The Safety Bar Squat: The Best Squat Variation You’re Probably Not Doing

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The Safety squat barbell (SSB) is becoming increasingly popular among everyone from powerlifters and bodybuilders, to athletes, to people just trying to feel better and look their best. It’s a great tool for maximizing your lower body and core strength while minimizing shoulder discomfort.

Safety Squat Barbell (SSB)

The Safety Squat Barbell (SSB) is a specialty barbell that was brought to use by the powerlifting community. It has two handles to make it easier for you to hold onto the damn thing.

But the best part about this barbell is not just its handles, but the camber design. The camber design positions the weight slightly in front of you when the bar is on your shoulders, making it a perfect variation to give a combination of the benefits of front squats and back squats.

The SSB provides so many opportunities and exercise variations and is overall a great piece of equipment that I think everyone should have in their home gym.

What Is a Safety Bar Squat?

A safety bar squat, simply, is a regular squat but with SSB squats are a variation of the standard back squat that help you to maximize your lower body and core strength while minimizing shoulder discomfort.

Why Should You Do Safety Bar Squats?

More Comfortable For The Shoulders

The SSB reduces demands on shoulder mobility because it doesn’t require any shoulder external rotation.

For that reason, the SSB squat is very similar to the front squat. But the front squat requires a lot of wrist mobility and doesn’t allow you to go as heavy, because the limiting factor will most likely be your shoulder flexion strength.

All-in-One Squat Variation

They will also have direct carry-over to your regular squat.

Because the weight is slightly in front of you, and not in line with the middle of your foot, you’ll have to fight harder than you would in the back squat, to keep your upper back from going into flexion, which is something that a lot of lifters struggle with when the weights get heavy.

Now if you’re using an adjustable SSB bar, then you can also change the camber of the bar. This will make it more like a traditional back squat.

Then you can also move it all the way to the back making it ideal for hip-dominant exercises such as the good morning that utilize the hinge pattern.

One thing I want to point out is that your choice of footwear also plays a role in what muscles the exercise is targeting.

Using squat shoes will put a lot more weight on your quads or glutes, whether the camber is set to be more in front or back respectively.

Perfect Back Squat Alternative

Now, if you’re a gym junkie like me, you probably like doing heavy squats. All the time. Always. But sometimes your body gets worn out and fatigued, especially when doing a challenging variation like the low-bar squat.

The SSB squat can be a great substitute to help you train with relatively high intensity, get your reps in, and stimulate your lower body while saving your upper and lower back from the strain of maximal weights.

They can also come in handy if 1) you’re focusing on hypertrophy over intensity for that particular phase of training and 2) you’re trying to eliminate and/or work on your weak spots.

Strongmen also utilize the SSB squat because it’s very similar to many strongman lifts like the atlas stones, where the back is forced into flexion.

What Muscle Do Safety Bar Squats Activate?

SSB squats target a number of different muscles in the lower body. Primarily, they work the same muscles as the regular barbell squat – quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Of course, they also activate the lower back, the stabilizer muscles, and the abs. Similar to the front squats, the abs are activated in an effort to prevent your back from rounding/going into flexion. 

How Do SSB Squats Differ From Traditional Back Squats?

The main difference between SSB squats and traditional back squats is the decreased demands placed on shoulder mobility. With SSBs, you’re able to keep your elbows tucked in closer to your body, helping to reduce strain on the shoulders.

Many low-bar squatters know that by blasting tons of volume, your shoulders will eventually start to ache. That’s because some of the weight will inevitably fall onto your arms, therefore affecting the shoulders.

Or you might just have very poor external shoulder rotation, making it hard for you to even hold the bar in that position. You can, of course, switch to a high bar, but the demand for external rotation will still be there.

Another small difference comes from the need for equipment. With the SSB you don’t need wrist wraps, since the weight of the bar rests solely on your back.

How To Perform SSB Squats

Okay, now the fun part. Don’t come back to attack me if you start seeing gains right away.

  1. First, let’s make sure your gym actually has an SSB and locate it.
  2. If you’ve completed the first step, then the hardest part is already behind you!
  3. Place the SSB into a squat rack at a height where 1) you don’t have to raise onto your toes to take it out and 2) you don’t have to squat so deep that un-racking the bar becomes a part of the exercise.
  4. Once un-racked, take a few steps back, and for starters, assume your regular squat stance.
  5. Make sure to keep the handles in a neutral position. Not excessively tucked in, and not pushed up too high.
  6. Begin the descent and stand back up once you’ve hit parallel.
  • Try to hold handles in the same relative position throughout the movement, don’t pull or push them in any direction!

Biggest Mistake People Make When Doing SSB Squats

Pushing the handles up

This takes the tension away from the spinal erectors, making your whole back, especially your upper back work less. This also allows you to hinge more, which is great for expressing maximal strength, but oftentimes this isn’t the goal with this variation.

SSB Exercises And Variations

The SSB is mainly used for SSB squats, but there are many other great variations that you can use it for. Here are some of my favorites:

Hatfield Squat

safety bar hatfield squat

It’s essentially the same as the SSB Squat itself. The difference is that here, you’ll want to hold onto the rack with both hands and let the bar stay on your back by itself.

That way, you can stay more upright my supporting yourself with your hands and preventing spinal flexion. This makes your whole upper body work less, placing the emphasis mainly on your quads.

This can be used as a variation to the leg press, belt squats, smith squats, or any other quad-dominant exercise really.

Split Squats

safety bar split squat

The reason I love doing split squats with an SSB is that I can better keep my ribcage and pelvis stacked and stay more upright, placing more emphasis on the quads of the front leg.

For more split squat variations with the SSB (and without) check out our master article on the dreaded Bulgarian Split Squat.

Good Mornings

Last but not least, good mornings. I personally hate doing good mornings with a regular barbell. It just feels so uncomfortable because the bar is always trying to crush your neck.

With an SSB, it’s so easy to control the bar and have it stay in position. Depending on which bar you use, you can also adjust the settings to have the weight even more in front of you, to allow for a more hip-dominant pattern, which makes it even easier to hinge and perform good mornings.


No matter who you are, the SSB squat can be a great tool to use to build strength and muscle while saving your shoulders from some wear and tear. I encourage you to try out some of the variations and who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite exercise.

About the Author

I'm an undergraduate in Sports and Exercise Science, a coach/personal trainer, and a blogger at My goal is to show people how to improve their quality of life through exercise and nutrition, and share strategies and tools to boost their health and performance.

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