing customers to train both their bodies and their language skills at the same time. For more information, inquire today!

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