Why You Should Program High Bar Pause Squats

In another installment of variations I like, today I want to discuss High Bar Pause Squats, specifically in the scenario of programming for low bar squatters. The key here is the added pause, and I will get to why in a bit, but first let me discuss the why’s of high bar squats in general, as we have a couple main benefits for low bar squatters.

1.) If there was a primary reason I tend program a squat variations such as high bar or safety bar, it’s to get out of constantly being in a low bar position. For many, high frequency and volumes of low bar squatting are inevitably going to lead to some type of shoulder, bicep, or forearm discomfort, so being able to have a break from that position while still training a similar pattern can make things more tolerable long term.

2.) High bar tends to be more leg dominant and less strain on the lower back. Due to this we can have a bit more focus on training the quads while not taxing our lower back over and over with low bar squats and deadlifts. Most people do not have weak posterior chains in the squat, contrary to what many preach. Rather its the quads and adductors, so high bar can act as a slightly more direct way to train them.

3.) High bar squats can be a great way to train upper back strength. Due to the longer moment arm there is increased demands on the upper back, which is why many times at maximal loads you’ll see people fold over at the chest during high bar squats. This can also reinforce back position and thoracic tightness during the squat as the lifter has to fight against this tendency to fold over.

4.) This variation can be use to help re-pattern someone’s squat who tends to be too hip dominant. Due to the longer moment arm, trying to be hip dominant during a high bar squat will immediately punish the lifter, so instead it encourages forward knee travel.

To piggy back off this last point though, high bar squats can also re-pattern someone’s squat in a negative way if performed incorrectly or at the wrong times. In particular what I find is that if a lifter starts to get a bit lazy during high bar squats, the naturally tendency is to start becoming too knee flexion dominant and biasing foot pressure towards the toes. Rather than fight the increased upper back tension, they just remain upright and squat too much with the knees. This is where high bar pause squats comes in. Due to the pause, this forward bias is punished, and lifters tend to remain over their mid-foot and with the right hip to knee flexion ratio when this pause is added in. When I programmed just high bar squats, I found frequently I needed to sub them out before this re-patterning could possibly happen, but with high bar pause squats lifters tend to be able to benefit from them for a longer period of time without negative consequences to their low bar squat pattern. Add the benefits listed above for high bar squats and now add in the pause for more consistent reps, and we have a great variation to be able to supplement the low bar. With that all being said though, I currently only have 5 of my 23 low bar squatting athletes performing high bar pause squats, so it is not a one size fits all approach, but rather a possible solution for those who may have struggled with finding benefit from high bar squats in the past!

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