Squatting is without a doubt one of the most popular types of exercises that exist. Even though squats require absolutely no equipment to be able to tone your muscles, there is some equipment that you can get to improve your squats and work on your muscles.
One of the most popular types of equipment for squats is the safety bar. In particular, safety bar squats are one of the best hack squat alternatives and are incredibly common in powerlifting. If you are new to powerlifting you should also check out our guide to getting started in powerlifting.
Despite the vast differences that occur throughout the gym community worldwide, there is one common thing, and that is the safety bar squat.
There are lots of different reasons for the popularity of safety bar squats. In this guide, we’ll be taking a closer look at the 4 main reasons why you should do safety bar squats as part of your exercise routine.
Additionally, we’ll be telling you exactly how to program your safety bar for the best results. But before we get into all of that, let’s take a look at exactly what a safety bar is to understand how it can have a positive effect on your body.
What is a safety bar?
Let’s begin by taking a look at what a safety bar is, and how its design impacts its ability to aid your exercise. There is a lot of confusion about safety bars due to the word “safety” being in their name.
Some people believe that the word “safety” means that this bar is designed to be a safer option than some other weighted bars, but this is not the case.
Of course, you can use a safety bar safely, but its name does not mean that you are immune to injuries while using a safety bar. Many people have fallen victim to this mistake, so when you use a safety bar always ensure that you are taking safety precautions and not pushing yourself too far.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a look at some of the key features of the safety bar which make it a safer option than some other exercise bars. These are primarily in its design, so let’s take a look at these different design features.
The first thing that you may notice about a safety bar is the padded area that covers the middle area of the bar.
Additionally, some people also first notice the handles that cross the traps. These features can be misleading, and a lot of people believe that the padded area is a squat pad, but it isn’t.
This padding has two main jobs, and they are to create a higher center of gravity for the bar and to make the bar more comfortable for the user. The padding does its job and shields the metal, making the bar more comfortable for the person using it.
The next major design feature that you will notice in a safety bar is the handles that extend down in front of the user’s body. These might first appear as a strange addition to the bar, but they are there for one main reason.
That is to remove the variable of shoulder mobility from safety bar squats which is something that often affects front squats.
These handles are located where they are so that the user can hold the handle in a static function, without the handles impacting the form of their squats. We’ll take a deeper look at the effectiveness of this feature later on.
Additionally, you will observe that the safety bar has a cambered curve rather than being a straight bar. When you think of a bar, your head automatically thinks of a straight bar, but a lot of exercise bars are cambered in shape.
The safety bar is built with this design as it displaces the weight that is added to the bar and ensures that it will not cause the user to lose their balance.
The final major design feature that people first notice is the way that the weight angles on the safety bar. In most cases, the bar comes with the weight angled down from the handle, however, some newer designs are beginning to have even angles.
More often than not, people will choose a safety bar that has the weight angled down as this limits the weight bias, and as we mentioned in the last point, makes it easier to keep balanced.
So even though this type of exercise equipment might appear pretty basic in its design, there is a lot of thought behind its design. All of the safety features in this piece of equipment are there for a reason. These features are primarily responsible for the reasons that you should do safety bar squats, so let’s take a look at what these reasons are.
Reason 1: Improves Pelvic Orientation
There are lots of different reasons why you should do safety bar squats, but the first one that we will look at is that it improves pelvic orientation.
As anybody who has done any sort of powerlifting exercise will know, form means absolutely everything.
While there are some ways that you can improve your form yourself, there are some things that are often out of your control, one of which is your pelvic orientation.
This is something that is a common issue among a lot of people who do low bar squats, but safety bar squats can help this issue.
Most people suffer from their pelvic orientation due to lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt, which is the area of your lower back that arches. Later on, we’ll be taking a look at how the safety bar helps your shoulder flexibility, but this job completed by the safety bar also aids your pelvic orientation.
The safety bar helps your pelvic orientation by the slight bend in its design which promotes upper back tension.
This upper back tension tends to travel down the spine into your pelvis. In low bar squats, this is a bad thing and it can put unnecessary strain on your body and pelvis.
But in safety bar squats, the slight horizontal pull usually corrects any issues with your pelvic orientation due to the weight bias.
It is natural for the user of the safety bar to pull against this horizontal pull, and so the force of both pulls balance each other out and ensure that the pelvis is in a neutral position while you exercise.
While pelvic orientation might not be something that you immediately think of when exercising, it has a huge impact on the amount of exercise that you can do at any one given time.
As the safety bar corrects this issue, it can allow you to exercise for longer and also allow you to add more weight to the bar than you would be able to do if you were completing low bar squatting.
Pelvic orientation plays a vitally important role in balancing, which is something incredibly important when lifting heavy weights.
With the correction of pelvic orientation and the balancing design of the safety bar, you are then completely balanced allowing you to undertake a heavier workload.
The safety bar can improve your natural form without you even realizing it, so after a steady period of completing safety bar squats, you will find that your form naturally begins to improve.
Even when you are not using the safety bar. In some cases, safety bar squats have also been known to reduce the pain that some athletes feel when doing weighted squats, and some people have even reported that this pain is removed after completing this style of squatting.
So it is clear why you should do safety bar squats if you know that your form is something that you have struggled with. But what are the other reasons why you should do safety bar squats?
Reason 2: High Training Effect without the Weight
The next reason that we will look at moves away from correcting form. Well, at least form in the physical sense. Instead, this reason for doing safety bar squats is that it pushes against the mental “I can’t do it” of powerlifting.
In powerlifting, there is something known as a self-limiting variation. These are not something that your body is physically unable to do, instead, a self-limiting variation is something that “feels hard” to you.
Of course, this will differ a lot depending on the specific person, but it is very common for powerlifters to find their usual weight to be a self-limiting variation when it comes to safety bar squats.
This appears confusing to a lot of people as safety bar squats are often observed as the safer version, and safe is often misconstrued as easy. But this isn’t the case.
As we have mentioned, safety bar squats actively help correct issues with your form inside of your body.
Due to the internal changes that the safety bar is influencing, it can make some exercises appear difficult and can make some people feel unable to lift their normal weight, even if physically they should have no issue doing so.
Safety bar squats require you to add weights onto the bar to aid the exercise. This is common practice for most types of squat, but in safety bar squatting it is common for powerlifters to add less weight to the bar than normal.
Safety bars require programming, and in most cases, the majority of powerlifters will only be able to lift about 85% of the weight that they will be able to lift in other types of exercise. But note, depending on your regular type of squatting, you may be able to lift more than 85% of the weight.
Powerlifting takes our bodies to the extreme, and because of this, the word safety in the name safety bar can make people think that this is an easier option.
But this is completely incorrect, as is evident from the information we have just looked at. On the surface, this might seem like a bad thing, but it is a good thing.
Safety bar squats allow you to achieve your usual weight lifting level without requiring as much weight as other types of squatting exercises.
Powerlifting takes your body to the extreme and this can often cause damage, which is why it is great to have an exercise like safety bar squats which relieves the physical strain on your body without impacting your mental ability to lift the weight.
As you mentally believe you can only lift approximately 85-90% of your usual weight, your body will not lift any more than this, giving your body a break.
So another excellent reason to do safety bar squats is that they have a high training effect, in line with some other exercises, without the physical strain that comes with it.
Reason 3: Addresses Weaknesses in your Squats
The next reason that we are looking at, is somewhat connected to the first reason that we looked at earlier on. As is clear by now, one of the great things about safety bar squats is that they not only work on your muscular ability, but they also work on issues that you may not have been aware were affecting your form.
Linking to this, another excellent reason to do safety bar squats is because they can help address weaknesses in your squatting ability. While squatting can appear to be an easy exercise, if your form is not correct you will not be getting the full benefit of the squat.
The fact that the safety bar squat can help improve your squatting ability is not that unique, as a lot of equipment designed for squatting can do this. But how it corrects your form is very unique.
Most squat accessories give immediate feedback in terms of form, but the safety bar does not. Instead, the safety bar encourages you to actively improve your form by yourself.
A common issue among powerlifters is that they fall into a chest-fall pattern due to their form being incompatible with the design of the safety bar.
If you fall into this pattern when using a safety bar you will be immediately faced with a large amount of pain which encourages them to correct their forward-leaning. Without the safety bar, this might have been a weakness that the powerlifter knew nothing about.
The weight and design of the safety bar allow you to immediately identify what you did wrong and make it clear how you should correct this. So while getting out of that initial squat can be difficult, you know not to do it again.
It is due to this reason that a lot of powerlifters use safety bar squats to help them improve their deadlift ability. This practice is less common in recent years, but there’s no question that safety bar squatting allows powerlifters to improve their form in other types of exercises.
So another excellent reason why you should be doing safety bar squats is that they can help you identify weaknesses in your current form, and use this information to improve your ability in not only squatting but across all of the different types of exercise that you do.
In a lot of cases, people will not realize that they have any weaknesses until they do safety bar squats, so adding this type of exercise to your powerlifting routine could help your overall form.
Reason 4: Shoulder Mobility does not Matter
The final reason that you should do safety bar squats we briefly touched on earlier, and that is the fact that shoulder mobility isn’t that important.
A lot of other types of squatting exercises, including low bar squatting, can put an incredible strain on your shoulders, forearms, and biceps.
Of course, this is partly the point of quite a lot of weight lifting exercises, but squatting exercises are designed to use your legs, not your arms.
With this in mind, you might think that adding the weight to the bar that you hold is counterproductive. However, the weight is added to add extra weight to your body weight so that when you are squatting you are squatting this combined weight rather than your weight alone.
Squatting your own bodyweight can only go so far, this added weight allows you to improve your leg muscles beyond what your own bodyweight could do.
But as we have mentioned, in some squatting exercises this added weight can begin to take a toll on the muscles in your upper arms and shoulders.
The design of the safety bar allows you to add extra weight onto the bar and onto your squats, without accumulating some of the wear and tear that other squatting exercises can cause. This is due to the design of the safety bar that we spoke about earlier.
The handles on the safety bar are located in front of the user. This might seem like a minor difference in the design, but it makes a huge difference to the parts of your body that you use when lifting this weight.
While most exercise bars require you to hold it with your shoulders rotated, the safety bar squat does not. Due to the positioning of the handles, the user of the safety bar is not required to roll their shoulders either internally or externally.
Meaning that the weight added to the safety bar is not putting any strain or pressure on the shoulder joint at any point in the exercise.
One thing that some people struggle with when powerlifting is shoulder mobility and flexibility, but there is no need to worry about this when it comes to safety bar squatting. So another excellent reason to complete safety bar squats is because your shoulders need a rest from the wear and tear of other squatting exercises.
How to Program it
As you can see, the reasons that you should be completing safety bar squats are clear. There are some obvious ways that this type of squatting could benefit you, even if you enjoy your usual fitness routine.
Hopefully, this guide has been able to convince you that safety bar squats are just as important as other types of powerlifting routines that you can do, and has made you consider adding them to your exercise plan. Even if it is only in the short term to give your shoulder joints a rest after a period of intense powerlifting.
But to be able to complete safety bar squats, you have to know how to program it. In a lot of cases, people will complete powerlifting at their gym.
This makes sense as safety bar squatting can be potentially dangerous, despite the word ‘safety’ being found in their name. But, just for your own knowledge, let’s take a look at some of the general programming principles for safety bar squatting, and how you can introduce this into your powerlifting routine.
We mentioned it earlier, but the majority of people are unable to lift their usual weight when they use a safety bar. The design of the bar makes less weight seem like more, which can mentally make people feel that they are unable to lift their usual weight.
This is also partly because safety bar squatting is incredibly strict on your form while you squat. In most cases, people will be able to lift between 85-90% of their usual weight when using a safety bar, and this has been confirmed through scientific research.
With this in mind, one of the most important principles when it comes to safety bar squats is that you shouldn’t push yourself to lift your usual weight.
Research has proven that even the most experienced athletes are unable to do this, so you shouldn’t put your body under this strain. Instead, you have to try and find the weight that works best for you when you are using this equipment.
There are a few ways that you can do this, but we would recommend starting at the lower end of the scale and working up from there.
So you should begin around the 85% mark and then build up until you find yourself struggling to squat while holding the weight of the bar.
However, there are some outliers to this rule so if 90% still seems light, you should push on. But only do so if it is in an appropriate environment with all safety precautions taken.
In terms of when to introduce this type of exercise into your routine, you have a few options. Some people choose to do safety bar squats occasionally, while others choose to do them throughout the entire year.
After completing safety bar squats you will be able to tell whether or not this type of exercise works for you. If it does, you might choose to do this exercise more regularly.
As with any type of exercise, it is all about finding the routine that works best for you. But, no matter how you decide to add safety bar squats to your exercise routine, it is clear that there are lots of benefits to this exercise routine.
In short, in this guide, we’ve taken a look at the main reasons why you should do safety bar squats and how to properly do them.
We’ve looked at how the safety bar works, and how to program this into your exercise routine if you wish to. So if you wanted to find out more about safety bar squats then you came to the right place.