The safety squat bar can be a helpful tool to enable squats for individuals with shoulder issues. Find out what muscles this specialty barbell variation works.
While there are a few different safety squat bar exercises the main one people are interested in is the “back” squat with this bar.
The safety squat bar squat still mainly works the quadriceps (front thighs), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), calves, and lower back muscles.
However, the exercise engages these muscles in a somewhat different ratio than regular barbell squats.
Safety bar squat vs barbell back squat muscles worked
During a regular barbell back squat, you have to tilt your upper body forward to stay balanced. If you don’t do this, the weight of your body and the barbell make you fall backward.
As you may have noticed, safety squat bars basically always have a “camber”, a dent in the bar. Their sleeves with weight plates are not at the same level as the main bar resting on your back, they are typically more forward.
This makes it so you have to tilt your upper body forward less compared to a barbell back squat to stay balanced. The main differences between these exercises in terms of muscles worked come from the different torso angles.
Safety squat bar squats generally focus just a bit more on your quadriceps (front thighs) and just a bit less on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles than the barbell back squat.
That being said, both of these exercises still engage these muscles to large extents, just in a different ratio. If you are not able to do back squats, a safety squat bar can be worth it since these leg muscles are so important to train.
Besides information based on weight lifting principles, there are also studies that try to measure the differences in muscle activation between the SSB and the barbell.
One study with 12 competitive powerlifters looked at the differences in mean muscle activity between 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 75% of 3RM (3 repetition maximum) safety bar squats and barbell back squats.
They measured decreased mean muscle activity in the rectus abdominis (46.3%) (abs), medial hamstring (17.1%), lateral hamstring (15.1%), vastus lateralis (9.3%) (quadricep muscle), and medial gastrocnemius (18.8%) (calf muscle) when using a safety squat bar (1).
As the authors note, this is somewhat expected because the SSB variation had an 11.3% decrease in absolute weight in the 3RM compared to the barbell back squat.
In simple words, the participants could squat fewer pounds and kg’s with the safety squat bar, this variation was harder than the regular barbell back squat.
They also measured a 50.3% increase in lower trapezius activation in the safety bar squat but this is not that relevant for these exercises where leg muscles are the main target.
A different study with 32 individuals did a similar experiment but with a 1RM and they measured peak muscle activation in 7 muscles instead of the mean.
They did not observe any significant differences in peak muscle activation (2).
However, they did find again that the 1RM of a barbell back squat was higher than a safety squat bar. This time the difference was 11.6%.
One last study with 14 recreationally trained people compared the safety squat bar with high bar squats and low bar squats.
They did measure greater myoelectric activity of the gluteus maximus with the SSB vs the high bar squat (3). This would be strange and could be because the participants squatted deeper with the SSB.
On the other hand, this could also provide more information about the way the safety squat bar works your muscles differently.
Does a safety squat bar squat work glutes?
Regular back squats are a relatively quad-focused exercise which means they do not work your glutes and hamstrings that much.
You may wonder if using a safety squat bar changes anything in this.
And the answer is yes but not in the direction of more glute engagement.
A safety squat bar squat still works your glutes and hamstrings a small amount but even less than regular back squats.
In simpler words, if you want to grow and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, you want to turn to different exercises.