Are you curious about safety squat bar benefits?
The safety squat bar is one of the most popular specialty barbells in the world. Many legendary powerlifters like Dr. Fred Hatfield (aka “Dr. Squat”) have used this bar to blast through training plateaus and break powerlifting world records.
So what are the benefits of using the safety squat bar?
The safety squat bar has many benefits, including reducing the pressure on your shoulders while you squat, reducing the compressive forces on your lower back, and allowing you to squat with a more upright posture.
For example, here is a video of Larry Wheels squatting with the safety squat bar:
The safety squat bar was originally designed to be used for the back squat. However, many athletes have found other creative ways to use this bar, including on good mornings and triceps extensions!
So what makes the safety squat bar unique?
There are 2 main differences between a safety squat bar, and a regular barbell:
- Difference #1: The shoulder pad
- Difference #2: The barbell camber
Let's take a closer look at both of these features.
Difference #1: The Shoulder Pad
The most obvious difference between the safety squat bar, and the regular 45-pound barbell, is the giant shoulder pad.
The safety squat bar has a padded area that rests on top of your shoulders. This makes the safety squat bar significantly more comfortable on your shoulders and upper back.
Many strongman competitors use the safety squat bar exclusively in their training, and part of the reason is it doesn't beat their shoulders up as much.
If you perform a lot of heavy pressing exercises in your workouts, such as the bench press or overhead press, then you may find the safety squat bar beats up your shoulders less, and allows you to make faster progress on your heavy pressing exercises.
Difference #2: The Barbell Camber
The second difference between the safety squat bar, and the regular 45-pound barbell, is the built-in camber. The bar was designed so the extra 45-pound plates are sitting in front of, and below the rest of the barbell.
This COMPLETELY changes the mechanics of the barbell. Most people find that the safety squat bar puts less pressure on their lower back, and allows them to squat with a more upright posture.
It also forces your lower back and spinal erectors to work much harder to stabilize the weight.
These 2 changes make the safety squat bar a very attractive specialty barbell – especially for the back squat. Now let's look at the different benefits of the safety squat bar!
Benefit #1: It’s A Science-Based Way To Train!
For many years powerlifters, strongmen, and bodybuilders alike were preaching the benefits of the safety squat bar for building muscle and getting freaky strong.
However, for the longest time there wasn’t any scientific research backing up the claims of all of these athletes.
That all changed in 2018 when the first scientific study was published on the safety squat bar!
Here’s what you need to know: according to this study the safety squat bar is at least as effective as the back squat in promoting long-term strength gains.
Well what do you know, the bro-scientists were right all along! The safety squat bar really is a superior training tool!
Benefit #2: Comfortable On The Shoulders
Probably the most visually striking aspect of the safety squat bar is the padding that surrounds the handles.
When you squat with the bar this padding sits right on top of your shoulders and upper traps.
Compared to a standard barbell sitting on your traps this thing feels like a giant pillow!
Not only does the padding feel fantastic, but the weight is distributed much more evenly across your shoulders and upper traps.
There is nothing worse than going home after a heavy low-bar squatting session and looking in the mirror only to find a thick red bruising line running across your upper back and rear delts.
You won’t have this problem with the safety squat bar!
This is especially true if you get up to the 500+ pound squat range.
In other words, the stronger you are, the more you will appreciate the added shoulder comfort that the safety squat bar offers!
Benefit #3: You Can Squat With Poor Shoulder Mobility
It’s not a pretty sight!
This is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the safety squat bar. You don’t need to have great shoulder mobility to squat with it!
In fact, you can have horrendous shoulder mobility and still squat with this bar!
Just take a look at how relaxed a lifter’s shoulders and arms can be during a safety squat bar squat:
This is in huge contrast to the barbell back squat, but especially the barbell front squat, which requires superior shoulder mobility just to get into the proper position.
If you have poor shoulder mobility (you have a difficult time reaching overhead or externally rotating your arm etc.) then you should still be working very hard to fix that issue.
However, in the meantime the safety squat bar can be your best friend and allow you to train the squat hard and heavy!
Benefit #4: You Can Train Around An Upper Body Injury
This benefit goes hand-in-hand with the decreased shoulder mobility requirement.
I remember many years ago when natural pro bodybuilder Layne Norton tore his right pectoral muscle on the bench press.
I was shocked and thought Layne’s bodybuilding career might be over. However, almost immediately after his pec reattachment surgery he was back to squatting!
This would normally be impossible.
However, Layne had access to a safety squat bar!
Not only could he easily get under the bar to perform the movement despite his healing pec, but the bar was literally balancing itself on his shoulders!
This is NOT a recommendation to just train through an injury.
However, the safety squat bar can clearly be an invaluable tool for the rehab phase of training.
Benefit #5: Great Tool During A Bench Press Specialization Phase
It’s true: the safety squat bar is an awesome tool to use when you are really focusing on improving your bench press!
Actually this bar is when you are specializing on the bench press, the overhead press, or any other barbell pressing movement.
The problem with the straight bar is that it can really wreck havoc on your shoulders.
The safety squat bar reduces this stress so that you can recover more quickly between your upper body pressing sessions!
For example, 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian uses the safety squat bar and other related squatting bars EXCLUSIVELY in his training because they save his shoulders!
Benefit #6: Lowered Center Of Gravity
The bar itself on the safety squat bar has a built-in camber to it.
The camber does two things: it angles downward several inches, and angles forward several inches.
Let’s talk about the fact that the camber angles downward first.
This means that the center of gravity of the exercise is a few inches lower than it would normally be for a straight bar back squat.
As you may already know the stress to your lumbar spine (lower back) from squatting is a function of the distance between the center of gravity of the exercise and your L5 vertebrae.
The longer the distance between these two points, the greater the stress on your back.
If you have any history of lower back issues (as I do – from playing Tennis in my youth of all things!!) then listen up: the safety squat bar reduces the stress on your lower back!
The following video demonstrates this point nicely:
This is the late Charles Poliquin talking about the benefits of the safety squat bar for back pain.
You can clearly see in this video how the camber lowers the center of gravity of the exercise.
Seriously, if you have ANY history of lower back pain then I highly recommend you give this bar a try in your own training!
Benefit #7: Allows You To Squat With An Upright Posture
As a general rule of thumb, the further forward the center of gravity during a squat, the easier it is to maintain an upright posture.
There are numerous benefits to maintaining an upright posture during squats, including increased quadriceps stimulation and reduced stress on your lower back and knees.
For example, watch how upright a posture Dmitry Klokov maintains during front squats:
It turns out the safety squat bar accomplishes something very similar!
As explained earlier the bar’ camber angles not only downwards, but forward as well. This means that the center of gravity of the exercise shifts forward.
And when the center of gravity shifts forward, you can naturally maintain a more upright posture!
So say hello to better quadriceps stimulation and less stress to your knees and lower back. Not a bad deal if you ask me!
Benefit #8: It’s Awesome For Taller Lifters
Taller lifters often times have a hard time squatting with proper form.
There is a reason most Olympic weightlifters tend to be on the shorter side of things. The ideal squatting structure probably includes very short legs and a longer torso.
However, all hope is not lost for taller lifters.
One great solution is to do more squats with the safety squat bar!
The fact that the center of gravity is both lower and further forwards compared to back squats makes this a much easier exercise for taller lifters to master.
For example, here is the 6 foot 8 viking Hafthor Bjornsson making this bar look like a piece of cake:
Of course this does present a problem: you no longer have the excuse that you can’t squat because you are tall!
As Arnold so famously said, the mind is more important than the body. If you have the attitude of a winner then you will always find a way to be a champion.
Benefit #9: Reduces Your Risk Of Injury While Training
I’ve been training in hardcore bodybuilding, powerlifting, and strongman gyms sense I was 18.
It’s safe to say that I’ve seen my fair share of failed squats over the course of my training career.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone miss a barbell back squat and have the bar fall straight down behind them or roll over their head right in front of them!
I’m very good at keeping my online coaching clients injury-free and I’d like to keep it that way, so I am always on the lookout for tools to make training less risky.
One of the great things about the safety squat bar is that it is very, very difficult to lose control of the bar at any time during the lift!
It is a night-and-day comparison.
I am not trying to talk you out of regular straight-bar squats. But the safety squat bar has the word “safety” in its name for a reason!
Benefit #10: Increased Stress On Your Spinal Erectors
The spinal erectors are the big meaty muscles running up the individual’s backside all the way from the lower back up to the base of the neck.
It is normally quite hard to target these muscles, especially the middle and upper spinal erectors, without doing some variation of deadlifts.
However, one of the major exceptions to this rule is when you use the safety squat bar!
For example, besides deadlifts themselves, absolutely nothing thrashes my spinal erectors quite like safety squat bar good mornings:
Powerlifting legend Dan Green seems to agree with me as he very frequently incorporates safety squat bar good mornings in his training cycles.
Benefit #11: Increased Stress On The Abdominals
“Core training” and “functional training” are two concepts that have been the targets of some rather extreme misinformation campaigns within the fitness industry.
Nowadays if you do a google search for core training you will probably get a video of a guy doing barbell squats while standing on a bosu ball!
Most people think the primary function of the abdominals is to flex the trunk. However, this would be incorrect! In reality the primary function of the abdominals is to stabilize the trunk!
It's actually more important for it to resist motion than to initiate it! Just think about it: some of the exercises that stress the abdominals the most such as chin ups and deadlifts don't involve trunk flexion at all!
As a general rule of thumb you are better off just training progressively on the big compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts than any kind of targeted abdominals exercises.
However, there are some compound exercises that do an especially good job of thrashing the abdominals. The safety squat bar squat and safety squat bar good morning are two such exercises! This isn't just my opinion though – the scientific literature has verified this fact.
A big part of this is the fact that the center of gravity is further forward with this bar.
You are forced to use your core muscles to “fight” against the weight and prevent your body from tipping straight over on the ground!
If you feel as though weak abdominals are holding you back on exercises such as squats and deadlifts then I highly recommend you give the safety squat bar a shot.
Benefit #12: Increased Stress On The Lower Traps
I have to admit: I was a little surprised by this one myself!
However, the newer research clearly demonstrates that the safety squat bar is a superior training tool for recruiting the lower traps.
This is actually a very significant finding!
If you are familiar with my work then you know how important I think it is to train for optimal upper body structural balance.
In my experience the lower traps are the #2 upper body structural imbalance in most trainees.
The #1 structural imbalance is of course the rotator cuff complex.
The take-away here is that you can actually go a long ways towards improving your upper body structural balance, and thus the size and strength of your upper body, by using the safety squat bar to overload the lower traps!
Benefit #13: Let’s You Overload A Different Point In The Strength Curve
Any time you change the center of gravity of a lift you overload a different point in the strength curve.
The safety squat bar is no exception!
For example, just compare the Olympic back squat with the deficit snatch grip deadlift.
These two exercises force the body to move in almost identical ways.
However, the fact that the center of gravity is very high in the squat and very low in the deficit snatch grip deadlift means these two exercises overload your muscles in entirely different ways!
In many ways the safety squat bar squat feels like a hybrid between the back squat and the conventional deadlift.
Benefit #14: It’s A Form Of Chaos Training For The Squat And Deadlift
Louie would put his athletes in all kinds of crazy-looking positions in training to teach his athletes how to react if they were ever thrown out of their groove on the competition lifts.
For example, Louie for a long time was a huge fan of using good mornings to boost the squat and deadlift.
He has sense backed off a little bit on using good mornings as a max-effort or accessory exercise but they still play a key role in the Westside Barbell training style.
This exercise is doing more than just training the posterior chain extremely hard.
It is teaching the athlete how to “recover” when the bar gets too far forward during a heavy back squat!
Chaos training is essentially a means to improve technique on a lift through the use of corrective exercises.
The beautiful thing about the safety squat bar squat is that it acts as a form of chaos training for the back squat!
Just like the good morning the safety squat bar squat is trying to bend your entire body forward and smush you on the ground!
You have to use every ounce of strength in the backside of your body to prevent this from happening.
When you return to regular straight-bar back squats you will be amazed at how much easier it is to stay upright the whole time!
Benefit #15: It Improves Your Squatting Technique
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point.
Many elite-level lifters such as Matt Wenning have made the observation that for the first few years it is best to focus primarily on straight-bar squatting.
However, once you reach a certain level of strength one of the best ways to continue progressing is to experiment with different specialty bars such as the safety squat bar squat.
This is because after several years of serious training the motor pattern for performing a back squat is so deeply ingrained in your brain that you can perform new squatting variations without forgetting how to do a regular barbell squat.
This added variation can actually help to reinforce your squatting technique by hammering weak points that you didn’t even know you had!
Benefit #16: Lets You Train Hard With Less Weight On The Bar
This is a huge benefit, especially for you strong mofos that are throwing around some serious slag iron in the gym!
Research has shown that the average trainee will use about 11% less weight on the safety squat bar squat vs the regular barbell back squat.
This means that you get at least as much muscular stimulation as you would with a regular barbell but reduced compressive forces on all the major joints in your body!
There are of course times where you absolutely would want to use a straight bar instead of a safety squat bar.
For example, when you are peaking for a powerlifting meet.
However, if you find that your beat up body just needs a break from having so much weight on your back week-in and week-out then this specialty bar can be an excellent alternative to the straight bar.
Benefit #17: There Are So Many Exercises You Can Do With This Bar
This is easily one of my absolute favourite aspects of the safety squat bar!
I can’t hope to cover all of these exercise variations in just one article. However, I will share with you some of my favorites.
- Option #1: Safety Squat Bar Back Squats
- Option #2: Safety Squat Bar Front Squats
- Option #3: Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings
- Option #4: Safety Squat Bar Lunges
- Option #5: Safety Squat Bar Back Extensions
Benefit #18: It Makes You A Stronger Deadlifter
This benefit should come as no surprise to any serious powerlifter these days!
The safety squat bar does an absolutely tremendous job of training all of the key deadlifting muscles, but especially the spinal erectors.
This is true on squats and especially true during good mornings using this specialty bar.
Many of the world's best deadlifters find that they cannot deadlift heavy more than once every 2 weeks without regressing.
If this describes you then you may need training tools that you can use in between heavy deadlifting sessions to stimulate these same muscle groups.
The safety squat bar is perfect for this!
Benefit #19: It Will Boost Your Powerlifting Total
Safety squat bar squats and good mornings are a favourite amongst many top-level powerlifters.
What is most interesting though is that many powerlifters actually use this bar to increase their deadlift, rather than their squat!
This makes a lot of sense when you consider that many elite level powerlifters deadlift with a relatively rounded back in competition to maximize the weights they can lift.
I am not necessarily recommending this form but clearly the safety squat bar would be an invaluable tool for training the spinal erectors necessary to deadlift this way!
Benefit #20: It Works Awesome For Strongman Training
The safety squat bar is enormously popular amongst the world’s greatest strongman competitors.
Part of the reason for this is that, unlike powerlifting, the barbell back squat is rarely one of the competition lifts!
While it is still important to have extremely strong legs it does not really matter how these athletes attain them.
If they can squat with a bar that is somewhat safer, reduces the stress on their shoulders, and trains their backsides even harder than regular back squats, then all the better
Benefit #21: It’s A Great Way To Train Harder As A Bodybuilder
In fact, the safety squat bar may be one of the best-kept secrets in the bodybuilding community.
A lot of bodybuilding training is just a bunch of brainless monkey-see, monkey do training.
I am not against training for hypertrophy – I just think there are much faster ways to build muscle than the standard “4 sets of 4 exercises, once per week per body part” that many bodybuilders use.
John Meadows certainly does not fall into this category of lifters.
In fact, he is one of the more creative coaches I have ever seen!
John realizes the advantages of safety squat bar squats and regularly uses them in his own training and the training of his clients.
The bottom line is that the safety squat bar is a powerful tool for powerlifters, strongmen, and yes, even bodybuilders!
This bar reminds me of CT Fletcher: it commands you to grow!!
Verdict | Safety Squat Bar Benefits!
The safety squat bar is my single favorite specialty bar and the one that I recommend all of my clients use before any others.
The benefits of this exercise are practically too high to count. I stopped at 21 but I am sure I could think of dozens more if I had to.
So what are you waiting for? Go out there and start making gains with this superior training tool!
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!