Safety Squat Bar VS The Straight Bar Squat for Athletes: Strength & Shoulder Health + 3 Week Squat Cycle


Above, Mark Chaillet Squats - Photo from Purposeful Primitive / Marty Gallagher

After a recent squat workout with the athletes at The Underground Strength Gym, I began having a more serious conversation in my own mind regarding the use of the conjugate method, more specifically, how often to switch the safety squat bar vs the straight bar for squats with athletes, specifically, high school athletes.

I share my thoughts in the videos below and in conversation form which you can also see below.

I also share the up and coming plan for a volume Squat cycle inspired by Bill Starr's program, The Strongest Shall Survive. Check them out and please enjoy!

Safety Squat Bar VS Straight Bar Squats for Athletes, Pt 1

Safety Squat Bar VS Straight Bar Squats for Athletes, Pt 2

The audio is a bit sketchy when I first begin chatting with Garrett Keith but it improves so stick with it and keep listening!

My thoughts / plans are to get our athletes at The Underground Strength Gym on a 3 week cycle of volume squats with the straight bar.

Article: How to Squat + The Excellence Standard!

Week 1: 5 x 5

Where does 5 x 5 come from and who originated this method?

Watch the video below to gain a greater understanding of why 5 x 5 is so effective.

Day 1:

5 x 5 with the same weight for all 5 sets, focus on technique, NOT intensity.

Day 2:

5 x 5 with sets 1 and 2 the same weight. Add a little weight for sets 3 and 4. Sets 3 and 4 remain the same weight. Then, Set 5 is the best, heaviest set of 5 reps but feeling like you can do 8 reps.

Day 3:

5 x 5 increasing weight on sets 2, 3 and 4. Set 5 is the same weight as set 4.

Week 2:

5 x 5

Day 1, Trying to increase weight each set. If unable to add weight each set, then hold weight with technique focus.

Day 1 of Week 2 is HEAVY.

On the final set of 5, if the reps look great and the technique is solid, the athlete can go beyond 5 reps and hit a "technique max", this will mean leaving 1, possibly 2 reps in the tank.

After the 5th set, do 2 sets at 75% for technique, the goal is 2 x 8-10 reps.

Day 2 of Week 2 is LIGHT.

5 x 5

Add weight on Set 2 and 3. Keep same weight for set 3, 4 and 5.

If the athlete is demonstrating excellent technique, pause for 1 count at bottom of each rep.

Day 3 of Week 2 is Medium.

Add weight for every set. Sets 4 and 5 are the same weight. Athlete should feel he can go heavier but leaves 2-3 reps in the tank.

Week 3:

5 x 5

This week, the 3rd week of the training cycle we look to break records not just in weight, but in TECHNIQUE.

Improved technique is a sign of improved strength!

Day 1 is Heavy.

Add weight each set and aim to hit the best set of 5. This will usually take 4 sets if an athlete squats under 225. If an athlete squats over 225, likely it will take 5 sets.

After the best set of 5, drop the weight approx. 33% and perform 10 perfect reps.

Day 2 is Light.

Focus on technique and speed.

Squeeze the hell out of the bar and squeeze your back.

Add weight on the 2nd and 3rd set. Keep same weight for sets 3, 4 and 5.

Day 3 is Medium

NOTE: NOT all athletes train 3 x week.

For those who do train 3 x week, they will reap the most rewards.

Add weight each set. Set 4 & 5 is the same weight. This Medium day should be heavier than the previous week's medium day.

In a nut shell......

Less is More.

Less Variety will increase the skill of the squat (or any exercise you practice more frequently). Once we see the technique is dialed in on the squats, especially with learning to engage the back and be super tight while squatting, we can begin cycling between a few variation of squats again with the conjugate method.

What else will happen on this day focused on squats?

  • Floor Press or Bench Press coupled with Bodyweight Pulling (Rope Climb, Chin Ups, Pull Ups)
  • Carries & Sleds
  • Push Ups or High Rep Arm Work
  • Sprint 400 mtr at the end of the session

Nothing complicated. That's the key behind making progress. None of this fancy fads BS that looks cool and complicated and paper yet confuses you so much you forget to actually squat!

Basics for the WIN.

If you're looking for safety squat bars, you have many options online. Coop from Garage Gym Built has shared a solid article outlining prices and durability HERE.

Here's a quick story from last week at The Underground Strength Gym.....

Last week I wanted the kids to learn the front squat. I KNEW it would suck in the beginning. I KNEW how tight they were in wrists, lats and triceps.

We did the following:

1) 3 x 5 with empty bar, pausing in bottom and lifting elbows EVERY rep.

2) Add 5 lbs to each set for 5 reps. Do this for 3 x 5.

3) Remove the 5s and add 25 to each side. Do 5 x 1 rep.

4) Drop back down to 75 lbs and perform 5 perfect reps.

That's at least what I remember.

We likely did 10 sets of front squats that day but each and every set got better. Progress takes time, there are no 2 ways about it!

Even at the D1 collegiate level, progress takes time.

Photo above, Bill Starr - From Marty Gallagher's Purposeful Primitive Book

Here's footage of 1 of our college athletes front squatting coupled with broad jump + vertical jump.

At the end of the day, make sure you're squatting somehow, someway.

Things today are just different than when I was a kid.

When we wanted to squat, we got under a bar and learned it.

We did NOT have to do lunges, bodyweight squats and isometrics, etc to PREPARE to squat. We SQUATTED.

It was NATURAL. No one had collapsed ankles, hunched over backs and all these other "imbalances" aka WEAK.

Strength is the Answer!

Live The Code 365,


Train With Zach Online & Get RESULTS!

NO Fads, NO Gimmicks!

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