Safety squat bars are one the best alternatives for the traditional straight barbell. Straight barbells are great and have their place in every gym, but the safety squat bar (SSB) offers an alternative to challenge the body slightly differently and for those with poor shoulder mobility, shoulder injuries or throwing athletes.
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What is a Safety Squat Bar?
An SSB is a specialty barbell that originated in the powerlifting community. It is a barbell with a camber on the ends (the collars are lower than the middle of the bar), and it has handles that stick out in front of the bar. This allows for the shoulders to be in a stress-free position instead of being pulled back behind the bar. The handles are padded as is the middle of the bar that is placed on your back. When the camber and handles are combined, it makes for a unique bar that balances itself on the back when positioned correctly.
What is different about using a safety squat bar?
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time squatting under the bar will tell you that the Back Squat can produce a surprisingly high amount of stress on the shoulder joints as well as the elbows. The SSB reduces this stress, and it is a great tool to use for a multitude of exercises, especially for those with shoulder/elbow injuries or throwing athletes who do a high volume of throwing in preseason or in-season work.
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When you use an SSB bar for the first time, one thing is quite apparent: The slight variation in the bar changes things. Because of the way the bar sits and the camber, when squatting you feel it much more in your upper back thoracic spine area.
SSB Squats tend to pull the lifter forward more than usual, which can also benefit strength athletes and general fitness enthusiasts who want to strengthen their upper back. Another aspect that I love as a coach is the safety net that an SSB provides. Since the SSB can be balanced relatively easy on the back with no hands, if a lifter gets in trouble the bar cannot fall easily. This can also become a factor in exercises such as the Bulgarian Split Squat. When using a bar instead of weights placed in the hands, it is much safer to set up, because you can use your hands as a guide to place your back foot on the bench or box.
Many of the following exercises are variations of common rear-loaded barbell exercises that require you to swap out the straight barbell for an SSB. Refer to the video for a visual of each.
Next time you experience shoulder or elbow pain, or when you start to increase your throwing volume, consider swapping out the straight barbell for the safety squat bar.
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