Is the Safety Squat Bar a Missing Piece of the Puzzle?

If you’re tired of a crushed torso in the catch of a clean…
If your back rounds during the pull of a clean, snatch, or even a deadlift…
If you can’t support a big squat…
This is your article.

I believe the safety squat bar is one of the major pieces of equipment that allowed me to deadlift 804 pounds while squatting 805 pounds (raw number). If you need to get your core strong (especially when core is in reference to the spinal erectors), then the safety squat bar is your missing piece of equipment.

Back Strength

Every great strength athlete in history has had a massive back. I remember the issue of Flex Magazine where Ed Coan was compared to Dorian Yates. At the time, this was everything I was about. I loved bodybuilding, but I loved strength a bit more. I mean – what boy doesn’t want to look like a comic book character? Dorian was known for his massive back in the bodybuilding world. However, here was the powerlifter standing right beside him and not getting dwarfed. Ed’s back was massive. It’s no surprise that he deadlifted 903 pounds.

This goes for all the strength studs in all the sports (such as Lu Xiaojun, Pyrros Dimas, Mariusz Pudzianowski, and Bill Kazmaier). When it comes to the function of the different muscles of the back, it’s the spinal erectors we most need to focus on. I know right away that a coach is a fraud when they reference sit ups as a core exercise. If you want to strengthen the core in regards to maintaining a rigid torso while lifting or playing sport, you are going to need to pay attention to the spinal erectors. If you have a six-pack and a weak back, you are going to get crushed on the football field. Crushed!

The Importance of Spinal Erectors

When I say spinal erectors, I’m lumping several muscles into this one group because they have a similar function: the extension of the spine. These muscles are the longissimus, iliocostalis, spinalis, and erector spinae. These attach to the top of the pelvis, the ribs, and the spine. Each set of erectors only cross a few vertebrae, so each region needs to be addressed. A balanced set of erectors is a sign of massive strength.

If you ask any great strength athlete about the squat, they will tell you the real struggle is maintaining extension of the spine. I know right away if one of my athletes needs extra work in the spinal erectors. If you don’t know, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the athlete’s back round during the pull of the clean or snatch?
  • Does the athlete’s back round excessively during the deadlift – and does it continue to round more and more?
  • Does the athlete’s back round during the catch phase of a clean?
  • Does the athlete lose extension during the eccentric or concentric phase of a squat?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you might want to use the safety squat bar.

Physics of Strengthening the Extensors

I went into this deeper in Squat Science, but here’s a brief version. One great way to increase the demands on the spinal erectors is to increase the spinal flexion moment. The spinal flexor moment depends on two factors: 1) the load on the bar and 2) the horizontal distance in the sagittal plan relative to the torso between the bar and any intervertebral joint. Increasing the spinal flexor moment could be accomplished by 1) increasing the load, 2) inclining the body more, and 3) moving the bar higher on the back or in front of the body.

So here’s the point I want to make – the safety squat bar moves the weight toward the front of the body. The part of the bar that holds the weight is bent toward the front of the body.

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I love using the front squat to strengthen the spinal erectors. However, the front squat is limited because the bar will fall off of the shoulders. The safety squat bar is a little more forgiving. Therefore, you can apply more of a load to the spinal erectors.

My absolute favorite exercise to build the spinal erectors is the safety squat bar goodmorning. Not only is the weight in front of the body, but now you are also inclining the body more – which just further increases the demands on the spinal erectors. Now each section of your back is working harder than ever to maintain extension.

Using the Safety Squat Bar

The safety squat bar goodmorning has multiple variations like:

  • Chain suspended safety squat bar goodmornings: as far as specificity to the pull this one is my favorite because it starts with a concentric contraction.
  • Seated safety squat bar goodmornings: this takes the hips out of things and puts all the stress in the back. This is a great way of targeting the back.
  • Using pauses and tempo: I like pauses because you can use isometrics to target the weak spots of your pull or squat.

The safety squat bar has unlimited uses. If you are saving for a piece of equipment, I recommend the safety squat bar being the first additional piece. Here are a few other uses:

  • Injury squats: if an athlete hurts either one of his or her arms, you can still squat. Let’s face it – the squat is pretty much essential for all strength and power sports.
  • Safety squat bar front squats: my friend and mentor Coach Joe Kenn has made this movement popular. You simply turn the safety squat bar around and position it to simulate a front squat.
  • Saftety squat bar box squats: I like these to emphasize strengthening the back during the drive phase into the bar.
  • Safety squat bar walking lunges: I love the safety squat bar for lunges because it is stabilized on the back.
  • Safety squat bar isometric walks: I love doing isometric front rack walks, but breathing can be quite the chore. With the safety squat bar, you will receive similar demands to the spinal erectors without the issue being lungs.

I’ll leave you with this bit of anecdotal evidence. When I was on the way up in powerlifting, I was stuck around the 625-pound marker. I knew instinctively that I was lacking in my ability to maintain spinal extension. I have a bit longer torso comparatively to the rest of my body, so strengthening the spinal erectors was even more important to my success in the strength world.

As you already know, I am a big fan of Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. I read an article he had written about the safety squat bar. I immediately ordered one. The first exercise I added was the safety squat bar goodmorning. I remember feeling so weak on day one. If I remember correctly, 135 pounds for 3 x 5 felt really hard. (Now I want to add that the bar weighed quite a bit more than the typical standard bar, but to keep things easy I always count every bar as 20 kilograms / 45 pounds.)

To make a long story short – over the next 12 weeks I increased my safety squat bar goodmorning to 3 x 5 at 405 pounds. This had a direct impact on my raw squat because over the next six weeks I was able to push my raw squat to over 700 pounds. If you are following along, that was a 75-pound increase in 18 weeks. Obviously I had an extreme weakness in my spinal extensors. This is an example of what can happen if one continues to seek out and strengthen all of their weaknesses.

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Sample Program: BLOCK ONE

I love giving you guys as much as I possibly can. If you were having trouble maintaining a vertical torso in the clean, your back rounds when you squat, or your back turns into a horseshow when you deadlift – then this would be a solid accessory plan to check out.

I kept things really simple, but you will easily be able to see all the uses of the safety squat bar.

Block 1
Week 1
Day 1

Tempo Safety Squat Bar Back Squat (5 sec eccent, 2 sec pause bottom, 4 sec concentric) – 5RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – 5RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walks – 3 x 40 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 10 x 3 at 80%
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – 3 x 10

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat with Belt – 10RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 10
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – start with 25% of Squat for 3 x 8

Week 2
Day 1

Tempo Safety Squat Bar Back Squat (5 sec eccent, 2 sec pause bottom, 4 sec concentric) – 5RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – 5RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walks – 3 x 40 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 10 x 4 at 80%
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – 3 x 10

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat with Belt – 10RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 10
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – add 5-10 kg from last week for 3 x 8

Week 3
Day 1

Tempo Safety Squat Bar Back Squat (5 sec eccent, 2 sec pause bottom, 4 sec concentric) – Take 90% of last week and do 3 x 5
Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – Take 90% of last week and do 3 x 5
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walks – 3 x 50 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 10 x 3 at 80%
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – 3 x 10

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat with Belt – Take 90% of last week and do 3 x 10
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – Take original weight for 3 x 8

Week 4
Day 1

Tempo Safety Squat Bar Back Squat (5 sec eccent, 2 sec pause bottom, 4 sec concentric) – 5RM, then -10% for 5+ stop one set before potential miss
Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – 5RM, then -10% for 5
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walks – 3 x 50 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 10 x 5 at 80%
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – 3 x 10

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat with Belt – 10RM (9 RPE), then -15% for 10+ (stop one set before potential miss)
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – add 5kg to top set in week 2 for 3 x 8

Program Explanation

This is a plan that I will use when my hip heals. This workout will bulletproof your torso. To start with I am using tempo safety squat bar squats to strengthen all positions of the squat. Spinal extension is normally a capacity thing. That makes tempo the perfect prescription when the goal is improving torso strength.

I definitely used safety squat bar chain suspended goodmornings to strengthen my spinal erectors, specifically for the pull. This is spinal extension and hip extension in its weakest position and without any eccentric loading. Of course after the first repetition, you will be able to take advantage of eccentric contractions. I recommend resting the bar in the chains during every repetition for the sake of specificity.

Safety squat bar isometric walks are one of my favorites for strengthening the core in a way that emphasizes spinal extension. Loaded walks also stabilize the hips as weight is transferred back and forth during the walks. Loaded walks are great for strength athletes. If you are a sport athlete (like football, soccer, or basketball players), that unilateral hip stability will still come in handy when making cuts side to side.

Safety squat bar front squats are great for teaching athletes to maintain a vertical torso during the front squat. You will still feel the bar on the upper chest near the anterior throat. However, the weight will be displaced toward the rear of the body this time. The weight won’t be a disadvantage this time – it will actually be to your advantage. You will get better because your body is learning the proper movement versus strengthening the spinal extensors. The other advantage is of course the strengthening of your quads.

Safety squat bar hyperextensions are amazing for strengthening the spinal erectors, glutes, and hamstrings. Remember again the three ways to increase the spinal flexor moment: 1) moving the bar higher on the back or in front of the body, 2) increasing the load, and 3) inclining the body more. When you add a little weight to the bar in this exercise, you will maximize all three. One advantage of hyperextensions is that they are a little easier to recover from versus goodmornings. Goodmornings stretch the muscles under maximal load versus hyperextensions maximize loading during the concentric contraction. That’s why I put these in the middle of the week, so the athlete is ready to go hard again at the end of the week.

If you follow me at all, you know that I save my highest volume squats for the end of the week. Here we are throwing in some 10-repetition maximum safety squat bar squats. You’re welcome! We’re adding some muscle all over the entire torso, hips, and lower body with an obvious focus on the spinal extensors. We are also using straight safety squat bar goodmornings to once again maximize the strengthening of the spinal erectors. Just like chain suspended, this movement will help strengthen the spinal erectors and hip extensors for pulls, squats, and all athletic movements. However, this movement is more eccentric minded, so safety squat bar goodmornings will benefit squat movements a bit more specifically.

Sample Program: BLOCK TWO

Block 2
Week 5
Day 1

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat – 3RM (first rep paused 3 sec)(8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3 (no pauses)
Wide Leg Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – 3RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walking Lunges – 3 x 40 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 1RM (paused 5 sec in bottom)(8 RPE), then -15% for 2 x 5 (no pauses)
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – stay at a moderate 8 RPE while progressing, 4 x 6

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Back Squat with Belt – 5RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – add 5kg to heaviest set from week 4 for 3 x 6

Week 6
Day 1

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat – 3RM (first rep paused 3 sec)(9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3 (no pauses)
Wide Leg Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – 3RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 3
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walking Lunges – 3 x 40 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 1RM (paused 5 sec in bottom)(9 RPE), then -15% for 2 x 5 (no pauses)
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – stay at a moderate 8 RPE while progressing, 4 x 5

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Back Squat with Belt – 5RM (9 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – add 5-10kg for 4 x 5

Week 7
Day 1

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat – Take 90% of last week and do 3 x 3
Wide Leg Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – Take 90% of last week and do 3 x 3
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walking Lunges – 3 x 50 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 1RM (paused 5 sec in bottom)(9 RPE)
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – stay at a moderate 8 RPE while progressing, 3 x 5

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Back Squat with Belt – Take 90% of last week and do 3 x 5
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – take original weight from week 1 for 3 x 8

Week 8
Day 1

Safety Squat Bar Back Squat – 3RM, then -15% for 3+ (stop one set before potential miss0
Wide Leg Chain Suspended Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – 3RM, then -10% for 3
Safety Squat Bar Heavy Walking Lunges – 3 x 50 yd

Day 2: OFF
Day 3

Safety Squat Bar Front Squat – 1RM (paused 3 sec in bottom), then -15% for 5+ (no pauses, no misses)
Safety Squat Bar Hyperextensions – stay at a moderate 8 RPE while progressing, 3 x 5

Day 4: OFF
Day 5

Back Squat with Belt – 5RM, then -15% for 5+ (stop one set before potential miss)
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings (stay at a 7-8RPE) – add 5kg to top set in week 6 for 3 x 5

As you can see, most of the movements are similar to the first block. There are a few variations to avoid the law of accommodation. You will notice a few (+) sets, which are AMRAP sets (as many repetitions as possible). You will also notice that in most cases I don’t want any misses. Here’s the thing about hypertrophy. The number one way to increase muscle size is mechanical loading or increasing loads, and lifting these loads to near failure. Going to failure will lead to hypertrophy, but it will beat you down – leaving you overtrained or under recovered (whatever you want to call it). To maximize hypertrophy the goal is to go to near failure as often as possible.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re talking about low repetitions or high repetitions. When you are hitting repetition maximums (whether it’s threes or fives), you are maximizing hypertrophy because you are going to near maximum. When you are hitting plus sets of six or more, you are still creating bigger muscles. If you want to get stronger, eventually you need to create bigger muscles.

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I hope this article and workout helps all of you build the strongest backs on the planet. If you aren’t using a safety squat bar now, hopefully this article will convince you to buy one. I’m not selling safety squat bars, so this article is from the heart. You can buy from whomever you want to. As always I love hearing about your improvements, so comment here or hit me up on Instagram.

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