Specialty bars have grown in popularity since Westside Barbell introduced them into their training. While the straight bar may always be king, especially for powerlifters who must use a straight bar in competition, variety never hurt anyone and in a lot of other cases, may prove superior to standard training. Enter the safety squat bar.
(Disclaimer: Before you read on, I do not recommend specialty bars for beginners. If you’re new to the game, you need to start with the basics, and learn to squat with near flawless technique before you start throwing specialty items into the fold.)
For me, since I started seriously training for Strongman, I rarely use a straight bar anymore and almost exclusively use a safety squat bar.
I use it for a variety of reasons:
- It saves my shoulders. I overhead press multiple times a week, and straight bar squatting can be stressful on my shoulders. Not only that, straight bars prolong my recovery time between my overhead sessions. The safety squat bar eliminates those two problems.
- I have a hard time front squatting due to wrist pain from a previous injury, and resting the bar across my delts with serious weight can suck. With the safety squat bar, I can just flip it around and front squat pain and hassle free.
- The safety squat bar allows me to do a lot of other movements much more efficiently like zercher squats, good mornings, and walking lunges.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. “Tank, I don’t compete in Strongman, so how does this relate to me?”
The safety squat bar, in my opinion, is vital to anyone trying to build serious overall strength, not just in their squat. Specifically, it translates really well to building a bigger deadlift as well. Who wouldn’t want to improve their deadlift while also improving their squat?
Here are three specific advantages to ditching the straight bar:
- First of all, aside from crushing your lower body, the safety squat bar is great for strengthening your back. The bar is held a bit higher than a standard bar and the camber pushes you forward, forcing you to fight to stay upright. This replicates the back position in a deadlift, and the extra difficulty in this form of squatting will directly improve your pull.
- The second advantage of the safety squat bar also has to do with the camber pushing the lifter forward. Most people associate a failed squat coming out of the hole with a weak lower back or lower body, when in fact, most of the time the failed lift is due to the chest caving in. Chest caving is due to weak traps and lats and the safety squat bar works to rectify that. You will have much more trunk stability and strength after using a safety squat bar.
- The third advantage goes back to shoulder preservation and recovery. Even if you don’t overhead press as frequently as I do, if you’re a powerlifter or gym rat, you are bench pressing, which can be just as stressful on your shoulders. Want to build a bigger bench press? Save your shoulders and maximize recovery.
Will the safety squat bar translate to the straight bar?
The simple answer is yes. The safety squat bar is a more difficult movement, so theoretically once you switch back to straight bar, you will be stronger.
A famous example of this is the World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw in competition at the Finals back in 2014. He almost exclusively trains with specialty bars (the safety squat bar being a staple) but learned he had to squat with a straight bar at the last minute. He had one tune-up training session with a straight bar and remarked about how much easier it was. He hit 10 reps at 725 pounds with relatively no practice at the World’s Strongest Man.
So if you need to use a straight bar from time to time to preserve your skills, go for it. But the safety squat bar is a viable and, often times, advantageous alternative.
Using this bar, your programming doesn’t necessarily have to change, but your resistance will, due to the added difficulty of the lift. Here is a sample safety squat bar training session:
- Back squat 75/80/85% x 8 reps
- Front Squat 85% x 3 sets x 8 reps
- Walking Lunge 3 x 10 reps (each leg)
- Backwards sled drag 2 x 60 feet
Let me know if you have any questions. If you want to get the safety squat bar from the pictures and that the Primal Strength Gym uses, check it out at EliteFTS.com. They make some great products (almost my entire gym is outfitted through them.)