1: What I have to train: The Squat
What I would rather train: The safety squat bar squat with chains
Why: The squat has the reputation of “The King of Lifts”, and though that statement is not unearned, it is the motion of squatting itself that is the valuable aspect here, not explicitly the use of a barbell. The barbell squat is a staple of many lifting programs not necessarily because it is a superior choice or for the sake of tradition, but simply because the barbell is a far more accessible implement than most others. Despite the complaints of many internet users who attend health clubs and complain about the equipment, the reality is that any real gym will have a barbell and a rack to squat out of at the very least, meaning that a trainee has the opportunity to engage in an incredibly beneficial movement (squatting) with a means to load weight evenly and gradually. The fact that powerlifting makes use of a barbell for squatting in turn means that the competitive powerlifter has it in his best interest to develop proficiency with this movement, as mastery of the movement pattern itself means the ability to move more weight in a meet.
That being said, I find that the safety squat bar trumps the barbell in every way imaginable when the goal is simply to squat, and not specifically to become better at barbell squatting. The neutral grip handles remove stress from the shoulders, which means those with bad shoulders can squat while additionally allowing one to engage in more aggressive upper body pressing training without having their squatting hindering their performance. Additionally, the slight camber in the bar radically changes the movement such that it heavily taxes the upper back, which develops much more “whole body strength” than one does with just the barbell itself. The bar design also completely eliminates the “high bar vs low bar” debate, as it’s pretty much already been decided for you, which also means one less technical aspect to worry about while lifting. On the note of being less technical, I find that one can get away with far more technique issues while employing the SSB compared to a barbell, which means that very little time is spent mastering the movement, and far more is spent just getting bigger and stronger.
Also, less time doing stuff like this, more time getting jacked
As for the addition of chains, this is just something I have witnessed in my own training, but the SSB squat just feels more “right” with chains than without. I feel as though the constantly increasing weight and tension as one rises out of the hole with the weight crushing their upper back helps really maximize the benefits of the design of this bar, and ensure that there is never a moment spent not building maximal strength while training. Whenever I squat with the SSB without chains, the bottom of the movement feels heavy while the top feels incredibly light, and it just isn’t as rewarding.
2: What I have to train: The Deadlift
What I would rather train: Below the knee mat pulls
(Note: In all cases, I am speaking on the conventional deadlift. I have no training or experience with sumo.)
Why: In truth, I do not believe the deadlift to be a strength builder. I think the deadlift is probably the greatest display of strength possible (and to clarify, I am speaking of strength, not power or athleticism), as it requires the entire body to function as a unit, where any weak points will readily be magnified and highlighted. However, in terms of making a trainee stronger, I find it lacking. It is in many cases too taxing of a movement, making recovery difficult and promoting injuries when fatigue sets in, and becomes a difficult movement to control such that attempting to place different emphasis on certain parts of the lift becomes impossible (and hence why, whenever this DOES happen, we deem it as an entirely different exercise, such as the RDL, straight legged deadlift, dimel deadlift, etc). The range of motion on the lift is very long, and one is limited in their strength building ability by where they are weakest in the lift due to the lack of eccentric at the start of the movement, as there is zero momentum and minimal stretch reflex to be recruited, which means that a trainee trying to build their upper back attempting the deadlift must first get past breaking the weight off the floor. In general, I simply do not find it ideal for building size or strength.
Yet more and more beginners are including them in their programs these days
A below the knee pull (whether it be mat or block, but not a rack pull, as the plates must be the point of contact rather than the bar) does not possess the same deficiencies as a deadlift from the floor. The shorter ROM means that a trainee does not need to have great flexibility or mobility in order to get into position, which minimizes injury potential and allows one to focus far more on moving heavy weight. On the topic of heavy weight, the shorter ROM also means that far more weight can be moved during this movement, and, when paired with a touch and go style, means a massive overload on the muscles while maintaining a high amount of time under tension. This tends to make the upper back and traps explode while also still building a strong lower back and hamstrings. In my personal experience, I was able to build up to my first 585lb pull by training no lower than a 5 mat pull on heavy deads, with a 20 rep set of floor deads intersected every other week, and feel that the carryover from the below the knee pull to the floor deadlift is very beneficial. A trainee will still learn how to strain with a heavy weight, and realistically, as a matter of perspective, once a trainee is used to handling the massive weights they can manage at such a short ROM, a full ROM deadlift with a lighter weight will feel almost weightless in the hands. It becomes a matter of understanding how much of a percentage to drop when transitioning between the two lifts, but once a trainee has a handle on that, they will move along fine.
In terms of still building leg drive off the floor in the absence of full ROM work, I believe that using the SSB mentioned above will do an excellent job of taking care of that. Louie Simmons said that if he could name the bar, it would be called “The Deadlift Bar”, and I think that’s an accurate assessment.