- The back squat is often considered the holy grail of strength in many gyms and weight rooms all across the world. Men and women strive to put extreme weights across their back and sit down and stand back up with it. It does have an ability to make people really strong and build legs of steel.
But is it worth some of the risks when training your athletes? Is there a better option without the risk?
I’m sure some purists will get their panties in a wad when I say this but I have come to the epiphany that I am moving away from the back squat and in the direction of the front squat. This is especially true in the athletic populations that I work with. For me it is more of a risk reward.
Let me explain before you track me down and jump me in an alley or call me a sissy.
Currently, the majority of my athletes that I am working with at this point are baseball players. Baseball is a unique animal due to the fact that they put so much stress on their shoulder by throwing a baseball thousands of times at an extreme velocity.
I personally do not want to put anymore undue stress on the shoulder while in the weight room. You hurt a baseball players shoulder and it’s all she wrote for you as a strength coach.
A problem in the back squat with baseball players, and other athletes as well as the general population, is that it can put the shoulder in an at-risk position. The back squat puts the shoulders at the extremes of external rotation with shoulder abduction. This can be a position of instability for some athletes and clients.
The rack of the front squat puts the shoulder in a much friendlier position for the shoulder. A happy shoulder is typically attached to a happy client or athlete.
Low Back Friendly
The goal of training is to prevent injury in sports (and life) as well as avoid injury within your training. Do injuries happen in the weight room? Sure. Mistakes happen and freak accidents occur but you should be trying your best to avoid injury in the weight room.
Injuries occur for a multitude of reason but one of them is poor positions and postures. A common mistake many people make when performing the back squat is falling into anterior pelvic tilt. This is often a symptom of the “ARCH!” or “CHEST UP, BUTT BACK” cue that has been used since the beginning of time with the back squat.
If the pelvis falls into anterior pelvic tilt, the lumbar spine must also move into hyperextension. The can increase the shear forces on the structures of the spine and commonly leading to pars fractures.
Now pars fractures are a cumulative injury caused by high volume extension and rotation, a common movement pattern in rotational sports like baseball and softball.
In the weight room we don’t want to compound some of the injury trends we see within a sport. The front squat does a much better job of allowing the athlete to complete the movement without losing a neutral pelvis.
Promotes Thoracic Extension
Thoracic extension is an integral part of the the front squat. Without maintaining thoracic extension, the front squat is near impossible to complete. Watch any lifter fail on the front squat and it is typically because they were unable to maintain extension through the thoracic spine.
Being strong in the extensors of the thoracic spine is especially important in this day and age. Whether they are a student-athlete or a 9-to-5 businessman, we need thoracic extension. We spend all day bent over a desk typing or in a slouched position staring at our phones.
Much of what the weight room does is fight some of the poor movement and posture we have in our everyday lives.
For a lot of athletes, their only focus in the weight room is the number, the number of pounds on the bar. This is a symptom of a big ego that many athletes have, which is one of the that can make an athlete great.
The problem with egos in the weight room is it can get people hurt. The front squat can be a breaker of egos. Initially it can be very uncomfortable because the athlete isn’t used to a load across the front of their shoulders.
The front squat is all about posture, especially an upright posture. Unlike the back squat, you cannot “grind” through a front squat with poor positioning. If your positioning breaks down, you WILL fail.
The front squat also does not allow you to handle as much load, which is fine because then quality becomes important for the athlete.
As I said before, posture is everything with the front squat. If your posture is not on point with the front squat, you will fail. But unlike the back squat, the front squat has a safety valve.
When you fail in the front squat, dumping the weight is much easier and more natural than the back squat. We’ve all seen videos of the barbell slowly crushing someone’s soul in the back squat.
Too often we hear of the guy you struggles through a heavy back squat and shoots his vertebral discs out the back of his spine. This is because he “grinded through a squat”. The front squat for me is a much safer option especially when dealing with a novice lifter like the high school athlete.
It comes down to the old “risk-reward” ratio.
Now don’t get me wrong I love a good back squat and will probably not take it out of my own workouts. But too many people become married to certain exercises because “it’s what has always been done”. For me, the move to using the front squat over the back squat is about risk over reward. Does the risk outweigh the reward? Do I get more reward out of the back squat compared to some of the risks that come with it? Or can I get similar results with less possibility of injury with the front squat? This is something to consider with all exercises