When it comes to the way we perform an exercise, there are usually a ton of variations at our disposal. Every small tweak to our form can lead to different outcomes as far as strength and hypertrophy are concerned. For example, Hammer curls are more taxing on the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, while supinated curls are going to target the biceps more directly. Similarly, pull ups are likely to build more general strength and athleticism compared to lat pulldowns. Many will work out the details of these less complex lifts for themselves with little trepidation. But, when it comes to the big exercises, people seem to have trouble deciding just which form they should use.

One of the most prominent examples of this would be the way people choose to perform the back squat. There are the little details like stance width, foot position, and wrist position which can make a small difference on an individual basis, but the major question people might ask themselves is which bar position they should choose in the back squat. The answer to this question will depend on several factors such as individual anatomy, biomechanics, your main goal in training, and just plain personal preference. However, figuring out which style is best for you can have a profound impact on your success in building strong, sculpted legs for the either the platform or the stage.

 

Anatomical Considerations

You may be aware that our structure and anatomical makeup dictates our movement to some degree. No two people move the exact same way given the subtle differences in how our bodies are composed. Just take Layne Norton and Bryce Lewis as a great comparison. These two have competed on the largest scale and both have back squatted an amazing amount of weight, but the way they go about it couldn’t be more different. Layne employs a low bar approach with posterior chain dominance, while Bryce chooses a high bar variant which utilizes an upright torso and far greater quadriceps dominance.

Of course, both Layne and Bryce have vastly different anatomical structure, which leads them to squat the way that they do. Layne is taller and has very long femurs in relation to his torso. This predisposes him to being more comfortable and producing more force in the low bar position. This is due to his ability to lean forward at the hips and rely on his back, hips, and hamstrings in the low bar position. What some people tend to call a good morning is really just Layne’s body finding the most efficient way to lift as much weight as possible.

Bryce on the other hand is shorter and has relatively shorter legs in comparison to his torso. This allows him to have a short, piston like movement when he squats, which is powered by the fast twitch muscles of the quadriceps. He is predisposed to being more comfortable and producing more force in the high bar position. This is due to his ability to stay upright and move more efficiently, which maximizes his leverage around his femurs and allows him to derive a tremendous amount of force from his quads. His form is very similar to that of an elite level, Olympic weightlifter and is much more visually appealing on the surface.

Of course, other considerations have to be made when it comes to anatomy. For instance, wrist extension capability may limit you from comfortably holding on to the low bar position. So, even if you find that you are built more like Layne, your wrists may force you into using a high bar squat. Likewise, ankle dorsiflexion capacity may limit your ability to derive power from a high bar squat. So, even if you are built like Bryce, your ankles could cause you grief in the high bar position. Generally speaking, however, the characteristics I described in each of the two world class lifters can help guide you toward the bar position that will best suit your anatomy.

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