How to Use the Safety Squat Bar to Improve Your Bench and Shoulder Press

When most people see the safety squat bar (SSB) the only thought that goes through their head is that it’s just for the purpose of lift that’s in its name. After many years of suffering from shoulder pain I’ve found another great use for the bar: Bench and overhead pressing!

Safety Squat Bar and the Bench Press

The first and most important part when performing the bench press with a safety squat bar is to remove the handles. By doing this, you allow for the motion to be fluid as the bar descends to the chest as opposed to the handles digging into your body.

To initiate the movement, you will take the same setup as a traditional bench press. Make sure when you lie on the bench you have five points of contact: Feet, hips, shoulders, and head, then you will take the same bench grip width you use on the traditional bench press.

Author’s Note: I always recommend utilizing a spotter with a new bench press variation, so after getting set, have your spotter provide a good liftoff, then follow you as you progress through the movement. 

Up to this point the movement has been the exact same as the traditional bench. Now that the bar is over your chest, this is where the minor change takes place. As you lower the bar, the pads that the handles connect to will make contact just below the glenohumeral joint. Once contact has been made, let the bar descend/roll, so that all of the padding sits on your chest. Once the descent is finished, press aggressively up similarly to a standard bench press.

The biggest benefit of this press variation, as I said in the introduction, is how much it helps with shoulder pain. This pain can be due to prior injury, overuse, or anatomical structure. Due to the padding on the bar it adds a bit of cushion as well as slightly puts the shoulder in a more advantageous and safe position when performing the press. Secondly, those of us who have avoided pressing like our lives depended on it can now get back in the game.

All in all, both the traditional bar and the safety squat bar can stimulate the same muscle groups. Although, if you are a strongman or weightlifter, and you’re looking for ways to keep your shoulders from getting banged up, then this variation could be worth checking out for longevity purposes.

Safety Squat Bar and the Overhead Press

Just like the bench press variation with this bar, the overhead press will mainly follow the same principle. You will do everything the exact same as a normal barbell press, you’re just using a different bar. To begin the movement, the bar should be placed in a position similar to how it would be for the squat, aka handles facing away. Take the same grip that you use for your standard overhead press and let the padding that usually rests on your neck sit on your clavicles with the handle padding resting on your chest.

From here, perform a standard overhead press. Due to the padding the bar will be slightly more out in front of you. This makes it similar to pressing something like an axle. Make sure when you finish the rep that the bar is not too far out in front of the body, and stacked over the shoulders, hips, and ankles. Descend slowly and let the padding make contact before performing any subsequent repetitions, making sure to never lose tightness in the lower back and lats.

Just like the bench press, this will help alleviate shoulder pain and allow an athlete to continue overhead pressing even if a traditional barbell causes discomfort for them. It also adds a small degree of difficulty due to it being located slightly anteriorly on the body compared to a standard bar. This can add to one’s pressing strength on a standard barbell overhead press, or benefit athletes who don’t have access to a log or axle.

Incorporating the SSB for Pressing In Your Program

For the most part, using the safety squat bar for pressing motions is beneficial for people who have nagging shoulder injuries, or if they compete in an endeavor that causes considerable amounts of shoulder strain (weightlifting, strongman, etc).

SSB for Powerlifters

For powerlifters, I typically incorporate usage of this bar when they are further out from competition. This is due to them needing to be used to the traditional bar leading up to a meet (specificity). Typically, the further out from competition the more repetition work I’ll have an athlete do.

During this time it’s paramount that the shoulders stay as healthy as possible. If the chance of injury is lessened, then the athlete will be able to train harder and more consistently. I will use the safety squat bar exclusively if possible to lessen pain from pressing and have athletes do max effort, repetition effort, and speed work with it.

SSB for Strongman

Strongman is well known to have at least one pressing event in a competition, so the bench press and overhead press are often used to train upper body strength. Typically, if you train for strongman you have access to a variety of specialty bars that can already help with the pain from pressing motions. Pressing with a log or a football/multi-grip bar is useful for this reason.

For those who don’t have access to these, then the safety bar comes to the rescue. When you consider the volume of pressing that needs to be performed, shoulder discomfort is likely. Using the SSB is one way to train around it. For strongman athletes, I recommend using it exclusively for a training phase or only on days when the shoulder is causing issues performing traditional pressing motions.

SSB for Weightlifters

For weightlifters I would recommend that you use this when you are performing the majority of your bench pressing. Due to the standard military press having major impacts on the jerk, I prefer not to mess with the fluidity and form of that movement. I prefer to only use it on overhead movements when athletes have significant shoulder discomfort.

Everyone doesn’t always have access to safety squat bar, but if you do and experience shoulder issues from time-to-time, then these variations could be worth a try!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @matbark1991 Instagram page. 

Matthew Barker

Matthew Barker

Matthew graduated from Central College with a Bachelors in Exercise Science, and earned his Masters degree in Human Performance from Lindenwood University. He's a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and is a certified National Coach for USAW. He has worked with athletes ranging from youth lifters to Olympians in the sport of weightlifting, professional strongmen, and elite powerlifters. He's currently a private personal trainer and sports performance coach, while also serving as an adjunct professor of Sports Science at Simpson College.

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