Have you ever glanced at that strangely padded and handled bar lying in the corner of your gym, and wondered why the hell anyone would use it? The barbell I am referring to is called ‘the safety squat bar’ (SSB), deriving its name from its structure which allows you to let go of the bar while squatting – should you get stuck. The presence of its ‘pussy pad’ on the neck and shoulder portion unfortunately scares away many gym diehards, who write this barbell off as inferior. I say unfortunately, because the SSB is in many ways more brutal than a regular barbell, while adding some useful training effects to a routine.
“Your upper back muscles need to work much harder.”
What initially might seem like little more than just a more comfortable way to squat quickly becomes deceivingly hard work once you start adding weight. When squatting with a regular barbell, the arms and shoulders are behind the bar: this creates tension in the upper back, which helps to keep your chest up. In case of the SSB, the forward arm position causes you to lose this tension, which effectively means that your upper back muscles need to work much harder. In addition to that, the padding puts the bar higher on your back (further away from your hips), which adds even more strain to your upper back muscles. Lastly, the camber in the bar (that funky bend on both sides) shifts the centre of mass forward, which serves as the uppercut K.O. to your upper back extensors. Because of this, people are usually able to squat quite a bit less weight with a SSB than with a straight bar.
Luckily there is more to the SSB than just extra punishment, because the higher weight placement and forward shift of the centre of mass do allow for a more upright torso position (in comparison to a regular squat). This means that it’s easier to sit up straight and squat deep with a SSB, while also allowing for a more leg dominant movement.
So when should you use this barbell? I like having people squat with the SSB when they lack the mobility to squat deep, when they need extra leg drive, or when they could do with some strengthening of their upper backs (SSB good mornings are great here as well). Another prime case for the SSB is when dealing with shoulder injuries: the forward arm position is much friendlier on the shoulder joint, which may allow the injured to continue training. Lastly, when doing loaded single leg work, I prefer this barbell over a regular one. Simply because it is more comfortable to hold for prolonged periods, and its ‘safety properties’ can make matters a little more…well, safe.
“I like having people squat with the SSB when they lack the mobility to squat deep”
All in all, I think no type of barbell is superior over another, because each brings different training effects that all have a place. I do however hope that reading this article convinced you to give the SSB a little more love next time you enter the gym.