In recent years, the front squat has gained a resurgence as a major training lift for strength sports other than competitive weightlifting. Along with this rise in popularity came a variation with a safety squat bar (SSB) that is easier for many athletes to perform without conceding the benefits of the movement.
The trick is to simply turn the SSB around so the handles are facing you. This has helped many strongmen and powerlifters who have mobility issues due to their size continue to incorporate front squats into their training. The SSB variation allows these larger athletes to train the front squat without having to get into an uncomfortable front rack position that might occur with a traditional barbell.
In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of using the SSB for front squats, but first lets take a look at the movement in action. Here is powerlifter Kevin Oak using the SSB for an incredible 317.5kg/700lb front squat double on his YouTube channel.
Note: the lift takes place at 2:00. Right before you can he how he gets set properly under the SSB.
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.
Mobility (or lack thereof)
As mentioned above, the SSB allows for individuals with mobility issues to continue to train a squat variation that is anteriorly placed on the torso. For lifters who are unable to get into a proper rack position, this variation can be more comfortable and stable without the need for the mobility in the shoulder complex, elbow, and wrists requisite for a standard front squat.
Valuable for Press Dominant Athletes
For athletes who train the press as a dominant movement, an SSB can help relieve stress to the wrist, forearm, elbow, and shoulder that are more heavily taxed during pressing movements. Standard barbell front squats can aggravate the joints if the proper mobility isn’t there, which could lead to limiting progress of pressing movements. By using the SSB to perform front squats, you can circumvent that stress and therefore dodge discomfort to those areas.
Padded for Comfort
SSB are usually padded which can help relieve discomfort that might incur from the use of a standard Olympic barbell. One can assume that being comfortable during training can lead to higher repetitions and percentages since needed to stop from discomfort or a choking sensation is less likely to occur.
The padding can also be useful for athletes who still need to train the front squat but their have recovering from shoulder injury. An SSB can distribute pressure from the bar over a greater area, allowing spot specific pain to be mitigated. Taking care of your body while being able train the front squat is a win-win.
Positioning and Upper Back Recruitment
Maintaining position might tend to be more difficult with an SSB than a standard barbell. This is due to the nature of the tilt to a SSB.
When doing standard SSB squats, the bend in the SSB causes the weight to be located forward. This causes the upper back to work especially hard to maintain an upright posture without collapsing and leaning forward. The plus is that this training stimulus is effective in increasing thoracic musculature and stability.
When the SSB is flipped around to perform a front squat, the tilt is now down in the opposite direction. This enables the lifter to have some assistance staying upright as the bar itself is in effect trying to pull towards that position. That may seem like a pro rather than a con, which it some ways it is. When transitioning to standard front squats, however, the additional difficulty to maintain an upright position could be more stark. To put it simply, the upper back recruitment to stay upright isn’t as prevalent in the SSB variation.
Implementing the SSB front squat into an athlete’s program does not have to be difficult. Typically, it can just be swapped in for the currently used squat variation. That’s a move that could prove all the more fruitful if you are focusing on pressing movements for a specific block, as it can give the your shoulders a break.
Start light and slowly increase the resistance. I would recommend using your front squat max as a baseline if you have never performed the movement. Using that as a starting point can help encourage long term strength adaptations.
Featured image from Ben Pollack’s YouTube channel.