What is a squat safety bar (SSB)? Very simply, it is a bar that has two handles sticking out in the front and surrounded with padding for the upper back/ neck region and shoulders. The bar is also cambered, meaning the bar on the ends is lower than the middle. This helps move the center of gravity more forward compared to a straight barbell squat. You might be wondering why use a SSB for your squats instead of a barbell? That is a great question so let’s dive into why it matters.
WHY USE SSB?
I am all about longevity when it comes to resistance training and the joints. Personally I have to do a good deal of prep work for my shoulders to keep them healthy and happy. This is due to an old injury from highschool and years of ego lifting. With that said, I am all about keeping them healthy for many years. Using the SSB can do that for you because of the handle bars out in front of you. When you use a straight bar for your squats, you have to place the bar on your back and secure it with your arms, to do this you are externally rotating your shoulder. This rotation and the amount of force you have to exert to keep the bar stable can put a large amount of strain in the joint. This strain can be exaggerated if you lack mobility in the shoulder joint and thoracic spine (upper back).
The SSB can also help you feel less stress in the low back while squatting. With a straight bar, you have to extend the upper back, when this happens your lower back is inclined to extend as well. This overarching in the low back can put a great amount of stress in the spine, and you have to be very conscious during the movement to counteract this position. With a SSB you can have a better pelvic position, putting less stress in the spine. The handles in the front help keep the upper back from extending which also helps the low back.
When you squat with the SSB you will have a more upright torso. This means you can expect more core stability, deeper squat, and more emphasis in the upper back. It is similar to the front squat, but more comfortable and easier to load heavy. The downside of the SSB is you are likely not able to squat as heavy as the straight bar, likely 10-15% less. The good news is you can get more results with less weight when you use the SSB compared to the straight bar. With less load on the body, the ligaments and tendons will experience less strain. I believe this is due to the more range of motion you can get compared to the straight bar. Movement with a full range of motion requires more muscle fiber recruitment, so having a more upright torso, better hip mobility, lets you squat deeper. Less work is required for hypertrophy goals when you have better range of motion.
Lower Body Exercises with SSB
The SSB is very versatile with lower body movements, even more so than the straight bar. Here is a short list of exercise that you can do with SSB that you can do with a straight bar:
- Hatfield Squats
- Rear Foot Elevated Hatfield Squats (Normal as well)
- Walking Lunges
You are able to do a rear foot elevated split squat with a straight barbell, but it is difficult to keep good form. Personally, I have a hard time with pelvic control and easily get into an overextended position with my low back. This excessive arching limits my range of motion, and puts strain in the low back. The SSB allows me to have a better position with this exercise without the unnecessary stress on the low back and the shoulders. A hatfield squat is where you have your arms in front of you holding onto a stable base while you squat and you can use that support to assist in the squat. This is a great variation to target the legs more without working the low back. Think of it like a leg press, but you are training the squat movement.
If you are not in powerlifting, then a straight barbell is not necessary. If your goal is to look good, build some muscle and strength then it doesn’t matter what tool you use. Thinking about joint longevity I would choose the tool that helps me get into a better position that doesn’t stress the joints. Between the straight barbell and the SSB, the movement is the same, but the SSB trains the movement without the strain on the joints. The straight barbell is not the only tool out there for your goals.