Are Safety Bar Squats Harder?

safety bar squat
October 6, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are safety bar squats harder?”. Safety bar squats are a great squatting variation that provides a unique and different challenge.

They also carryover very well to other squatting modalities and are a fantastic movement in particular for strongmen. The exercise was originally created to allow powerlifters to continue squatting even when they were too worn down to do normal squats. 

Are Safety Bar Squats Harder?

The simple answer is yes, they are harder. There are many reasons why the safety bar squat is harder. Firstly the safety squat bar pitches you further forward and therefore it forces your upper back to work a lot harder. 

Mechanically you are in a more disadvantageous position and it is akin to a front squat. Your core is taxed a lot harder on the SSB squat which makes the movement feel a lot harder with heavy weights.

If you are doing safety bar squats with a pad that isn’t very thick it can make the exercise a lot more uncomfortable and increase the difficulty further. The safety bar is heavier than a standard barbell – it can weigh as much as 70lbs. 

Weight Is Shifted Further Forward

The safety bar squat mechanically pitches you further forward. It is similar to a high bar squat to that end but it will feel even harder. You will have to work a lot harder to come out of the hole in this position.

The pad is usually quite thick on most safety squat bars which will also make the exercise harder. The core muscles have to work extra hard to stabilise the weight. This all serves to increase the difficulty.

You are only as strong as your weakest link and the squat is an exercise that is unforgiving in revealing any weaknesses. If your core and upper back muscles are not strong enough you will simply struggle with heavy safety bar squats. The same holds true with heavy front squats.

Similar Feel To A Front Squat

The safety bar squat has a similar feel to a front squat. Both exercises can feel awkward and uncomfortable and require a great deal of core stabilisation. 

With the safety bar squat though, as you are holding on to the handles you are able to grind though tough reps better. With the standard front squat it is a lot easier to lose the bar forward on grinders, this is due to the way that you hold the bar on the front squat.

You can keep the bar in place on the front squat with just two fingers and keeping your elbows up. This positioning is still not as secure as holding on to the handles on a safety bar squat.

There is a good article from Powerlifting Technique covering various benefits of the safety bar squat. You can check it out here.

safety bar squat

Brian Arlsruhe Case Study

There is a very good video by Brian Arlsruhe where he discusses the utility of the safety bar squat for powerlifting and strongman. The video can be viewed below.

I already started this article by stating that powerlifting and strongman are areas where the safety bar squat really shines. The exercise builds the strength of lots of supporting muscles which helps no end with other forms of squatting.

In the case of strongman, the yoke is an event that relies on many of the same supporting muscles that are built up with the SSB squat. Therefore there is a great deal of utility.

In the video Brian states that the safety bar squat can increase your normal squat and deadlift, it can also keep your shoulders safer. In addition, your upper back, neck, traps, lats, upper back and lower back are taxed heavily.

However, Brian notes that the safety squat bar doesn’t put as much stress on the lower back as other squatting variations. The exercise is very useful for athletes as well, they can build up all the extra supporting muscles which will provide a great benefit.


There is a study in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning from July 2019 [1] on the effects of the safety squat bar on mechanics during the squat.

Twelve competitive powerlifters were used for the study – eight males and four females. The ages were 31.5 +- 6.3 years. The powerlifters squatted three set of five reps at 75% of their three rep max (3RM).

Motion and muscle activation of the lower extremity and trunk were measured. The analysis revealed that there was an 11.3% decrease in 3RM with the safety bar squat.

These results are consistent with the fact that safety bar squats are simply more difficult to perform than standard squats. You simply can’t handle the same weights on safety bar squats.

There was also a 50.3% increase in lower trapezius activation. This suggests that the safety squat bar is more challenging to the mid and upper back musculature than the traditional barbell squat. Anecdotally, these findings also hold true.

Final Thoughts

Are safety bar squats harder? The answer is yes, the research also shows that you can’t handle as heavy weights as the normal barbell squat.

The safety bar pitches you forward and makes your upper back and core do a tremendous amount of work from this position. It is safer on the lower back though.

Because you are pitched forward you are not in the mechanically most advantageous position to shift the most amount of weight. If the pad is not thick enough it can make the exercise a lot more uncomfortable and drastically increase the difficulty further.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!


Hecker, Kara A.1; Carlson, Lara A.2,3; Lawrence, Michael A.2Effects of the Safety Squat Bar on Trunk and Lower-Body Mechanics During a Back Squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2019 – Volume 33 – Issue – p S45-S51 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002912

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