The Importance of Variation and Four Benefits of the Safety Squat Bar

The safety squat bar is an underutilized tool!

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know that I’ve been using the safety squat bar (actually, the Elitefts Yoke Bar) as my main squatting movement in all of my training.

There’s a pretty good reason for that. I’ve been away from powerlifting for a full six months now – first, derailed by injury leading up to the US Open; and then, during my training for a bodybuilding show. 

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Dear lord sets of 7 suck… But the @elitefts Yoke Bar doesn't. I've been using this as a main variation during my offseason and have gotten a lot of questions about it, so here ya go: First, I'm personally using the Yoke Bar for confidence. It's been a while since I've squatted heavy with a regular bar, and as every lifter knows, there's a good bit of apprehension that comes with getting under a heavy weight. FOR ME, by changing the movement up (even a little bit), many of those nerves go away, because instead of focusing on how hard the set might be, I'm instead focusing on getting used to a new movement pattern. It's subtle, but again, for me, it makes a big difference. Other benefits of the Yoke Bar include reduced strain on the shoulders, strengthening of the upper back, a more comfortable high bar position, and versatility. I'll be expanding on these for an article for @barbend so make sure to follow my author page there. And if you have any specific questions about the Yoke Bar (or safety squat bar, or @kabukistrengthlab Transformer Bar) post them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer either here or in the article! 👍 In other news, based on this backoffs set, 600×10 in sleeves shouldn't be too far away 😁 #thinkstrong #unfuckyourself #safetysquats #highreps #highrepssuck

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Diving back into competition-style squats after that type of break seemed like a big mistake.

So, instead, I chose to ease my transition back into heavy training by relying on a variation of squats that I know (from past experiences) would help my competition lift as well.

The Importance of Training With Variations

If you’ve enrolled in my UYP course, you know the importance of training with variations of your competition movements. (Keep in mind: this only applies to strength athletes!). Namely, variations allow you to shore up weakness by training a movement very similar to a competition one, but with slightly different emphases.  

Variations can have other benefits as well, however. They can help you train around injuries (although I typically do not recommend doing so). They can also provide a nice mental break from the drudgery of performing competition lifts day in and day out. 

Some movements, however, offer even more advantages.  The safety squat falls into that category. Read on to find out why!

Four Benefits of the Safety Bar

1. Improved Confidence

This partly goes hand-in-hand with the idea of reducing the mental strain of performing competition lifts.  However, with the safety bar in particular, you can sometimes take advantage of improved leverages to really load the bar up and get used to the feeling of heavy weight on your back.

The best way to do this: Hatfield squats!

Hatfield squats involve balancing the safety bar on your back without the use of your hands (trust me, it’s far easier than it sounds). Then you can use your hands to provide additional leverage out of the hole. Check out the movement in action:

2. Reduced Strain On the Shoulders

The handles of a safety bar allow you to hold on to the bar without putting undue strain on your shoulders (as in the typical competition or straight-bar squat). For another way to reduce shoulder strain, check out this tip!

3. A More Stable High-Bar Position

You may have noticed that you rarely see athletes performing heavy, high-rep, high-bar squats.  In my opinion, this is for the same reason that you rarely see high-rep front squats: it’s damned uncomfortable to hold a heavy barbell on the top of your traps throughout the duration of a long set.

However, safety-bar squats allow you to get around this restriction, as the padding on top of the bar make the position a bit more comfortable, and the handles allow you to stabilize the bar far more easily than you could without them.

4. Increased Emphasis On the Upper Back and Abs

This is in part a result of the high-bar position the safety bar creates. That position shifts your center of gravity forward, requiring you to stay more upright during the squat itself (unless you want to fall over). 

Staying upright, in turn, requires a whole hell of a lot of upper back and abdominal strength. If those are weak muscle groups that limit your potential in other movements (for example, competition squats and deadlifts), the safety bar will strengthen them very quickly.

In case you haven’t realized by now, I’m a big fan of safety-bar squats. However, I did receive some great questions about their use, which I’ve included below!

Safety Squat Bar FAQs

If I only do safety bar squats, am I preventing myself from lifting heavier?

Well, it depends. If your goal is to have a really strong low-bar back squat, then yeah, exclusively squatting with the safety bar will definitely limit your potential. You must practice the competition movements in order to improve on them, at least some of – if not most of – the time.

However, if you just want to be big and strong as you possibly can, there’s no reason you need to ever squat with a straight bar!

How much harder are safety bar squats than competition squats?

Again, it depends – but this time, on your individual strengths and weaknesses. If you have a weak upper back, abs, or quads (the muscles emphasized by the safety bar), you’re going to really struggle with them. If you’re a more “natural” squatter, and typically use a very upright style even with a straight bar, you’ll probably find them very comparable.  

Do safety bar squats work the hamstrings?

To some degree, all squats work the hamstrings, but I wouldn’t rely on squats as your primary movement for that purpose. However, you can use the safety bar for this purpose – especially if you decide to try stiff-leg good mornings!

What are your thoughts on the safety bar? Share them in the comments below!

Feature image from Ben Pollack YouTube channel. 

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]t.com.

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