High Bar Back Squat Technical Model Overview

High Bar Back Squat Technical Model Overview:


The high bar back squat is more commonly known as the Back Squat. ‘High Bar’ refers, as one can see in the image above [16] to the position of the bar on ones back – Slightly above the level of acromion and below C7 [6,17, 19], aka on the musculature at the bottom of the neck/top of the back. Furthermore to differentiate it from the ‘Low Bar’ variation which is to be discussed in a future piece. The reasons for this will be discussed later on, for now lets have a look at the UKSCA technical model presented in table 1 [19] combined with an overview of the skill as laid out by the same UKSCA author [19]. For the sake of clarity I will explain that although this is an explanation of the skill by a single author, as he is associated with UKSCA he will be following a standardised technical model from within that association – the leading body for UK based Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coaches.

High Bar Back Squat Overview [20]

The back squat is a knee and hip extensor exercise. The list below highlights the key muscles that are used in the correct execution of the back squat and the muscle action:

  • Quadriceps-knee extension
  • Gluteus maximus-hip extension
  • Gluteus medius (posterior fibres) – hip extension and lateral    hip rotation
  • Hamstrings-hip extension
  • Erector spinae-spinal and pelvic stabilization
  • Latissimus dorsi-spinal and pelvic stabilization
  • Adductors (magnus, longus, brevis, minimus)-assist with hip extension and stabilisation
  • Abdominals- spinal and pelvic stabilisation


Table 1

Position Description Problems Variation/Solutions
Start Position Hands evenly spaced shoulder width apart on bar Unable to have shoulder width grip due to poor shoulder external rotation Widen grip until comfortable
Bar positioned just below C7 across upper trapezius and rear deltoids-high bar Pain across neck where bar is positioned Ensure bar is below 7th cervical vertebrae Low bar-positioned below rear deltoids and upper trapezius
Athlete stands extended through spine, hips and knees-bracing spinal musculature Unable to hold extended position Ensure athlete has no spinal pathology that limits ability to extend thoracic and lumbar spine. Has ability to hold correct posture without bar or load
Feet are positioned just outside shoulder width with toes pointing slightly outwards Potential depth problems Allow athlete to experiment with stance width to find a comfortable position that allows a full range of motion
Decent Athlete takes a breath in at start
Unlocks hips and begins to flex at knees with a slight anterior lean with trunk
Hips go behind heels and knees and hips flexed until femur is parallel with floor Unable to reach parallel Widen stance, point toes out slightly
Feet remain flat throughout Heels come off floor Check ankle range of motion. Widen stance, turn feet out slightly. Raise heel of shoe (weightlifting shoe)
Knees go beyond toes in the sagittal plane and maintain alignment over toes in the coronal plane
Athlete maintains anterior trunk lean throughout motion maintaining lumbar lordosis and thoracic rigidity 1. Athlete leans too far forward

2. Athlete allows lumbar spine to flex

3. Allows thoracic spine to flex

1. Widen stance, adjust load, encourage athlete to drive and extend hip

2. Ensure that athlete can posteriorly and anteriorly tilt pelvis in an unloaded situation. Adjust load and practice correct movement patterns

3. Encourage athlete to keep chest up and to keep their elbows under bar and not extend behind their body

Ascent Feet forcefully driven into floor
Knees and hips extend
Knees maintain position over toes in coronal plane Knees deviate inwards and hips internally rotate Possible weakness in hip abductors.

Increased foot pronation.

Load too heavy?

Single leg exercises may need to be considered in conjunction with reinforcement of squatting movement pattern

Hips raised at the same tempo as bar Hips raised at a higher tempo than bar Athlete has relative weakness in hip extensors.

Load is too heavy?

Encourage athlete to extend at hip forcefully through sticking point

Spinal curvature is maintained (rigid extended thoracic and lumbar lordosis) Lumbar and thoracic flexion Load too heavy?

Weakness in spinal extensors

Encourage athlete to drive chest up

Breath out through mid range of movement (sticking point)

Following on from this technical model I would like to explain the evidence based rational behind the key technical aspects of the skill, as presented within this model.


This is different from head position, as it refers specifically to where the individual is looking. Their head alignment should remain neutral and their gaze straight ahead and not downwards as this can lead to increased hip and trunk flexion. A position that can cause increased torque on the vertebral column [1, 6, 15, 17].

Trunk Position

Maintaining a stiff torso and neutral lordotic lumbar position is a safe and optimal way to squat. Failure to do so combined with poor lifting mechanic increases the potential to overload the spine and back tissues to the point of causing injury [13,14,15].

Knee position in relation to toes;

The individual should prevent knee valgus (knees falling inwards), as this is structurally a weaker position for the knee when attempting to lift a load through the sagittal (up and down) plane and can damage the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) [17]. They should also prevent excessive forward translation of the tibia past the toes, as this will increase the shear forces at the knee and increasing the chance of Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries [17, 11]. However some translation over the knee is acceptable as preventing this completely can increase anterior lean of the trunk, hip and lumbar shear forces [16, 10].

 Muscle Activation in relation to; Squat Depth & Feet Width Position

 Squat Depth

During Electromyographic (EMG) studies have shown that squatting at 45 degrees (half Squat), 90 degrees (parallel Squat) and 125 degrees (full squat) resulted in a larger and larger contribution from the gluteus maximus [2, 16]. However the full squat produces pelvic tilt that compromises the lumber spine, in that natural lordotic curve is lost, thus reducing the activation of the lumbar erector muscles, and placing the spinal column in a weaker and less safe position for coping with heavier loads [5, 16].

Feet Width

Studies have shown that there is no significant effect on muscle activity of lower limb muscles between 75-140% shoulder width [7, 8, 3, 16, 18]. However it is worth considering that a wider stance helps externally rotate the hip during the decent phase, facilitating parallel and full squat depth [19]. Furthermore its been shown that there is an increased activation of the adductor muscle when feet stance is greater than shoulder width [3, 16]. Therefore this increased activation of muscles used will increase the potential for force production during the lift.

In summary I hope that this overview has provided you with a clearer understanding of the exercise’s technical model and the rationales behind its structure. However as a cautionary point, I would suggest that the limitations of such a well established and seemingly robust model is that it can perhaps limit an S&C coaches creativity and impede his or hers instinct for growth and further learning. After all as long as one follows an evidence-based philosophy to exercise prescription, there is no reason that deviations to this model, which provide equal or superior adaptations to training won’t be found in the future. Stagnation is the enemy of all progression.



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By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh

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