There’s a lot of debate about different kind of squats, which is better for back pain, hip pain, knee pain, building strength, etc. So, what’s the difference among the three types of squats?
|Low Bar||High Bar||Front Squat|
|Bar position||Sits on mid trap/posterior delts||Sits on Upper Trap||Anterior Deltoids|
|Knee Flexion||Least||Middle||Similar or slightly more than high bar|
|Other||Greatest posterior chain utilization||Greater gastroc/soleus (calf) muscle activation than low bar||Greatest quadriceps activation|
In all cases, the change in hip, knee, and ankle flexion is due to the fact that in order to stay balanced you have to keep the bar over the middle of the feet.
This is most commonly used by powerlifters, because the increased hip flexion leads to more posterior chain utilization. Since the posterior chain is extremely strong, the athlete can lift more weight with this set up.
It does, however, increase forces on the lumbar spine because of the greater forward trunk lean. On the other hand, it doesn’t require as much ankle dorsiflexion which can otherwise be a limiting factor for some individuals.
The bar position for the high bar back squat allows for a more upright trunk compared to the low bar back squat. It relies more heavily on the quadriceps than the low bar back squat though, which means the athlete may not be able to move as much weight using the high bar variation.
This requires slightly less hip flexion, but more knee and ankle dorsiflexion than the low bar back squat. Therefore, someone with knee pain, may initially feel more comfortable with the low bar backsquat in the earlier phases of physical therapy.
This variation has the greatest upright trunk, but in order to maintain the bar over the midfoot, the athlete must have more range of motion in the ankle compared to either back squat variation.
The upright trunk means that there is less hip flexion, so this variation may be more comfortable for an individual with hip pain.
It’s often discussed that the front squat is better for people with back pain because of the upright trunk. However, since the barbell sits on the shoulders, there may actually be more utilization of the spinal erectors than people give the front squat credit for.
Which is better?
There is no right answer. If you’re a power lifter, it probably makes more sense to use the low bar backsquat. A weight lifter? You should be comfortable in the front squat since it’s the same position that you would catch the clean in. If you’re just looking to get stronger, the back squat is a good option, assuming you have the mobility to perform the variation.