Safety Squat Bars: The Ultimate Guide!


The safety squat bar is one of the most popular specialty barbells in the world. It reduces the pressure on your shoulders compared to a regular straight bar and it is a powerful tool for building a bigger, stronger lower body.

If you want to make faster progress in the gym and add more variety to your workouts then the safety squat bar is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Safety Squat Bar For Powerlifting
  • Part 2: The Safety Squat Bar For Strongman
  • Part 3: The Safety Squat Bar For Bodybuilding

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the best ways to use the safety squat bar in your own workouts so you can blast through your old training plateaus.

The safety squat bar is a specialty barbell that can be used for the squat and many other exercises.

The safety squat bar has two important features: a large padded surface that rests on your shoulders / upper back and a small camber which moves the center of gravity forwards and down in front of you.

Here is a great video of the World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson squatting with this bar:

Hafthor squats 555 pounds for 15 reps and makes it look easy!

The most obvious difference between the safety squat bar and a regular 45 pound barbell is the the way the bar sits on your shoulders.

There is a large padded surface that rests on your shoulders and upper back and there are 2 handles in front of the bar which make it much easier on your elbows and wrists.

Many strongman competitors like Steve Slater say that this bar is the only reason they can train hard year-round without injuries. Check it out:

“One of the reasons that I really like this bar is the fact that it allows you to position your hands up front and that way i don’t need to jam my arms underneath the bar, thus affecting mu wrists, elbows and shoulders.

That way I can keep those muscle groups safe for other exercises like log presses.

Another reason I like the safeties squat bar is it activates the muscle groups that carry over in strongman.

Strongman is a lot of events that drive you forwards. This bar activates those muscles during events like stone loads or any sort of carry event.”

The other cool thing about this bar is the camber. The bar is bent so the extra 45-pound plates are lower and in front of the rest of the bar!

The camber gives the safety squat bar a completely different feel.

The strength coach Charles Poliquin correctly points out that the camber lowers the center of gravity of the exercise which reduces the stress on your lumbar spine. Check it out:

Here are Charles’ thoughts on this bar:

“I get a lot of questions, what’s the advantage of the safety squat bar? The main advantage is if you compare it to a regular bar the center of mass of the weight is lower.

So people who have lower back pain will benefit from the safety squat bar because the torque on the L5 vertebrae is much lower with the safety squat bar.

If you look at his back while he squats it is very upright. This allows you to protect your lower back. When you have lower back issues the safety squat bar is probably your best friend.”

Charles is absolutely correct: the research clearly supports the use of this bar for reducing lumbar spine stress on the squat (1, 2).

If you are dealing with any sort of lower back injury then the safety squat bar can be a way for you to safely work around your injury and continue to make progress in the gym.

The camber does more than just take the pressure of your lower back, though. It also forces your core muscles and your upper back to work harder than normal. Research shows that your abdominal muscles and lower traps have to work at least 50% harder with the safety squat bar!

Here is Brian Alsruhe talking about the benefits of the safety squat bar for improved core strength: 

“The SSB builds up more muscles than a regular low bar squat would.

The SSB hits your core like crazy and if you’re a powerlifter and you’re trying to use it it’s going to up your squat, up your deadlift and it’s going to keep your shoulders healthy so you can squat more often without impacting your bench press workouts.

There really is no downside to this piece of equipment.”

The safety squat bar is an incredible piece of equipment. In the rest of this article I’m going to show you how some of the world’s top powerlifters, strongman competitors and bodybuilders use the safety squat bar in their own workouts.

Some of their favorite exercises to perform with this bar include Hatfield overload squats, dead squats and safety squat bar good mornings.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information! Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The Safety Squat Bar For Powerlifters

The safety squat bar is one one of the most popular tools in the world for improving your squat and deadlift.

Many world-class powerlifters like Larry Wheels use this bar as a regular part of their training programs. Check it out:

Larry Wheels Max Out Safety Bar Squat

Powerlifters love this bar because it overloads your body in a completely different way from a regular straight bar.

The camber forces your lower back and upper back muscles to work harder to prevent the bar from throwing you forwards onto the ground. The giant padded surface also makes it easier for your shoulders to recover in time for your upper body workouts.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team is constantly rotating this bar in and out of their workouts to avoid training plateaus. One of their favorite strategies is to use the safety squat bar instead of a regular 45 pound barbell for their speed squat workouts.

Here is a sample workout where they used the safety squat bar. Check it out:

Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed safety squat bar box squat with bands, 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed rack deadlift with bands (mid-shin height), 8 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #3: Glute ham raise, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Good morning machine, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Forwards sled drags, 2 sets of 100 feet

Here is the training video for this workout:

So far we’ve only looked at powerlifters performing the regular back squat using the safety squat bar.

The truth is there are many different powerlifting exercises you can perform with this bar. Here are some of the most effective ones:

Powerlifting Special Exercises Using The Safety Squat Bar

  • Option #1: The dead squat
  • Option #2: Hatfield overload squats
  • Option #3: Safety squat bar good mornings

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: The Dead Squat

The dead squat is an exercise popularized by the creative powerlifting coach Josh Bryant. This exercise is performed with the safety squat bar resting on safety pins that are 1-3 inches above parallel.

You get into position under the bar, squat the weight up and then lower the bar back down to the safety pins.

Josh likes to perform this exercise for multiple sets of 1 rep with 1-3 minutes rest between sets. Here is a perfect video demonstration of the dead squat:

Josh Bryant uses the dead squat to improve your strength in the bottom position of the regular back squat. During a regular set of squats the stretch reflex helps you lift the weight out of the bottom position.

The stretch reflex is just a fancy way of saying that your body stores energy in your connective tissue during the lowering phase of an exercise.

The stretch reflex normally helps you during the first 1-4 inches of the squat. This is why so many people have a sticking point 1-4 inches above parallel – this is right where the stretch reflex wears off!

The dead squat attacks this sticking point because there is no stretch reflex to help you lift the weight up! You have to use nothing but your muscles to squat the weight up. Over time the dead squat will eliminate your sticking point 1-4 inches above parallel and boost your squatting strength.

Josh likes to use the dead squat as the main supplementary exercise of his squat workouts. Check it out:

Rob Hall’s Squat Routine

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1 sets of 4 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed back squat, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #3: Dead squat, 6 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #4: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 6 reps
  • Exercise #5: Split stance Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #6: Side planks, 2 x 60 seconds

For this workout Rob Hall performs the dead squat third in his routine for 6 sets of 1 reps.

If you have a sticking point right above parallel then I highly recommend the dead squat using the safety squat bar. This bar makes it much easier to get into the correct starting position than a regular 45-pound barbell.

Another great powerlifting exercise that you can perform with the safety squat bar is called the Hatfield overload squat.

This exercise was named after Dr. Fred Hatfield, one of the first men to squat over 1,000 pounds in competition. Check it out:

The Hatfield Overload Squat

This is a crazy exercise! Instead of holding onto the safety squat bar handles you are going to hold onto the power rack. This is possible because the safety squat bar rests on your shoulders on its own without falling off.

During the lifting phase of the exercise you use your arms to pull yourself up during your sticking point.

The Hatfield overload squat is such a powerful exercise because it lets you overload the eccentric or lowering phase of the squat with a heavier than normal weight. This is important because research shows that the eccentric or lowering phase of the squat is what creates the most size and strength gains.

Here is an offseason squat workout that Adam Ferchen performed using the Hatfield overload squat. Check it out:

Adam Ferchen Offseason Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Hatfield overload squats, 1 set of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Single-leg Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #3: Paused safety squat bar squats, 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #4: Trap bar deadlift, 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #5: Farmer’s walk, 2 sets of 100 feet
  • Exercise #6: Meadows row, 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #7: Double overhand deadlift static hold, 1 set to failure

There are many different ways that you could use the Hatfield overload squat in your training program.

Josh Bryant likes to use it in the offseason when you are trying to build muscle mass and bring up weak points. You could also use it during your powerlifting meet prep cycle as a core supplementary exercise for your legs. The choice is up to you.

Another great powerlifting exercise you can perform with this bar is the safety squat bar good morning. Check it out:

The Safety Squat Bar Good Morning

The safety squat bar good morning is an unbelievable exercise for your hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper back. This exercise has many advantages over the regular good morning.

First of all it is much easier to balance the safety squat bar on your back while you perform the exercise. The padded surface hugs your shoulders so you don’t have to worry about the bar rolling down your neck onto your head!

The other big advantage is this exercise works your lower and upper back much harder even though you are using less weight on the bar. The bar feels like it is throwing you forward onto the ground and you have to use your lower and upper back to prevent this from happening.

Many powerlifters say this exercise makes their spinal erectors as sore as a heavy set of deadlifts!

If you are serious about improving your squat and deadlift then the safety squat bar is an absolute must!

Part 2: The Safety Squat Bar For Strongman

If you are a serious strongman competitor then I am sure you have heard of the safety squat bar.

Many of the best strongman competitors in the world like Brian Shaw, Hafthor Bjornsson and Eddie Hall use the safety squat bar as a core part of their training programs.

Here is the strongman competitor Brian Alsruhe talking about this incredible specialty bar: 

“Because of the camber bar. There are a ton of benefits for using the SSB for your squats, for your deadlifts.

It hits your back in a completely different way, it hits your legs in a completely different way and it has done a ton for my own training.”

In strongman competitions you are competing in 4-6 different events like the atlas stones, farmer’s walk, log press and so on. You almost never have to perform a regular back squat in competition which means there’s no reason why you have to perform the back squat in your workouts!

Instead many strongman competitors focus on getting stronger at the safety squat bar squat because it provides better carryover to the strongman events.

Here is one example of the World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson using the safety squat bar instead of the regular bar in his training. Check it out:

Hafthor Bjornsson Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Safety squat bar squat, 3 sets of 2 reps
  • Exercise #2: Sandbag toss, 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Prowler push, 3 sets of 100 feet
  • Exercise #4: Static holds, 3 holds for as long as possible

Here is the training video for this workout:

Hafthor Bjornsson likes to rotate between the safety squat bar and the regular straight bar during his strongman training cycles. This is a strategy that another famous strongman competitor Eddie Hall likes to use in his training.

Eddie keeps his squat workouts very simple: he works up to a heavy set of 3-8 reps on the squat, then he performs 45 degree leg presses with a few thousand pounds and finally he performs the super yolk walk with enough weight to show that he clearly isn’t human. Check it out:

Eddie Hall Squat Workout

In case you were curious here is how Eddie Hall likes to structure his squat and deadlift workouts:

Eddie Hall’s Lower Body Training

  • Monday: Safety bar squat, leg press, yolk walk
  • Thursday: Deadlift, farmer’s walk, stone loading

So far we’ve looked at the leg training of Hafthor Bjornsson and Eddie Hall. Both of these strongman competitors rotate back and forth between a regular straight bar and the safety squat bar for their squat workouts. 

The 4x World’s Strongest Man winner Brian Shaw takes a completely different approach: he rotates between different specialty bars and never squats with a straight bar! Check it out:

Briant Shaw’s Squat Specialty Bars

  • Week 1: Safety Squat Bar
  • Week 2: Spider Bar
  • Week 3: Cambered Bar
  • Week 4: Repeat!

Brian rotates through different specialty bars like the safety squat bar, the spider bar and the cambered bar each week. Each of these bars attacks his body in a slightly different way.

Brian Shaw says that there is no way he could win the World’s Strongest Man competition without specialty bars like the safety squat bar. They give him much better carryover to the strongman events like the deadlift and the atlas stones and they put less pressure on his shoulders.

Here is one example of how Brian likes to organize his safety squat bar squat workouts. Check it out:

Brian Shaw Safety Squat Bar Workout

  • Exercise #1: Safety squat bar box squat with bands, 5 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Exercise #2: 45 degree leg press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Prowler push, 2 sets of 100 feet

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Brian Shaw works up to a moderately heavy weight on the safety squat bar squat with bands.

Brian rarely maxes out on the squat in his training because he treats the squat as an accessory exercise to improve his deadlift and the other strongman events. Check it out:

“The safety squat bar squat with bands an accessory to the deadlift and all of the events that I have to do at the Arnold Classic. That’s something I have to keep in mind with my training.”

Some strongman competitors will even use the safety squat bar on their lighter accessory exercises.

For example Brian Alsruhe sometimes uses the safety squat bar for his Bulgarian split squats and other exercises. Check it out:

Brian Alsruhe Safety Squat Bar Squat Workout

Main Giant Set

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat, multiple sets of 1-3 reps**, 3-5 minutes rest

Secondary Giant Set

  • B1: Safety squat bar Bulgarian split squat, 3 sets of 5 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Glute ham raise with bands, 3 sets of 12 reps, 90 seconds rest

Conditioning Giant Set

  • C1: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip), 10 sets of 1-5 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Burpees, 10 sets of 2-10 reps, 90 seconds rest
  • C3: Push ups, 10 sets of 3-15 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • C4: Mountain climbers, 10 sets of 4-20 reps, 90 seconds rest

**Work up to a 1-rep max for that day

Here is the training video for this workout:

Brian Alsruhe uses a crazy training technique called giant sets in most of his strongman workouts. You can read more about it in my article “The Brian Alsruhe Training Program!” 

The bottom line is the safety squat bar is one of the most important tools for the serious strongman competitor.

The safety squat bar squat gives better carryover to the strongman events like the deadlift, atlas stones and farmer’s walk than the regular straight-bar squat. If you are serious about reaching your full potential then you need this piece of equipment in your gym!

Part 3: The Safety Squat Bar For Bodybuilders

The safety squat bar is mostly used by powerlifters and strongman competitors. However, some creative bodybuilding coaches like John Meadows have started incorporating the safety squat bar and other specialty barbells into their training programs.

John Meadows says that he can’t squat with a regular 45-pound barbell anymore due to lower back issues. However, he can still squat with a safety squat bar!

This specialty barbell has a camber which lowers the center of gravity of the exercise. This reduces the pressure on his lower back and allows him to squat pain-free.

Here is a leg workout where John used the safety squat bar as his core quadriceps exercise. Check it out:

John Meadows Safety Squat Bar Workout

  • Exercise #1: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 20 reps
  • Exercise #2: Safety squat bar squat, 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #3: Walking safety squat bar lunges, 4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Exercise #4: Sissy squat machine with bands, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Glute ham raise, 3 sets to failure

This is a very normal looking leg workout for John Meadows.

For this workout he uses the safety squat bar as his “explosive exercise” where he really tries to accelerate the bar as fast as possible and overload his fast-twitch muscle fibers. Check it out:

“Exercise is the squat and I really like the safety bar squat, that’s what this bar is. It’s a little easier on my lower back. You can stay more upright.

I really like the safety squat bar, it’s very easy on your lower back. It’s a very underrated piece of equipment.”

If you are serious about building your quads and hamstrings then there are some other exercises that you have to try with the safety squat bar. One of these exercises is the Hatfield overload squat.

Josh Bryant likes to use this with powerlifters in their offseason phase of training. However, Josh also likes to use this exercise with his world-class bodybuilders to overload their legs with a heavier than normal weight.

Here is a full lower body workout featuring 4 different eccentric training strategies to really blow up your legs. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Hatfield Squat Workout Routine

  • Exercise #1: Romanian deadlift with bands, 4 sets of 6-12 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 6-12 reps***
  • Exercise #3: Machine squat, 4 sets of 6-12 reps****
  • Exercise #4: Hatfield squat, 4 sets of 6-12 reps

**Perform a 5-second lowering phase on every rep.

***Performed using the 2/1 method. Lift the weight with 2 legs and slowly lower the weight down with 1 leg. Perform 6-12 reps on one leg, then 6-12 reps on the other leg. This counts as 1 set.

****Perform 3 separate 3-second isometric pauses on the eccentric range of each rep.

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Josh uses 4 different eccentric training strategies including 5-second negatives, the 2/1 method on leg curls, 3-second iso-holds on the eccentric phase and Hatfield overload squats to thrash all of the muscle fibers in your quads and hamstrings.

Talk about a brutal workout! Finally the safety squat bar good morning is a fantastic lower back / hamstrings exercise that every serious bodybuilder can include in their routine.

Here is a Mountain Dog hamstrings routine that you can try. Check it out:

John Meadows Hamstrings Routine

  • Exercise #1: Glute ham raise, 4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: Safety squat bar good morning, 4 sets of 6-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 6-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

The bottom line is the safety squat bar is one of the best tools you can use as a bodybuilder to beef up your lower body.

If you have not used this incredible piece of equipment then you are missing out on some of the best gains of your life!

Conclusion

The safety squat bar is an unbelievable piece of equipment. Many of the biggest, strongest athletes in the world use this specialty barbell as a core part of their training programs.

There are two main reasons to use the safety squat bar in your own programs:

  • Reason #1: Injury Prevention
  • Reason #2: Size and strength gains

The safety squat bar is a great tool for keeping you healthy and preventing injuries. The shoulder padding keeps your upper back and shoulders happy while the camber reduces the strain on your lumbar spine.

If you have ever dealt with lower back pain then you know how important this can be. The bar is also a tremendous way to build your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back and core musculature.

There is just no way to replicate the safety squat bar squat with a regular 45-pound barbell.

If you are on the fence about buying the safety squat bar then what are you waiting for? The next Doge Coin market rally? If you are serious about getting results then getting your own safety squat bar is no-brainer!

I really like the one available at Rogue Fitness but there are many other great options available.

Here is a great quote by Arnold Schwarzenegger to pump you up even more:

“It all comes from the mind. I’ve seen the most incredible success stories because a person had a dream and it was so powerful no one could touch it.

He’d feel it, believe it, think about it all day and night. That would inspire him to do things necessary to get the results he wanted.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

References

  1. Hecker KA, Carlson LA, Lawrence MA. Effects of the Safety Squat Bar on Trunk and Lower-Body Mechanics During a Back Squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33 Suppl 1:S45-S51. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002912. PMID: 30363042.
  2. Vantrease, William & Townsend, Jeremy & Sapp, Philip & Henry, Ruth & Johnson, Kent. (2020). Maximal Strength, Muscle Activation, and Bar Velocity Comparisons Between Squatting With a Traditional or Safety Squat Bar. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Publish Ahead of Print. 1. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003541.
  3. International Journal of Sports Science. p-ISSN: 2169-8759    e-ISSN: 2169-8791 2018;  8(5): 137-144. doi:10.5923/j.sports.20180805.01.

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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