In my piece from last October, Musings on the High Bar vs Low Bar Squat Debate, I distilled some of the main arguments (as I understand them) for and against the use of the low bar squat for olympic weightlifters. Coming from the angle of Starting Strength, it’s no surprise that, contrary to the overwhelming majority of olympic lifting coaches in the United States and abroad, I feel that the low bar squat has not been given a fair shake when it comes to basic strength development for olympic lifters, and that piece from last October explains why.
One of the biggest issues we have, however, is getting any serious olympic lifters or OL coaches to even give it a try. The preference for the high bar squat is so ingrained and deeply held, that usually the best we can hope for is to be dismissed out of hand. Often, derision and mockery ensue – this has been not only my own experience in attempting to discuss it with some in the OL community, but also that of others I know.
Presumably the easiest way to combat this attitude and open doors to more OLers giving the LBBS a try, would be to produce a large and successful group of lifters who use it as their primary squat variant. While I think this will eventually happen, and my more recent post, quoting OL Coach Tim DiStasio, was a nice illustration of both this phenomenon at work, and the conventional widsom’s reaction to our ideas, it’s a slow process. Probably primarily because, for a number of logical reasons, most people utilizing the Starting Strength model and method of lifting focus more on the basic strength lifts: Squat, Press, Deadlift, Bench Press; than they do on the olympic lifts of the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. But, there are some O-Lifters in our ranks as well. If my buddy and fellow Starting Strength Coach Nick D’Agostino can manage to avoid injury for a full year, he could make some waves at the national level. I had the pleasure of coaching Nick at the American Open this past December, and he pulled 173kg (381 lbs) high enough to power clean it.
With more time to develop his strength, and work on his technique, Nick could make some noise. So, the process is happening, but slowly.
Be that as it may, in the nearly 10 months since I wrote the High Bar vs Low Bar piece, I’ve come to realize there’s another argument here against one of the more oft-cited contentions against the Low Bar Squat.
Referring again to the original article linked above, I pointed out that the snatch recovery looks a lot like a LBBS: hip drive gets the lifter up out of the hole from the overhead squat position of a snatch.
Here’s a few examples from an international level, olympic medalist lifter:
Dmitry Klokov: 192 in competition, 206 in training, 202 in training, slo-mo. That 202 slo-mo is really great here, because you can so easily see the hips lead up out of the hole and the change in back angle from more vertical to more horizontal that this produces. It really does look an awful lot like the mechanics of the SS Model of the low bar squat, except with the bar held rigidly locked out overhead, instead of on the back.
Here’s some more examples of well known lifters displaying hip drive and back angle change to get up out of the bottom of their snatch:
Speaking of Lu Xiaojun, it was his WR snatch (and 616 squat video) that prompted my original article on the subject last October. So let’s look at his snatch specifically. Here is a freeze-frame shot of him getting up out of the snatch, taken from the video linked above, at the point where he’s just below parallel, i.e. the correct depth for the bottom of a low bar squat:
As I point out in the caption, look at his diagnostic angles – they’re just what you’d expect to see in a low bar squat at this position, for someone with a long torso and short legs. Basically, he’s replicating low bar squat mechanics in the overhead squat portion of his snatch. Compare, for example, to his diagnostic angles of back, hip, and knee to where he first caught the snatch:
What’s happened in between? His hips have risen, his back angle has changed to be significantly more horizontal, and the bar has stayed basically over mid-foot thanks to his shoulder mobility.
Here’s the same thing, with Marcin Dolega’s 202.5 kg snatch in training. Catch position freeze-frame:
vs just below parallel position freeze-frame:
Watch the two videos again, as well as the other vids I linked above. This happens time after time in heavy snatches. It’s only reasonable to conclude that this hip driven, more horizontal back angled squat is how heavy snatches are generally recovered from.
Then, according to the logic of the conventional wisdom, squat snatching would actually ruin your ability to recover from a clean. After all, it uses very similar mechanics to the dreaded Low Bar Back Squat. So why don’t we see the “Low Bar is a waste of time” coaches require their lifters to power snatch or split snatch? True, it would limit the weight used in the snatch, but heaven forbid they should have to lean over and drive their hips up out of the hole, right?!? Especially given that the C&J is by far the heavier of the two lifts, and thus a larger driver of the lifter’s “Total,” you’d think we’d see this pointed out and implemented. But I’ve never seen nor heard this argument.
They aren’t worried about the snatch ruining their lifter’s ability to get up from a heavy clean via a chest-leading front squat, because they’re two completely different movements, whose unique motor patterns any internationally competitive athlete can successfully separate. Why should the low bar back squat be any different?
I can only assume that either they haven’t closely observed how most lifters get up from the bottom of a snatch, or have a special bias against the LBBS which causes them to dismiss it out of hand. Yet I think I’ve shown, with multiple examples and for multiple reasons, that the LBBS for olympic lifters should not be dismissed out of hand.
If you’re not worried about the snatch ruining your lifter’s clean, why do you maintain this concern regarding the LBBS?
Or, we could get our lifters stronger, via the squat variant that best combines the elements of a) most muscle mass utilized b) over the longest effective ROM c) that allows the most weight to be lifted….and thus d) get stronger. And then harness that strength to greater success in the power-displaying, strength dependent lifts known as the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. And maybe even win some medals or something. Because ‘Murica!
EDIT, 8/27/14: After seeing a facebook discussion in which some people predictably took issue with this position with ad hominem arguments and mischaracterizations of our nuanced position, I want to clarify what I wrote in the last sentence. I wrote “And maybe even win some medals or something. Because ‘Murica!” Followed by the Chuck Norris pic.
Though I thought it obvious, this line was not meant to suggest that if we only switched all our lifters to the LBBS, this would solve all our olympic lifting problems. I’ve seen the same thought process applied to two of our other unconventional views: a) that US olympic lifters need to be stronger and b) that a pull off the floor more closely approximating vertical, as opposed to sweeping in from further away, is more optimal.
In all cases, no one is suggesting that this is the ONE SINGLE factor needed to medal. Or even all three. If our US lifters did all the things we suggest, we’re not saying that will automatically lead to a place on the podium. That would be a stupid thing to say, however that is often how our position is characterized by those who want to knock it down, probably because a straw man is easier to knock down than dealing with a nuanced position.
To quote Mike Tuchscherer:
The real question in any training discussion is not “what works.” Rather, you should ask, “What is optimal?”
We’re trying to find what’s optimal. Not what people in the past have done that has worked. There’s absolutely no doubt 100% that high bar squats have worked to get people stronger. There’s absolutely no doubt that a very strong, explosive person can lift a lot of weight using a non vertical bar path. There’s absolutely no doubt that humans got from Point A to Point B before the domestication of the horse. And again before the invention of the locomotive. And again before the invention of the personal automobile. And again before the development of commercial jets. The analogy isn’t perfect, but the idea is that those things helped us get further, faster, and it would have been stupid to say “You can’t get there faster with a car, because no one’s ever done it before!” I’m not saying the LBBS is like a commercial jet compared to the HBBS being like riding a horse. What I’m saying is that if it provides an advantage, even a marginal one, that makes it more optimal. And if pulling in as straight a line as possible provides an advantage, even a marginal one, it is more optimal. And if you do several things that provide marginal advantages, they might just all add up to make a difference.
Or they might not. Our talent pool of athletes for olympic lifting is depleted by football and other more popular, lucrative sports. Our drug testing policies are stricter. Etc etc etc all the many, multi-factorial reasons we’re working with. But we can’t do anything about those, at least not immediately. It makes sense to try to optimize the things we can control, such as technique and strength.
Because not enough people have actually tried these things, due to the immediate, visceral dismissal of them by the weightlifting establishment, we don’t know for sure that they’re optimal. What we’re saying is that analysis suggests they are, and they’re worth exploring. The small number of people who have tried them (in an intelligent context – for example, doing an uncoached low bar squat or a geared lifter style squat for a few weeks while not snatching at all, and then coming back to snatch a few weeks later and lifting less than before is a good example of an UNintelligent context) have had good success. These ideas deserve a fair shake, and they do not get one, not even close, because of appeal to authority, phenomenology, and closed-mindedness. Not because an alternative, better analysis against their possible superiority has been developed.