The Safety Bar Squat
The Conjugate Method is a multifaceted training method designed to maximize the use of strength and conditioning tools to cause specific training effects and improve sport-relevant strength and conditioning. One aspect of this process is the use of specialty barbells.
Specialty barbells are made to trigger a positive training response by emphasizing different muscle groups and increasing the difficulty experienced at specific joint angles. These barbells can be used to build strength or focus on specific weaknesses, providing athletes with more options to improve athletic performance.
When programmed and utilized correctly, specialty barbells can be an absolute game-changer for an athlete. The number of exercise variations and programming options these barbells provide a coach with almost guarantee that no matter what sport an athlete plays or what weaknesses an athlete has, there is always a way to improve athletic performance.
For many years, some coaches resisted the use of specialty barbells. Whether out of fear of looking foolish while learning or stubbornness, these individuals claimed specialty barbells were no better than a regular power bar and lacked the specificity to translate to powerlifting or weightlifting. Fortunately, we see many coaches and athletes using specialty barbells now that these training tools have many years of proven use and utility at Westside Barbell.
One of the specialty barbells regularly used at Westside Barbell is the safety squat bar, also known as the SSB. Aside from the giant cambered barbell, the SSB is the most commonly featured specialty barbell in a Conjugate Method training program. Considering the anterior chain emphasis this barbell provides, it is a barbell that should be in regular rotation for all athletes.
The safety squat bar will help an athlete build tremendous lower body and trunk strength while improving the size and strength of the quads and hip flexor muscles. Below, we will discuss the safety bar squat to provide a better understanding of the different ways to use and benefit from the use of this barbell.
Introduction to The Safety Bar Squat
The safety bar squat is one of the common squat variations used at Westside Barbell. This exercise has been implemented in training athletes and powerlifters, with the primary intention of targeting the anterior chain.
This exercise can be used by beginner, intermediate, or advanced-level athletes. Considering the hand positioning this barbell allows, it is often easier for most athletes to perform a proper squat considering the pressure has been relieved from the shoulders, making it easier to maintain an ideal squat posture.
If an athlete needs to improve their lower body strength, it is a safe bet that the safety bar squat will be able to contribute to newfound gains in strength and performance.
Benefits of The Safety Bar Squat
Whether you are a powerlifter looking to improve your squat strength or an athlete looking to improve running speed and jumping ability, the SSB squat is a great way to bring about the training effects necessary to enhance athletic performance. This squat variation emphasizes the anterior chain, specifically the quads and hip flexor muscles.
However, this does not mean that the posterior chain receives no benefit from using the SSB. The SSB features ample padding and handles to position the barbell in the high bar position and alleviate stress on the shoulders. This padding typically places the bar in an even further elevated position than a typical high bar squat.
Due to the positioning of the SSB on the torso and shoulders, significant demand is placed on the trunk and the mid and upper back when performing a squat. This challenges athletes to maintain a rigid torso and neutral spine position to provide stability necessary to allow the legs to produce adequate force. So, not only will the SSB squat improve overall leg strength, but it will also improve bracing and squat stability.
It’s easy to see why Westside Barbell has used this specialty barbell for many years. When attempting to squat 1000lbs+ it is vital to address all aspects of the squat. The safety bar squat allows athletes to address anterior leg and torso strength and stability directly.
How to Perform a Safety Bar Squat
For an athlete to maximally benefit from the safety bar squat, it is essential to know the proper execution of the exercise. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the training is dependent on the ability to perform the movement correctly. Failure to execute appropriately will result in reduced gains in strength and an increased risk of injury.
Here are the basic steps to safely and effectively perform a safety bar squat:
First, setting the barbell on the upper back correctly is essential. One of the easiest ways to tell if an athlete has experience using a safety squat bar is by seeing where they place the SSB onto their neck. Athletes inexperienced with the SSB tend to wear the collar of the barbell high on the neck, putting tremendous pressure on the cervical spine.
Ideally, athletes should place the SSB so that the rear pad rests on the upper back near the middle of the trapezius muscle. This allows the athlete to alleviate the pressure on the cervical spine while also making it easier to maintain a neutral spine position during the safety bar squat.
When the SSB is set in this position, the handles should face directly forward or slightly upward. If the handles of the SSB are pointing downward, the cervical spine pressure will likely be noticeable throughout the squat. You want to wear the SSB on the back like a barbell, not on the neck like a collar.
Next, it is time to set the hands and brace the trunk. Assuming the barbell has been positioned correctly, the handles will face either directly forward or upwards. Either way, the approach is the same. First, we want to grab the handles and brace the trunk. The goal is to create a trunk brace strong enough to allow the athlete to resist the handles tilting forward as the squat begins.
The idea is simple; use the hands to prevent the barbell from riding up on the neck during the eccentric phase and use the hands to push the barbell upward as the athlete moves through the concentric phase of the lift. The ability to execute correctly depends on having a strong stomach and creating a brace strong enough to keep the chest from collapsing.
Now that the barbell is on the back correctly, with the hands adequately positioned to maintain control over it, it is time to begin the actual movement portion of the safety bar squat. With the high bar position of the SSB, athletes will want to sit back slightly and then break at the knees to begin the eccentric portion of the squat.
While in the eccentric phase, it is essential to maintain control over the speed of the eccentric movement so as not to excessively strain the quads, hip flexors, or adductor muscles. We want to be fast and explosive, as long as it is all done while remaining in total control of the barbell.
During the eccentric phase, we want to remain mindful of how we use our hands to maintain control over the barbell, as mentioned above. Letting the bar ride up on the neck and applying pressure to the cervical spine can place an athlete in a risky position that can easily result in injury if not properly managed.
Once the eccentric phase is completed, it is time to reverse direction and complete the concentric phase. Just as we use the hands to maintain control during the eccentric phase, we want to push the handles upwards during the concentric phase of the lift to prevent the barbell from causing the chest to collapse. Once the concentric is completed, we then rack the barbell.
To sum up the process of completing a safety bar squat, you want to ensure you are carrying the barbell correctly, using your hands effectively, maintaining a solid brace, and moving in a controlled manner throughout the entirety of the movement.
How to Program the Safety Bar Squat
Programming the safety bar squat is a relatively simple process. Given that this exercise is a foundational lower body movement, it can be programmed and utilized in many ways to benefit the athlete.
At Westside, we use this variation on both max effort and dynamic effort lower. We will also feature the safety bar squat as an accessory exercise.
When used as a max-effort exercise, we typically work up to a top set of 1-3 reps with or without a box. We will perform a three-week wave of safety bar box squats when used as a dynamic effort exercise. We will perform multiple sets and reps using submaximal weight when used as an accessory exercise.
As far as frequency goes, this exercise will typically appear in a program once every 3-5 weeks as a max effort exercise, every third or fourth wave as a dynamic effort exercise, and every 3-5 weeks as an accessory exercise. If an athlete shows apparent anterior chain weakness, it is recommended to increase safety bar squat frequency.
Common Safety Bar Squat Exercises
Here are some examples of the different exercises we perform at Westside Barbell when using the SSB:
This is the most common SSB variation, used to target the anterior chain and improve quad and hip flexor strength. This movement can be performed as a max effort, dynamic effort, or accessory exercise.
SSB Box Squat
The most basic variation of the SSB squat, the SSB box squat, introduces the static-overcome-by-dynamic and relaxed-overcome-by-dynamic training effects into the equation. This is an excellent way to improve absolute strength and explosive power. This movement can be performed as a max effort, dynamic effort, or accessory exercise.
SSB Kang Squat
This variation combines the benefits of a good morning and the benefits of the squat. How? By beginning as a good morning and finishing as a squat. As the eccentric begins, athletes will bend over at the waist. As the chest reaches parallel to the floor, athletes will enter a squat position before completing the concentric phase of the lift.
This movement can be performed as a max effort or accessory exercise.
SSB Front Squat
With the padding and handles the SSB provides, athletes can gain an advantage regarding balance in the front squat. The padding offers something to squeeze the arms into and brace the torso. This makes the execution of a heavy front squat more manageable. This movement can be performed as a max effort or accessory exercise.
SSB Anderson Squat
This movement removes the eccentric portion of the squat, forcing a lifter to create as much force as possible without the benefits of elasticity. This leads to improved absolute strength and force development abilities. This movement can be performed as a max effort or accessory exercise.
SSB Split Squat
This exercise is a great way to take an already quad and hip-flexor-focused movement and amplify the focus. The SSB split squat will provide an athlete with improved hip and knee stability and durability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why should an athlete use a bar other than a standard barbell?
A: Specialty bars place specific demands on the body to trigger different training responses. While a standard barbell is effective, the benefits of using specialty barbells cannot be mimicked otherwise.
Q: What is the most critical aspect of safety bar squat execution?
A: Trunk brace and keeping the chest elevated. With the high bar positioning of the SSB, failure to maintain proper posture will result in a very difficult or missed lift.
Q: What other ways can we use a safety squat bar?
A: At Westside, we frequently use the SSB to perform good mornings. Additionally, the SSB works excellently as a yoke for conditioning-focused training.
Q: Should you use the SSB if you have had cervical spine issues in the past?
A: This will depend on the athlete. Typically, it is best to establish tolerance and adjust the training accordingly. We recommend consulting with your doctor if a severe neck injury previously occurred.
Q: Can an athlete with a shoulder injury use the SSB to squat regularly?
A: Yes, if a specialty barbell allows an athlete to train around an injury, the athlete can use that barbell as frequently as they’d like. Ultimately, it is about using the tools you have at your disposal to train regardless of the circumstances.
More Options, Less Weakness
As a coach, you can never have enough options to deliver results to your athletes. Specialty bars provide coaches with incredible options to bring about specific training effects and adaptations. As long as the coach fully understands each barbell, specialty bars will rapidly improve an athlete’s strength.
In the past, some coaches have been apprehensive about using specialty barbells and have questioned the need for such training devices. However, Westside Barbell has proven these barbells are highly effective for all athletes, no matter the sport.
The idea that for an exercise or movement to be beneficial, it must directly reflect a sport task is outdated and misguided. While some coaches have athletes doing whatever is most popular on social media, real coaches are using all the training tools available to them to target the specific strengths necessary for athletic improvement.
It makes no sense to limit yourself and your ability to be creative to meet the training needs of each athlete. Why limit your options when it comes to exercise selection and training tools? As athletes progress, improving becomes more challenging and requires a more specific level of stimulus if the improvement is to continue.
Training tools such as specialty barbells, specialty machines, and accommodating resistance allow a coach to build programs that specifically address an athlete’s weaknesses and issues. The standard barbell cannot match the level of variation or optimization these items provide.
The forward-thinking coach will consistently deliver predictable results month to month and year to year. Specialty barbells are helpful and are here to stay in the strength and conditioning world. As a coach, if you want to remain relevant for years to come, it is recommended to master the understanding of the training effects provided by each specialty barbell.
This knowledge will unlock the ability of a coach to fix practically any issue or weakness an athlete may have. The Conjugate Method, along with the associated barbells, equipment, and exercise variations, provides a platform for any coach or athlete in any predicament to design an exercise program to solve the issue.