Squat Bar Selection
By: Dan Dalenberg, Team PRS
The squat is a seemingly simple lift. Put a bar on your back, squat down, stand up. Rinse, repeat. That’s it right? While I certainly believe in keeping weight training as simple as possible, the wide variety of available bars adds an element of customization and complexity to the squat. It doesn’t have to be hard though! In this article, I will discuss which bars I choose, when I choose to use them and why.
Contest Prep Squatting
For most of contest prep squatting, I prefer to use the competition barbell. As a side note, I try to use the exact same bar that I will at the meet. If the meet will have a 55 pound bar, that’s what I want to train on as much as possible. The straight bar has some considerable downsides though. Namely, the amount of stress getting under a straight bar will put on the wrists, elbows and shoulders. It is quite common that lifters will experience significant bicep pain as the result of straight bar squatting.
To mitigate this, my bar of choice is the buffalo bar. I will use the buffalo bar during deloads and on all squat sessions that aren’t working into planned meet attempts. So if I am doing speed work or pause squats- buffalo bar it is. The buffalo bar will take that stress off the upper body without changing the groove of the lift much, if at all. It will give you relief without changing the bar positioning or path much. During a typical 10-12 week contest prep training cycle, I will use the buffalo bar 5-7 of those weeks. This has almost completely solved my bicep problems.
Off Season Squatting
The offseason is a different animal. In the off season, you will be targeting specific weaknesses. Using different squat bars to build up those weaknesses can be a great tool! The first step to getting this right is to do an accurate needs assessment, understanding where your biggest areas of opportunity to improve are.
My favorite use for the cambered bar is for lifters that have balance problems. I like to keep the weight a little lighter and focus on speed with this bar. Focusing on speed will get the bar swinging a bit, forcing the lifter to brace harder and control the bar. This goes a long way to solving the balance issues they are having. An added benefit of the cambered bar is the complete lack of stress on the upper body. The biceps and shoulders won’t get beat up at all using this bar, they will get a real break when using this one.
Safety Squat Bar
The SSB is a great tool for lifters that have issues with rounding over. This bar will be forcing you to round, so to use it right, the lifter has to fight that loading. The lifter has to stay very tight, arched hard to keep from rounding over. This bar can be very humbling and difficult to use. The most important element here is keeping from rounding, staying upright. Again, the SSB also gives the upper body a break, resting the shoulders and biceps. Although, I wouldn’t choose to use this bar while deloading. It is such a challenging bar to use that I think it defeats the purpose of deloading.
Competition Squat Bars
We all have preferences on what bar to use in competition. This preference doesn’t matter! What matters is the bar that will be used at the meet. I remember hearing about a lifter that always used an older 55 pound bar in training. He liked the whip of the bar and being a fast raw squatter he could use the whip to his advantage. Well that lifter went to an XPC meet where a super stiff 65 pound bar is used and the lack of whip was a big problem for him. What made this worse is that his gym had the right bar available! Why not train how you will compete? Find out what bar the meet director is going to use and train on that. It might not be possible to use it every week, but try to get at least a week or two in of using the right bar.
Hopefully this makes selecting the right bar a little easier. None of these recommendations are hard and fast rules though. When selecting the bar you want to use, ask yourself what is the purpose of that training, what are you trying to accomplish. Balance that with risk and you will end up picking the right bar for the day.