It seems like people are spending a lot of time talking about specialty barbells. As more facilities are investing in specialty bars, I have wondered how worthwhile are these varieties and for what specific purposes? Think about it: weightlifting bars, powerlifting bars, sport/hybrid bars, safety squat bars, cambered bars, duffalo bars, tsunami bars, axel bars, and plenty more! The more specialized a bar is (non-straight bars), the more one-dimension it may become. I found this study published ahead of print which may be able to help us substantiate the efficacy of the safety squat bar relative to straight bar: Effects of the safety squat bar on trunk and lower-body mechanics during the back squat.
Specialty barbells seem to be very popular lately. Of these specialty bars, the safety squat bar (SSB) has become a staple for a wide variety of populations. “This bar is cambered, causing the center of mass to be shifted slightly anterior, and also includes padding with 2 central handles to reduce the extensive external rotation, abduction, and slight extension of the shoulder that occurs during a back squat with a standard barbell (2).” The nature of this bar allows for a simpler means to improve squatting technique with a more upright torso and potentially easier depth. The purpose of this study “…was to determine if there are differences in kinematics and muscle activation of the trunk and lower extremity.” Also, it was hypothesized by the authors that the 3RM of the standard barbell would be greater than the SSB 3RM.
Subjects: 12 powerlifters, 8 males and 4 females, were recruited (± SD; age 31.5 ± 6.3 years; body mass 88.1 ± 20.7 kg; height 1.64 ± 0.10 m; competitive lifting experience 3.3 ± 2.8 years). All of the subjects were familiar with a traditional barbell as well as SSB.
Procedures: A total of 3 sessions were completed, with the first two used to find the 3RM with each of the bars. Each session was separated by 1 week. During the third session, subjects performed 3×5 with 75% of their 3RM for both bars; allowing 3-5 minutes rest between sets. Surface EMG data was collected on the upper, middle, and lower trapezius, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis, oblique externus, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, rectus femoris, lateral hamstring, medial hamstring, medial gastrocnemius, and gluteus maximus on the subject’s right side. Along with EMG data Visual 3-D Motion camera systems were utilized to assess joint and barbell kinematics.
SSB squats significantly reduced the 3RM (146.4 kg ± 46.1 kg) as compared to the standard barbell (164.0 kg ± 55.1 kg). With the SSB, EMG activity was significantly lower in the rectus abdominis, medial and lateral hamstring, vastus lateralis, and medial gastrocnemius. Despite this, the SSB produced more activation in the lower trapezius. The SSB also resulted in decreased peak hip flexion, forward trunk flexion ankle, and slightly dorsiflexion alike.
By squatting with the SSB, 3RM is decreased by an average of 11.3% in this group while lower trapezius activity was enhanced by approximately 50%, compared to the standard barbell. The SSB are allowed for a more vertical trunk angle with slight decrements (~1°) in peak dorsiflexion. Differences in in muscle activity may be a result of the decreased load used with the SSB (11.3%). By maintaining an upright trunk, and also having more activity in the lower trapezius, the SSB may be an effective means to safely train the lower back musculature with minimal shearing forces.
The enhanced lower trapezius activity and decreases in strength observe with the SSB is likely due to the cambered nature of bar, shifting the mass anteriorly at depth. Though the average strength decrements with the SSB was ~11%, “…individual values ranged from 2.4 to 18.9% less as compared to a standard barbell”. This anterior shifting of the mass from the cambered design may emulate biomechanics somewhere between a front squat and high-bar back squat.
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