A Unique Way To Fix Your Barbell Squat & Lunge
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
The barbell squat can be one of the most frustrating exercises to master with perfect execution. Even after years of practice, most lifters have various form mistakes and technique aberrations that not only keep them from maximizing their strength, hypertrophy, and performance, but also produce various injuries.
Earlier this year I highlighted the idea of creating your own makeshift safety squat bar with lifting straps as a means of implementing a squat variation that was more conducive for dialing in your form. Recently I’ve been playing with that variation by incorporating lifting bands instead of straps as demonstrated here by NFL quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Because Taylor has suffered several shoulder injuries throughout his career this makeshift squat variation is optimal for allowing him to perform barbell squats while taking stress off his glenohumeral joint. The bands add to this effect even further making this a deceptively difficult movement. Here are 7 benefits of this makeshift safety squat bar with band handles.
1. Similar to straps, the bands can be easily gripped as high or as low as feels comfortable. They can also be adjusted as wide or as narrow as you need them. This makes it very conducive for accommodating any size lifter and varying anthropometrics, limb length, or pre-existing shoulder issues.
2. The makeshift safety squat bar setup is already much more unstable than any traditional barbell or specialty barbell due to the lack of rigidity in the handles/straps. Substitute the straps with bands and this effect is exponentially more noticeable as you now have subtle and unpredictable oscillations from the bands similar to the hanging band technique.
As a result this forces the lifter to use very strict mechanics and dial in their form to another level otherwise the barbell will tilt, roll, shift, or slide off their back. Furthermore if you have an asymmetrical loading pattern and favor one side of your body or allow one hip or shoulder to dip, this set-up will give you immediate feedback due to the volatility of the load. As a result most lifters will immediately find their abs, core, and spinal stabilizers working overtime on these. Just be prepared to significantly reduce the load at first as you’ll be stunned at how difficult these can be.
3. This particular makeshift safety squat bar with bands is the most effective barbell variation I’ve ever used for teaching lifters how to pull the bar into their back and squeeze their lats. Rather than simply allowing the bar to rest on your back, pulling or squeezing the bar into your back is a critical component for any barbell squat variation as it helps create increased intramuscular tension, full body stiffness, spinal rigidity, enhanced lat activation, and a more stable bar position. With the makeshift variation if you don’t pull aggressively on the straps and pull the bar into your back, the bar will bounce and shift around on your back in an uncontrollable fashion.
4. This makeshift safety squat bar with bands setup is also incredibly effective at reinforcing the hip hinge while still ingraining a moderately upright torso position. The lifter will be required to keep their hips set back near maximally throughout without allowing the chest to drop over excessively. Many lifters struggle with this cue. If they maintain too upright of a position they fail to create ample hip hinge. In contrast if they try to set their hips back they oftentimes lean over excessively and place undue strain on the spine. This squat variation teaches the lifter to find the optimal balance between these two cues.
5. Due to the incredibly strict mechanics combined with semi lighter loads, this makeshift safety squat protocol is very effective for inducing hypertrophy via significant mechanical tension and metabolic stress. In fact, you’ll notice that you’ll almost be forced to resort to eccentric isometric repetitions in order to lock the load in. Excessive momentum or lack of controlled movement will cause the bar to become uncontrollable.
6. This makeshift safety squat with bands is very joint friendly not just on the shoulders (due to the safer arm position) but also because of the reduced training load that the lifter will inevitably be forced to use. Simply put the lifter can use nearly half the load he or she would normally use while still producing significant stress to the lower body. As a result this ends up being friendly on the low back, knees, and hips.
7. If you have trouble finding your ideal squat depth this makeshift safety squat bar will help immensely. In fact, if you collapse or use excessive depth by going past parallel or 90 degree mechanics you’ll be punished almost immediately as you’ll have difficulty maintain control of the barbell without a significant compensation pattern. Learn more about proper squat depth here.
This makeshift safety squat technique with bands is also very conducive for employing on barbell lunges, Bulgarian squats, barbell lateral lunges, split squats, and good mornings. Here’s one of my awesome figure competitors Leslie Petch showing how it’s done with lunges.
Besides firing up additional motor units and muscle fibers as a result of the heightened instability and volatility of the load, this particular variation is incredibly effective for fixing lunge mechanics and split squat form.
Similar to the squat variation with the safety bar setup, this also reinforces the hip hinge which is one of the most important cues during the lunge and split squat. The lifter will be required to keep their hips set back near maximally throughout to create a slight forward torso lean in order to keep the bar from sliding off their back. In other words it promotes ideal lunging mechanics as proper lunges and split squats involve a moderate hip hinge and forward lean throughout the movement. Just be prepared for a serious burn in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. As an added bonus this does wonders for improving foot and ankle strength as well as overall balance, stability, and motor control.
To learn more about implementing unique exercise variations such as these to fix your form and technique check out my Complete Templates Series.