Safety squat bars can be used instead of barbells in the squat exercise. Find out whether this makes things easier or harder for different body parts.
The first thing to note is that people typically use a safety squat bar because it makes the exercise easier on their shoulders in terms of comfort.
In terms of muscle strength requirements, studies measured that safety bar squats are generally harder than regular barbell back squats with the same amount of pounds and kilograms.
Even when considering the safety squat bar weight.
While your lifts may look less impressive on paper, a safety squat bar can be worth it nonetheless. You can still use this piece of equipment to grow and strengthen a variety of muscles.
Studies about how hard safety squat bar squats are
Safety squat bars are so popular there are specific studies done about this piece of fitness equipment. These compare the SSB version with regular barbell back squats.
One study with 12 competitive powerlifters tried to get an idea of the difference in motion and mean muscle activation between these two squat variations.
To do that they measured the 3RM (3 repetition maximum) of the participants in both exercises. They observed an 11.3% decrease in 3RM when using the SSB which means the safety squat bar is harder than a barbell back squat (1).
A different study with 32 participants also tried to compare the SSB and regular barbell back squats. This time in terms of strength, muscle activation, and bar velocity.
To do this they determined the 1RM weight of the participants for both exercises. This study found that people could squat more with a regular barbell than with a safety bar in the 1RM, more specifically around 11.6% more (2).
Why are safety bar squats harder?
The main reason why there are differences in how much weight you can lift is not because of the handles of the SSB.
Instead, basically all good safety squat bars have a camber, a dent in the bar. The sleeves with weight plates are positioned more forward than the main part of the bar resting on your shoulders.
This makes it so you need to keep your torso more upright during the SSB compared to the barbell back squat. In turn, this leads to challenging your muscles in a different ratio.
More particularly, you work your quadriceps more and glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles less.
In combination with the relative strength of these muscles, the same number of pounds and kilograms becomes harder to lift.
Comfort of the SSB could make your life easier
While the safety squat bar is harder in terms of the total weight you can lift, from a different perspective the exercise can also become easier.
Some individuals find the shoulder angle required to hold the barbell during back squats uncomfortable.
By being able to hold the handles in front of them to keep the bar in place, the squat exercise becomes easier for these people in terms of comfort.