Why the Safety Squat Bar is Suboptimal for Raw Lifters

The safety squat bar (SSB) is a barbell that has a camber at the end and a harness that sits on the shoulders in the middle. This is a very valuable bar to have in any gym, I am not arguing that.

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The harness makes it easier on the shoulders and elbows to load up a squat. This can come in handy with a field sport population, especially throwing athletes. However, I find it to be a suboptimal option for raw powerlifters.

Boris Sheiko is my coach, and the only powerlifting coach I have ever had. Since day 1 it has been drilled into me that technique is the most important aspect of training. The variations that are used in my program, and those that I use with my athletes, are to improve the technique.

For example, if the lifter has a “goodmorning” squat out of the hole, we may pause in that position. If the chest falls too far forward the athlete will not be able to pause in this position. This variation will teach them how to improve their positions.

Pin squats are another good option here. If the chest caves forward off of the pins the athlete will not get the bar moving. Again, this forces the athlete to correct their positions coming out of the hole.

When we perform variations they need to be as specific as possible to the competition lift to have maximal carryover. This means that we use our competition bar position, grip, and stance.

Other than being safer on the shoulders and elbows, some coaches and athletes will argue that the SSB will fix technique by building a bigger back and forcing the athlete to push back into the harness as the camber will pitch the athlete forward.

We are not trying to build a bigger back. We are trying to improve neuromuscular efficiency of the movement. We want the back and legs to work together as 1 unit. Many people that pitch forward in the squat have a deadlift that is far heavier than their squat. Their back is not weak, their technique in the squat is just poor.

The other problem with the SSB is it is not teaching the athlete how to stay upright in the competition lift. The law of specificity states that we adapt specifically to the stressor placed on us. In other words, we just get better at squats with the SSB.

The hand position, the way the weight sits on the back, and the weight itself sits very differently on the back. This does not have carryover to the competition lift as it is too different. In fact, I have seen the SSB actually make the pitch forward worse for a few athletes.

Alyssa, had this issue in the squat for quite some time. She ran a program that called for a lot of SSB squats. Her pitch became much worse and she actually saw her squat numbers slide backwards.

16 weeks ago, I began working with Alyssa. We programmed pauses on the halfway up in the squat, pin squats, and lots of volume with lighter weights to correct this problem. We also, changed the hand position a bit to get the elbows a little more under the bar.

15 weeks later she was very upright in the squat and hit a 20lb all-time PR. Alyssa has been lifting for 3 years so the increase in weight lifted is a lot. This was due to improvements in neuromuscular coordination, aka technique. Now that her technique is good we can start loading it more and more. A consistent lift will yield consistent results.

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If you have an injury that disallows you to squat with a straight bar, the SSB is a better option than not squatting. If you are a field athlete, especially one that throws like a baseball player, the SSB is a great option. If you are a raw powerlifter stick with the straight bar in your competition bar placement, grip, and stance to build a more technical squat.

About Kevin Cann 33 Articles
Precision Powerlifting Systems is based out of Boston, Mass. Head Coach Kevin Cann leads the raw and single ply powerlifting team through individualized programming leading up to local, regional, national, and international level USA Powerlifting meets. Coach Kevin has worked as a nutritionist and strength coach for several facilities in the greater Boston area including Harvard University and Total Performance Sports. He holds a master’s degree in kinesiology from A.T. Still University and a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness from Kaplan University. Currently, Coach Kevin competes in the 105kg class in USA Powerlifting as both a raw and equipped open lifter and was under the tutelage of former team Russia powerlifting coach and coaching legend, Boris Sheiko, from 2015-2018. Kevin utilizes many of Sheiko’s legendary methods in his programs. This includes the belief that technique is the most important aspect of training. Not only has Kevin been a long term student of Sheiko’s, he also possesses his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, the science of human movement. The combination of his Master’s degree and time spent working with the legendary coach has awarded him with the skills to thoroughly analyze your lifts and utilize the right variations, weights, and repetitions to improve your technique and continue to steadily progress over time. Through Kevin’s experiences coaching, he has made many adjustments to the program to allow for the success of his lifters. PPS has had an Arnold qualifier every year in its existence, a top 5 national total, 2 top 10 totals, and many top 20 totals nationally. Kevin combined what he learned from Sheiko with a conjugate trining style. He learned that nothing builds 1RM strength like practicing singles. He uses a constraints-led approach with the singles. The variation allows for the athlete to continually take max singles without seeing a decrease in performance. Kevin will use variations that punish technical inefficiency and only leaves room to complete the task with a more technically efficient strategy. Heavy singles also works the psychological components of the sport. Oftentimes this goes untrained and is the largest weakness in a lifter. Along with the max effort work, PPS lifters perform sub maximal work to continue to increase technical proficiency within the lifts. Some of this technique work utilizes special exercises that Kevin learned from Boris Sheiko himself. PPS supports raw, drug free powerlifting. Kevin has coached numerous athletes that have qualified for USAPL Nationals as well as the USAPL competitions at the Arnold Sports Festival. Cost for coaching is tiered and ranges from $125 to $200 per month depending on the services required. This includes an individualized program based around your needs as an athlete as well as feedback on your lifts from videos. Text support as you are training, weekly voice memos explaining details about the upcoming week, and bi-weekly training meetings with the team to discuss training concepts is part of the tier 1 service. For more information email Kevin directly at kevin@precisionpowerlifting.com
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