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Workout Routines

The Safety Squat Bar

By Dave Tate
My First Safety Squat Bar Workout
I used to think this bar was a total waste of time and money before I used it for the first time at Westside Barbell Club in the early 1990's. I came to Westside from a very intense progressive overload background. For those who are not familiar with this style of training, progressive overload begins by performing sets of 10 repetitions for several weeks and over two to three months, one would gradually decrease the reps until you perform singles. This style of training worked well for me when I first began training. As I got more experienced, I needed something more advanced and started training at Westside Barbell. I had to find something new or I was never going to get better. While at Westside, I was introduced to a whole new style of training. It was completely different and I had never seen or read about this kind of training before. I was hesitant at first but since I had not made any progress in many years I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I had seen the Safety Squat bar before and thought it was a total joke. I always thought that if you wanted to squat more, you simply squatted. And if you wanted to deadlift more, all you had to do is deadlift. To me everything else was just to get bigger, not stronger.

I still remember my first training session with the Safety Squat bar. It was a max effort training day. On max effort days, we always pick one exercise and work up until you hit a one rep max. On this particular day we performed a Safety Squat bar squat off of a low hassock (which is similar to a soft box). After one set I knew this bar was going to absolutely destroy the muscles of my upper and lower back. 135 pounds was loaded on the bar and we all began to work up. Back then Westside was not the gym it is today. Yes, there were still very strong lifters there but nothing like there is today. I can't remember who I was training with but I do remember the intensity of the training session. I had always had training partners but never more than one or two and the intensity was nothing like what I was about to experience.

After a few sets of 135 we proceeded to work up using 3 reps with only 45's and 25's pound plates being used. Anything less was a sin. I knew this bar was about to kick my ass when we got up to 315. 315 pounds should not have been that heavy as I had recently squatted 760lbs. But it was and my lower back was screaming. Since I was new at Westside, I didn't let anyone know. I did not want to look like a chump. The thing that killed me was that 315 was a total joke for all the other guys, and they all squatted less than me! I had no idea why I was so weak. The next jump was to 365 and when I unracked the bar I wasn't sure if I was going to get it. It felt like a ton when I took it out of the rack. This bar is in a constant process of trying to dump you forward and you have to use the muscles of your lower back to stay arched (another thing I had no idea how to do) and your upper back to keep from dumping forward. After unracking the bar there were several shouts of encouragement from the spotters. I grinded out my first rep. I was about to rack the bar when Louie yelled for me to do two more reps. After the second rep, my eyes began to water and I started seeing stars. The third rep, I don't remember.

The rest of the guys once again had no problem with the weight and I began to feel humbled. I thought I was done squatting when I heard the 45 slap on the bar. 405 pounds was loaded on the bar and they were calling me back up to the bar. For the first time in my life I did not want to squat. 365 just about knocked my head off and now I was expected to squat 405. Being that I had never made smart decisions in the past with my own training, I figured what the hell. I got under the bar and unracked the weight and proceeded to do one of the slowest single rep maximums of my entire life. I am sure my spotters were yelling the whole time but the only thought going through my head was to stand back up with the weight. After the weight was racked the room began to fade and then I saw flickering silver dust particles all around me. I held onto the bar to ensure I did not pass out and then walked over to the glute ham raise and held myself up for the next half hour. I watched, drooped over the pad and my world spinning, while my new training partners all worked up to 600 pounds.

The next day I was sore as hell from my calves to my neck. There was not a single muscle on the backside of my body that did not hurt. When I looked in the mirror I noticed that both my eyes were blood shot and I had broken capillaries all over my face. I hated the Safety Squat bar but realized how valuable the bar was. Over the next few years I saw my squat jump from 760 to 935 and have to say that some of this increase was due to the torture of the Safety Squat Bar.

Dynamic Training with the Safety Squat Bar
The newest application for the Safety Squat Bar has been its use for speed (Dynamic) squat training. This offers many benefits for the strength athlete. First, it is a great way to build the explosive and static strength of the lower back and many have found that this bar is a great way to increase your deadlift. Second, it takes much of the stress off of the elbows and shoulders. This has a huge recovery effect for your bench training. This is of great value for those lifters who are training for bench press only meets or those who are trying to recover from pectoral, shoulder and elbow injuries. With the safety squat bar you will be allowed to train around the injuries and still get in a quality squat workout. Third, the safety squat bar is a great bar to use for GPP or lactic acid tolerance training. Listed below are some of the more popular squat cycles done with a safety squat bar.

Lactic Acid Tolerance Training Cycle
Application: This is a great cycle for off season training when you would like to give your arms and shoulders a break. This is also a great way to peak your bench for a bench meet without having to stop squatting. This is good for beginners, intermediate and advanced lifters.

Training Cycle (Three week version):
Week 1 ??? 35% for 10 sets 2 reps with 45 second rest periods.
Week 2 ??? 37% for 15 sets 2 reps with 30 second rest periods
Week 3 ??? 40% for 15-17 sets of 2 reps with under 30 seconds rest. * The rest period for this week should be back to back sets. Two people should squat together and as soon as one lets go of the bar the second guy should be grabbing the bar. Each lifter should try to wear the other out and see who dies first. BE AGGRESSIVE AND DON'T LOSE.

Training Cycle (One week version)
Week 1 ??? 37% for ? sets of 2 reps with 30 second rest periods. With this cycle you should use a training partner of that is close to the same strength as you and try to run each other into the ground. We have seen battles go in the upwards of 38 sets! BE AGGRESSIVE AND DON???T LOSE.


??? Training percent is based on current one rep max with the free squat with equipment.
??? These percents are used as guidelines. The more advanced the lifters the lighter the percent needed. If you are a raw lifter or do not use power lifting gear then a minimum of 10% should be added to the listed percents.
??? All sets should be performed on a parallel box.

Title: Basic Three Week 'Straight Weight' Advanced Cycle
Application: This is a very good cycle for higher advanced lifters for off season training or as a de-load cycle before a competition or test day.

Training Cycle:
Week 1 - 45% for 10 sets 2 reps
Week 2 - 48% for 10 sets 2 reps
Week 3- 50 % for 10 sets 2 reps

Notes:Training percent is based on current one rep max with the free squat with equipment.
??? These percents are used as guidelines. The more advanced the lifters the lighter the percent needed. If you are a raw lifter or do not use power lifting gear then a minimum of 10% should be added to the listed percents.
??? All sets should be performed on a parallel box.
??? If you feel good after your sets, work up to a heavy double. This should not be done every week but should be completed at least once through the cycle.
??? You should rest no more than 45 to 60 seconds between sets

Title: Basic Three Week 'Chains' Intermediate Cycle
Application: This is a very good cycle for the intermediate lifter who has good squat skill and form. The
chains will help to develop a greater level of squat stability as well as increasing the explosion out of the bottom of the squat. This would be a very good off season strength cycle for the intermediate lifter.

Training Cycle:
Week 1 - 50% for 8 sets 2 reps
Week 2 - 53% for 8 sets 2 reps
Week 3 - 55% for 8 sets 2 reps

Suggested Chain:
Squat Max: 200-400 Pounds - 60 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 400-500 Pounds - 80 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 500-600 Pounds - 100 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 600-800 Pounds - 120 total pounds of chains
Squat Max: 800-950 Pounds - 160 total pounds of chains

Max Effort Training with the Safety Squat Bar
The Safety Squat Bar has been used very successfully over the past ten years for max effort training. Max effort training is the selection of one movement and working up to a one rep maximum attempt. This bar is great for this as it is in a constant process of trying to force the lifter forward. This places much of the stress on the muscles of the lower and upper back. Think of it this way. If you are to miss a squat or dead lift, what usually happens? In the squat, most people will shift or fall forward. This bar will help you develop two things thank can make a huge difference. It will increase your static strength and thus keep you from falling forward in the first place and second it will help you develop the strength to help your recover if you do fall forward. Here is a list of some of the most popular max effort movement you can do with the safety squat bar.

Chain Suspended Good Mornings - This is a great max effort exercise to help your deadlift. There are two ways to set up this exercise. One way is place the barbell on the safety pins; the other is to place the barbell in 3/8 inch chains. For the latter, place the two chains at the top of the power rack and loop them so that the barbell is suspended. The bar can be set at any height, but is usually slightly above your navel. To perform the exercise, place yourself under the bar and simply perform a good morning. This is a great exercise to help build your deadlift because both lifts are a concentric only lift. Do not get caught up in maintaining your hips at a certain level; simply get under the bar and get it up! Be sure that your hands do not get caught under the chains or the safety pins. Any width stance can be used.

Safety Squat Bar Box Squats - This movement is performed the same as the regular box squat except you will be using the Safety Squat Bar. This bar is designed to keep the bar high on the traps and force more of the weight forward on the body. This places more stress on the muscles of the upper and lower back, glutes and hamstrings. The best way to use this bar is to hold the yolks on the front of the bar. This keeps the stress on the muscles we are trying to develop. This bar is one of the best max effort and supplemental movements you can do. The reason for this is because most people miss a squat because the bar shifts forward and they end of trying to do a good morning. This bar will help to develop the muscles to keep this from happening in the first place. The box used on max effort day can be a low box (1-3??? below parallel), parallel box, or a high box (1-3??? above parallel). Usually a close to shoulder width stance is used. Groove briefs or a loose suit (straps down) is often used to maintain the health of your hips. A weight belt is usually used when attempting weights at or above 80% of your max. For max effort training, a narrow stance is used; this is usually shoulder width or narrower. A good rule of thumb is to take the same stance as you would when performing a conventional deadlift.

Zercher Squats - This is a great exercise to build your deadlift and teach you to maintain proper position when squatting. Because of the position of the barbell, it forces the lifter to maintain tight abs, an arched lower back and proper chest position. Begin by placing a bar in a power rack just below your armpits and unrack it in the crook of your elbows. Keeping your back arched, stomach pushed out and chest up, squat back until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep your elbows and arms close to your body. This can also be done by using a box. A shoulder width stance is usually used. The amount of weight you can hold in your elbows will limit the bar weight used on this exercise. The safety squat bar is makes it easier because of the thickness of the bar.

Backwards Bar Safety Squat Bar Box Squats ??? This is the same as ???Safety Squat Box Squats??? except the bar is placed backwards on your shoulders. This alters the camber of the bar and makes for a completely different movement.

Other Applications
The Safety squat Bar is not limited to just max effort and dynamic effort training. There are many more movements that can be trained with the Safety squat Bar. These movements are not intended to be trained for dynamic or max effort training but for repetition effort training. Basically, these movements will be used to bring up specific weak points and/or muscle groups. Give a few of these a try. We are sure you will find them very productive.

Good Mornings ??? Done with a safety squat bar, the good morning is one of the most difficult exercises to perform, but also one of the most effective. Begin this exercise by unracking a barbell the same as you would a squat. Your feet can be set at a close, medium or wide stance. This can change depending on what you feel works best for you. For example, a wide stance seems to work the hips more. Get into a tight position (arched back, shoulder blades pulled together, knees slightly bent, abdominal pushed out against your belt). This is the starting position. Slowly bend forward at the waist until your torso is slightly above parallel with the floor, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. This is usually done for reps between 5-10 and used as a second exercise. You will have to fight to maintain position throughout the entire movement so make sure you start with very light weight.

Triceps Extensions ??? While it may seem weird to perform a triceps movement with the Safety Squat bar, try this for a little variation on an otherwise boring movement. The bar should be set up so that when racked, the yoke is pointed toward your feet. Unrack the bar with your hands about shoulder width apart and bring the yoke to just above your nipples. Let the points of the yoke hit your chest and the bar will rotate towards your chin. Let it come down until your forearms are almost parallel to the floor and extend up. Because the bar is a little thicker than a standard bar your elbows will take less of a beating. You also may want to place a folded towel on your chest to prevent the points of the yoke to bruise your chest.

Shrugs ??? With the bar on your shoulders, attempt to raise your shoulders to your ears. This is a great variation to standard shrugs with a barbell. You can try placing your hands down at your sides or place them out in front of you, holding the rack.

Partial Arches ??? This exercise is great for your entire back; from your upper back to your erectors. One of the best ways to do this exercise is to place the bar on your back and sit on a box. While sitting on the box arch your low back and upper back. After holding this position for a few seconds, roll your upper back and round your low back. Make sure to stay tight in this position. Hold this for a few seconds and arch back to the original position. Concentrate on arching hard and rounding over; this will exhaust the muscles of your back. This exercise will not only build a ton of muscle but allow the lifter to feel what it is like to arch at the bottom of your squat.

Lunges ??? Lunges have gotten a bad rap lately simply because they???ve been embraced by the fitness community and have been the main exercise of housewives everywhere. But this is one of the best exercises to develop overall leg strength. Done correctly, they work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Also, don???t short stride your reps so that you can handle more weight. Too many times people perform lunges by taking short 6 inch steps and brag of the weight they can handle. This is not a lunge! This is a squat done with bad foot position. Try doing walking lunges, backward lunges or standard lunges; all work well and the benefits will make you wonder why you ever dropped this exercise in the first place. The soreness you get the next day will probably answer the question, though. There are many different variations of lunges you can try; walking lunges, backward lunges, side lunges or lunges done with your front foot elevated.

Walking Safety Squat Bar - This is an old exercise that is used to build overall endurance and it is pretty simple. Place a safety squat bar on your back and begin walking a prescribed distance. A good way to do this is to have you and a training partner take turns walking from the squat rack to a certain point and back. This can turn into a contest and is great for overall body strength as well as mental strength. It is recommended that you begin this exercise with light weight. Also, be careful when performing this exercise as it???s very difficult to dump the bar when you are tired. Still, this exercise will build your traps and legs like no other. Do not perform this exercise often as it will absolutely annihilate you!

Glute-Ham Raises - This is done like a regular glute-ham raise except the with the safety squat bar across your back. This is an exercise for very strong lifters, only!.

45 degree back raises - By putting a safety squat bar on your back during a 45 degree back raise you will greatly increase your low back, hamstring and glute strength. Also, it will hit your upper back and add some serious mass to this region. This can also be done on a standard back raise or back hyperextension piece of equipment.

Pushups w/ safety squat bar - With this exercise you will need a partner to help stabilize the bar on your back. Place the bar on your back the same way you would squat and perform pushups. This can be a very challenging exercise.

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