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Are you supposed to use foam padding on the bar when doing barbell squats? The answer seems inconsistent even from the same professional bodybuilder. I've seen Arnold Schwarzenegger sometimes go bare and at other times use as much padding as a small yoga mat. How can several hundred pounds of pressure on the trapezius be safe and comfortable? I've always found bare barbells unpleasant on the trapezius. Is doing it bare supposed to be beneficial somehow?

Padded

enter image description here

Bare

enter image description here

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I like the depth these guys have. Very impressive. Looks like the bar for the top picture needs to be replaced... –  Berin Loritsch Jul 21 '11 at 19:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

There are several arguments about correct bar placement. The two main locations are "high bar" and "low bar". Both pictures you have portray a high bar placement. The trapezius isn't designed for massive loads; however, if you have the bar a couple inches lower so that the load is split across the mid scapula.

Low bar position

The low bar position is better suited to bearing larger loads, and once you get used to it is more comfortable than the high bar position.

Now, to answer your question, Mark Rippetoe has some good observations whether you agree with his conclusions or not:

  • At lighter weights, the padding pushes the bar away from your back and changes your balance
  • At heavier weights, the padding is completely compressed and provides no use
  • More back muscle provides a more dense and natural platform than the padding.

I personally lift with a bare bar. I've worked my way up from squatting just the bar to currently 220lb (100kg) and will be going up tonight. There are other lifts that work to help build the back muscles to comfortably support that kind of weight. It's at this point that padding wouldn't help me anyway.

If you want to get rid of the padding, I recommend incorporating overhead presses and deadlifts (pulling the shoulders back) to build up the upper back muscles and create a stronger core. This helps you support the heavier squat weights.

I also recommend going to YouTube and watching the Rippetoe videos on how to squat. It answers many questions you may come up with. Also note the depth the woman in the picture I linked to has. Whether you squat high or low bar, you want to get that kind of depth.

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Out of curiosity, who is the woman in the picture? –  Carlos Jaime C. De Leon Sep 1 '11 at 2:06
    
I have no idea. She isn't the only woman I've seen squat with such good form, though. –  Berin Loritsch Sep 1 '11 at 12:10

How can several hundred pounds of pressure on the trapezius be safe and comfortable? I've always found bare barbells unpleasant on the trapezius.

The pad's sole purpose is to address that exact issue.

I don't think it's dangerous at all, it's there to prevent injury to your traps. If using the pad allows you to perform this exercise, then use it. Ideally yes, you want to get to a point where you don't need it.

However this article over at Stronglifts indicates that its usage is not optimal.

After all Squatting with a bar pad is a mistake for 3 reasons:

  1. You can't position the bar correctly. This is even more true if you wrap a towel around the bar: the bar will end up higher on your back, and the higher the bar the worse your leverage. Granted, not that big of a deal with light weights, but it will be once you Squat heavier weights.

  2. You can't "feel" the bar - it's like Squatting in running shoes: you have to Squat barefoot/with Chuck's to feel the difference. The only way you'll feel the bar using a pad is if the weight is heavy enough, but then...

  3. ... the bar pad will be useless when you get stronger (which you will with StrongLifts 5x5). Here's why: the weight will compress the pad and then you'll lose the cushion ability. So any short-term benefit, you will lose.

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Perfectly stated answer; this is exactly what I would say. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 28 '12 at 14:12

Note the position difference in the two images you posted. In the padded image, the bar is high on the shoulders, above the shoulder bones. In the unpadded image, the bar is supported a little bit lower, more on the muscles, and not on the bones. Changing positions of the bar is a good way to avoid adaptation, and to continue improving. Sometimes, this means putting the bar in a place that is uncomfortable without padding.

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Using a pad is illegal in lifting competitions and power lifters after all squat the heaviest weights possible without injury or problems. As a submission wrestler I squat over two and half times my own body weight, 5 repetitions with 530lbs at a body weight of 210lbs. I have never used a pad and never experienced more than the mildest discomfort holding the bar in a higher position when I first began squatting at 17 years of age in 1973.

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It's good that you've provided your own perspective on it, but your answer quite address the question of the relationship between padding and lifting. –  Matt Chan Sep 28 '12 at 11:30
    
@MattChan I think personal experience squatting heavy weights with no padding addresses the relationship between padding and lifting. So does noting that lifting competitions don't use padding. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 28 '12 at 14:12
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@DaveLiepmann Sorry if I didn't explain this too well initially. The way I am reading the answer and question doesn't explain why the answerer isn't experiencing much discomfort which leads me to believe that there is something wrong about the asker's form. It would be nice if the answerer, even with personal experience, could update his answer and add that point. –  Matt Chan Sep 28 '12 at 15:29
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@MattChan My experience is that many people, particularly non-athletes, simply find proper bar placement uncomfortable at first. The solution is just to keep doing it. Regardless, the Q is "how is this safe and comfortable?"; the answer here is "it just is", which is valid. The Q also asks "is this beneficial"; the answer here is "that's how it is for competition", which is valid. (I'd add that padding introduces instability.) It's a good answer. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 28 '12 at 15:44

Here's a link to the same discussion on BodyBuilding.com: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=134123431

I couldn't find any information on the problems going bare might cause and the general downside to using padding seems to be one of control and feel of the bar while squatting. I'm assuming people switch on/off based on personal preference, injuries and ego.

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