An analysis of high-bar and low-bar back-squat techniques in Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters
Glassbrook, Daniel John
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The barbell back-squat is one of the most common exercises in strength and conditioning practice; especially in Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. There are two main bar placements within the back-squat; the high-bar and low-bar positions. The high-bar position, favoured by Olympic weightlifters, closely resembles the upright body position of the two competition lifts of the sport; the snatch and clean and jerk. The low-bar position, favoured by powerlifters, typically allows greater loads to be lifted by utilising the posterior-chain musculature during the back-squat (one of the three competition lifts in the sport). Unfortunately, little research exists comparing the high-bar back-squat with the low-bar back-squat, and no research has examined either lift above 90% of one repetition maximum. Furthermore, no authors have biomechanically compared the high-bar back-squat to the Olympic lifts (e.g. snatch and clean and jerk). The aims of this thesis were to (1) review the current literature and quantitatively assess the kinetic and kinematic findings among the limited research; (2) compare and contrast the high-bar back-squat and low-bar back-squat up to maximal effort; and (3) assess the differences and/or similarities between the high-bar back-squat and the Olympic lifts. Through an extensive literature review, the high-bar back-squat was found to commonly present a larger hip angle, smaller knee angle and equivalent ankle angle compared to the low-bar back-squat; inferring the high-bar placement creates a more upright truck position for the lifter and requires more quadriceps muscle activation. Experimentally, these findings were confirmed with the high-bar back-squat producing larger hip angles and smaller knee angles compared to the powerlifters (16–21% larger and 10–12% smaller, respectively) and low-bar controls (16–21% larger and 10–12% smaller, respectively). While the Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters lifted similar relative loads, the low-bar controls were able to lift 2.5–5.2% larger relative loads compared to the high-bar controls. As expected, the high-bar back-squat also showed similar kinematics to the snatch and the clean but substantially different kinetics across all loads lifted. Performing a back-squat with a low-bar placement, situates the lifter (advanced and recreational) in a stronger position to lift larger loads compared to the high-bar placement. The establishment of a more advantageous kinematic posture during the low-bar back-squat could potentially maximise the utilisation of the stronger posterior hip musculature thus increasing the stability and moment arm at the hip. The low-bar back-squat therefore appears to provide the best chance of lifting the largest relative load. The kinematic similarities in posture between the high-bar back-squat and the Olympic lifts suggests the potential of similar trunk, hip and thigh muscular activity of key stabilising muscles and repetitive positional alignment in the “catch” position. The differing kinetics however, are more likely due to technical differences between the high-bar back-squat, snatch and clean; wherein the Olympic lifts require additional elements of upper-body strength and stability. The high-bar back-squat does appear to yield an efficient carryover to the Olympic lifts as a suitable supplementary exercise; provided the technical components of the lifts are maintained.