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Increasing your Deadlift with the…Safety Squat Bar?

By Jay Cook | In Training Information | on October 24, 2017

When most people think of the Safety Squat Bar, they think squat, not deadlift…but there’s more to the bar’s benefits than just squatting… let me share with you how you can use the Safety Squat Bar to add major pounds to your deadlift.   


In 2013 and 2014 I was battling major shoulder issues – probably the product of a partially torn biceps tendon in my left shoulder.  During that period I wasn’t able to squat with a straight bar without significant pain, so I did all of my squatting and good mornings almost exclusively with the Safety Squat Bar (SSB).  We’d had the SSB for years, but as soon as I started using it ALOT, my sumo deadlift took off.  I was a mid-upper 500lb deadlifter from 2010-2014 and in July 2014 I pulled my first 600lbs @192lbs at our meet at Xconditioning.  I then pulled 660lbs @196lbs that November at IPL Worlds and only 10 months after breaking the 600lbs barrier I pulled 705lbs @206lbs in May 2015 at GPC Nationals in Calgary…now during this time and the previous year in 2013 I was slugging away hard on the SSB…all the while my deadlift reaping the bar’s benefits.


If you don’t know what the Safety Squat Bar is, it is a devilish specialty bar that has been around since the mid 1980s, and was loved and adopted by Dr Fred Hatfield (Dr Squat), who used it in his quest to squat 1000lbs in the late 80s.  The SSB is extra nasty because it has a camber in it that moves the load down and slightly in front of you, and it has a thick pad on it that puts the bar in a high bar position.  With the weight hanging down in front of you, it drags you forward and reallllly tests your back strength and back position…especially at high percentages.  Even the best of us have been thrown around and humbled by the SSB.  


So how will it help your deadlift??


Big Back = Big Numbers.  You won’t see too often the world’s top deadlifters without seeing them have a big thick back half.  Having good posture and postural strength (rhomboids, traps, lats, rear delts along with the lower back and erectors, among others) is super important for being a strong lifter, as having a weak upper back and lats is a sure way to get folded under big weights.  Most people miss squats, and miss deadlifts with their back strength, not their leg strength.  I know I missed deadlifts from my back strength (or lack of) for years.  With the SSB and it’s cambered position, it hammers those postural and lower back muscles more than a straight bar can, as the position of the load is actually very similar to that of the deadlift – slightly out front and hanging down from the lifter.  


Since straight bars were super painful, I went with what I could do – which was heavy use of the SSB – box squatting, free squatting, good mornings and lunges (at all different combinations of volume, intensity and frequency)…needless to say my upper back was being tested and strengthened on the regular.  As I was putting in all of this work with the SSB, I got ALOT better on the bar.  At first I would miss top weights or the end of rep sets due to being out of position with the bar – it would throw me around in the hole and own me.  But the more I battled it, the better it got.  I found that the SSB also forced me to get a lot better at cueing and engaging my lats, as the handles are low and in front of you, so you can’t torque on the bar over your back to get your lats tight like you can with a straight bar.  Pulling the lats in and down into the lower back will help keep your posture locked as your squat or pull, and as I figured out how to get my lats tighter, my bottom position improved a ton, as did my strength to hold my back position through the entire lift. The better that got, the more my lifts went up and the less reps I missed.  The SSB also strongly reinforced the habit of driving the upper back up and into the bar out of the hole.  


Coincidentally enough, the cueing of the lats and the driving up and back with the SSB are verrrry similar to that on a pull – in my case it was a sumo deadlift.  The more I used the SSB and the better I got on it, the more it felt the same when I deadlifted – the way I squeezed my lats to lock my posture, pulled with my upper back and overall how I moved the weight off the floor.  My shoulder has been better for a few years now, but I still do a TON of work on the SSB because of these added benefits not only to my squat but also to my deadlift.  I use the SSB on average once per week, sometimes more, as it rotates in and out of my speed squatting, is my go-to bar for good mornings of all kinds, and is always fun for a max effort squat of some sort.  Overall I think  it’s an awesome bar for your squat, but I also think it’s underrated in how much it helps your deadlift.  


Here are some of the exercises and rep schemes I have used with the SSB in the last several years.  


Max Effort Exercises –  trained in the 90%+ range and for singles doubles and triples

– Box Squat (varying box heights with bands and/or chains and/or bands to the front)

– Free Squat (with bands and/or chains)

– Good Mornings (wide and narrow stance)

– Chain Suspended Good Mornings (wide and narrow stance)

Dynamic Effort/Speed Exercises – trained in the 30-60% range for 1-5 reps with short rest

– Box Squat (varying box heights with bands and/or chains and/or bands to the front)

– Free Squat (with bands and/or chains)

Repetition Effort Exercises – trained in the 50-85% range for reps ranging from 3-12

– Box Squat (varying box heights with bands and/or chains and/or bands to the front)

– Free Squat (with bands and/or chains)

– Frantz Squat (bottom range of motion only)

– Anderson Squat (top range of motion only)

– Good Mornings (wide and narrow stance)

– Chain Suspended Good Mornings (wide and narrow stance)

– Seated Good Mornings

– Walking Lunges

– Bulgarian Split Squats

– Step-Ups

As you can see it’s in my programming quite often for one thing or another, as you have no choice but to get stronger all over using this bar.  An added benefit as I mentioned above is if you have a shoulder injury it gives you many options that you can do to keep building your squat and deadlift while you’re hurt.  I also find that using it for speed work and rep work that my elbows stay a lot healthier and are not as banged up as using a straight bar, and this helps a ton in my bench training.


The SSB is pretty awesome all in all, as it offers benefits straight bars can’t.  Curious to see how much stronger the SSB can make you?? At Xconditioning we have 3 Safety Squat Bars, along with the expertise on how to properly program it to get the most out of it for your squat AND your deadlift.  Come and learn how to properly use this specialty bar and try it out!   Email us to come down for a free trial SSB workout!


Stay Strong People,


Here are some videos of training with the SSB

Chain Suspended Good Mornings

Box Squats with heavy chain and bands to the front

Free Squats


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