Health and Beauty

What are the differences between the classic back squat and the safety bar squat?

Squatting on a safety bar has been posted before Fred Hatfield In the 1980s, it gained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the support of Louie Simmons. Although they have been common in weight rooms for over 20 years, safety bars have gone largely unnoticed in the scientific community. It has been studied so little that the study reviewed is one of the only ones currently available.

In this study we will unpack(1)researchers asked weightlifters to test their 3RM in a squat using a classic bar and a “safety bar.”

The researchers then evaluated differences in trajectory (joint range of motion and body position) and EMG (to study muscle activation) between the two versions.

Decode the study

The goal of the experiment

The goal of this study was to compare strength, muscle activation, and range of motion with the classic back squat and the safety bar back squat.

Participants and methods


Participants were 12 weightlifters (eight men and four women) who had previously trained with the safety bar. For more details, see the following table.

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This study was conducted in three sessions, with at least one week of rest between sessions. In the first two sessions, participants worked up to 3RM using the classic bar or using the safety bar. In the third session, participants performed 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 75% of 3RM using both bands.

  • Participants were allowed to choose their foot position, but were required to use the same width for both squat styles.
  • All repetitions had to be performed at the depth of the weightlifting regulation.
  • While curling the safety bar, participants were asked not to push up on the handles.
  • All repetitions were performed using EMG electrodes on the upper, middle, and lower trapezius, erector spinae, latissimus, rectus abdominis, oblique muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, gastrocnemius, and buttocks.
  • Subjects were also equipped with reflective markers for trajectory analysis.


Participants performed a classic barbell squat 11.3% heavier of safety bar (on average).

The abdominal muscles, hamstrings, lateral quadriceps, upper trapezius muscle, and EMG of the internal gastrocnemius muscle were significantly engaged during the classic squat.

In contrast, lower trapezius activation was significantly greater with the squat and safety bar.

Maximum hip flexion, ankle flexion, forward knee motion, and forward lean were significantly greater with the classic squat.

There were no significant differences in gluteal, vastus medialis, rectus femoris, erector spinae, lats, middle trapezius, or oblique EMG. There was also no significant difference in maximum knee flexion.

To graph the results, I scaled all variables based on the highest value among the different methods.

EMG of lower body muscles
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EMG upper body muscles
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Trunk angle of the lower extremities
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My comments and interpretations

There were a few things that interested me about these results.

I was surprised by the fact that the safety bar resulted in lower EMG values ​​for the rectus abdominis (abdominus) and upper trapezius muscles; Assuming that the EMG correlates with the state felt after exercise, I would imagine there is an EMG above for these two muscle areas. In fact, the upper trapezius and abs almost always break the day after a safety bar squat.

I was also surprised that the EMG of the leg muscles was much lower during curls with the safety bar. At first glance this may seem logical: the absolute load was lower with the safety bar, and therefore the EMG values ​​should also be lower.

However, the average loads used were 109.8 kg for the safety bar squat and 123 kg for the classic squat. The average weight lifter weighs 88.1 kg, and when you squat you move your body mass too.

Thus, the total difference in load was about 197.8 versus 211.1 kg. This means that the difference in total charge was only about 6.3%, not 11.3%. However, the mean EMG differences for the hamstrings and vastus lateralis were 10.2 to 20.6%, which was greater than expected based on the load differences.

We also have some studies comparing the back squat to the front squat, which have shown that the different lower body myograms between the front and back squat (which also have a different load) are either small or small.(2) Or does not exist(3)(4). I therefore wonder whether the differences in EMG in this study could be partly attributed to differences in comfort and technical proficiency between the rods.

When you learn a new exercise, the EMG tends to increase as muscle coordination improves.

In addition, the difference in 3RM suggests that some participants did not have good mastery of the safety bar squat.

Researchers also reported differences ranging from 2.4% to 18.9% between the safety bar and traditional bar at 3RM. I am convinced that people who are really accustomed to using the safety bar squat about 20% less with the safety bar than with the classic bar. It is therefore plausible that some of the EMG results may be attributable to differences in experience and skill between the two types of tape.

The fact that the safety bar also elicited electromyography (EMG) in the lower abdomen also suggests that the exercisers may have been less effective during squats with the safety bar, confirming that at least some participants were not very comfortable with this type of squat.

In any serious study, we must ask ourselves the following question: “Does all of this have an impact on the long-term adaptability of training?”

The authors of this study suggest that because of lower EMG in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles, “safety bar squats are less effective than standard squats in increasing lower body strength.”

I do not share this opinion.

A study by Meldrum and DiBelliso published a few months ago looked at training modifications after nine weeks of squatting using a traditional barbell and safety bar.(5).

The study was conducted on baseball players and analyzed changes in squat strength (the safety bar group tested strength with only the safety bar before and after, and the control bar group tested strength with a classic bar before and after), vertical jump and sprinting. .

Both groups increased vertical jump height in a similar manner (+1.9 cm for the classic bar group and +2.9 cm for the safety bar group), and both groups recorded small, non-significant decreases in running times (-0.07 seconds for the classic bar group and -0.08 seconds for the safety bar group). ) and both groups increased their squat capacity (+29.9 kg for the classic bar group and +40.3 kg for the safety bar group).

In fact, strength increased significantly in the safety bar group, but they were also a little weaker at the beginning of the study, so it's probably not worth going into that (a lot of the strength gains may be due to learning effects).

Meldrum and DeBeliso Safety Bar Study Table
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This reinforces my belief that long-term adaptations are probably not very different between the two rod types, despite the large differences observed in the myograms in the study by Hecker et al.

One argument put forward by the authors of this study is that since safety bars allow you to maintain a more upright posture, they are likely safer for your lower back.

However, I am skeptical of this argument.

If the position of the bar's center of gravity doesn't change, then yes, upright squats can reduce the stress on your lower back. However, since the safety bar moves the bar's center of gravity forward, I believe the forces applied to the spine will be very similar to those exerted during a classic squat.

In other words, if you are not straighter, safety bar squats may impose greater forces on your spine.

Additionally, much of the force you “feel” in your spine during exercise is not directly attributable to external load. Rather, it is the result of contraction of the muscles surrounding the spine.

In this study, the erector spinae electromyogram (EMG) was the same for both squat techniques, indicating that the forces on the spine were similar. It is possible that safety bar squats would be safer if they resulted in less lumbar flexion (which is entirely possible, as they require less hip flexion on average), but this was not evaluated in this study.

I've heard anecdotal evidence that safety bar squats are more comfortable for people with back problems, and I've also heard anecdotal evidence that they are more painful than those performed with a regular barbell.

I think it's plausible that squatting on a safety bar changes the mechanics of movement enough to act differently on the spine (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse) for some people, but my hypothesis is that it's not per se better for lower back health.

Ultimately, I think the main advantage of safety bars is that they allow people with mobility limitations to squat without a problem.

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What are the differences between the classic back squat and the safety bar squat?

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