A safety squat bar is a type of barbell originally made by powerlifters with a few key design differences. As the name suggests, these changes generally make the safety squat bar a safer option for squatting and other lower body exercises. Here is, the safety squat bar, in its classic form, pictured below.
The barbell, and I’m about to throw a fancy design word out here, is cambered. This means it has a curve. On a safety squat bar, the ends that hold the weight are cambered downward so the weight rests lower than the portion of the barbell that goes on your back.
The second big difference is the handles, which allow you to grip the bar securely without needing to reach behind your neck, and pad, which exists for comfort. The handles mean you don’t have to reach back to grab the barbell.
As we say in biology, form follows function. The design differences of the safety squat bar leads to some of its advantages (and disadvantages).
The weight doesn’t need to rest either behind your center of gravity, as in a back squat, or in front of it, as in a front squat. It can rest directly in line with your center of gravity. That’s because of the cambered design, the weight can move forward while the bar still rests on your back.
With the handles, you can even move the weight further forward to get a bit more of a front squat effect. This is especially important for taller, lanky lifters, who already have a disadvantage when it comes to lifting from a physics perspective (but hey, they get all the benefits of being tall in exchange for a harder time squatting).
Since the weight is centered, the safety squat will be easier to maintain a neutral spine. In that sense, the closest comparison if a safety squat is probably a trap bar deadlift.
Both back squats and front squats require a significant amount of shoulder mobility and thoracic spine mobility in order to properly grip the barbell without sacrificing a safe spine position. While many coaches will say, “improve your mobility” this ignores the facts.
Most people don’t have aspirations of competing in powerlifting or Olympic lifting, and therefore really don’t need that kind of mobility. For their everyday lives to feel healthy and strong, the mobility needed for a safety squat is sufficient.
Even if you do want to have exceptionally healthy shoulders, as you work through that process of improving your mobility, you can still get stronger with less risk of injury by choosing safety bar squats. In short, safety bar squats require less mobility to do safely and effectively.
The one downside of the safety squat bar that personally annoys me is it’s not easy to store (doesn’t fit in a barbell holder rack), takes up a lot of space, and is awkward to move. You can’t grab it the way you grab a regular barbell. It’s also on average 15-20lbs heavier than the traditional 45lb barbell.
The safety squatamd other squat-like movements can take the place of your main squat movement in your program. While I’m a huge proponent of single-leg training, and believe you can build tree trunks with split squats and heavy enough dumbbells, if you like and feel comfortable with a bilateral squat pattern, a bilateral safety squat can be a great option.
In my programs, which are single-leg focused, I use the safety squat bar for my unilateral squats once dumbbells become either boring or impractical from a weight standpoint. I mix in safety bar Bulgarian split squats and safety bar traditional split squats.
When I worked for a division 1 hockey team, we used safety squat bars nearly every time we trained legs. We had 6 of them in the gym, one for each rack, and they were an indispensable part of the program.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Traditional Split Squat
Pretty much any squat pattern can be used with a safety squat bar.
Given the simplicity of clear advantages to me of the safety squat bar, I recommend investing in one in a few settings. Firstly, if you have a gym, and you don’t have a safety squat bar, I will walk out. Given their rising popularity, I think the everyday gym-goer will begin to see more and more value in one.
So have at least one in your gym aresenal.
Secondly, if you have a home gym and like to squat, the safety squat bar can even replace your regular barbell (personally, I only use the regular barbell for landmine exercises nowadays). In all aspects, it’s a solid investment for a home gym, as long as you have a space where it won’t be in the way, which I know I’ve repeated, but storing safety bars is a pain.
I’ve heard of some homemade safety squat bars made by welders. I can’t emphasize enough how bad an idea this is. Leave the exercise manufacturing to the professionals, and preferably the reputable brands who’ve shown time and time again the quality of their stuff.
Personally, I’ve used the Perform Better Safety Squat Bar for years. I’ve seen them loaded with over 500 pounds and used daily by 30+ elite athletes. Like nearly everything from Perform Better, the quality stands out. And, it’s a bit less expensive, coming in at $350, while most other high-quality brands charge $400-$500. So if you’re looking to invest, that’s my favorite. You will find fancier ones, but this is the classic Safety Squat Bar and great for nearly any safety squat variation at any practical weight.
Here’s the Perform Better Safety Squat Bar in action:
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