Thursday 10 May 2012

Can I Back Squat?

When designing team training programs, I give multiple options for certain exercises to allow athletes to select a variation that is most suited to their specific needs and individual body type. For example, when using squats with a team program I will often give the athlete the choice of front, back, safety squat bar or split squats. Of all these variations, one of the most popular ones is the back squat.
Why? I believe because it is for four reasons:

  1. It is the most well known and popular squat variation
  2. It is often praised as the king of all exercise
  3. It is less awkward than other variations such as front squats
  4. You can use more weight with it than you can with the other variations (often the #1 reason for many people) and this is a nice for the ego.

When athletes ask me, "Can I do the back squat?", my answer is, "if you can back squat, you can back squat, but if you can’t back squat, you can’t back squat."

I never want to be the trainers who says silly things like, “squats are dead”, “squats are old-school”, “no one who is cutting edge squats any more”, “squats are bad for your knees”, etc… However, I do believe that the barbell back squat is not always the best squat variation for some people.

Therefore, my current stance on the issue is this: if you can meet my criteria for the back squat, then go for it. If not, pick a more suitable squat variation. 

Here are my criteria for who can back squat:

  • You are healthy or cleared to do squats by your athletic therapist
  • You have sufficient mobility, stability and structural proportions that allow your thighs to break parallel (to the ground not an angled line on the wall) while doing the following:
  • You can keep the weight on your heels 
  • You can maintain neutral spine and not “tail tucking” at the bottom
  • You can keep the barbell over your mid foot (i.e. if you were to hang a plum line from the barbell down to the floor, would the line be between your toe and heel?)
  • You can do the movement without pain (during or after) in your knees, low back and shoulders
  • You have healthy shoulders and it is not a time of year when your sport places a huge demand (from contact or overuse) on your shoulders.

Remember, athletes are not lifters. The body structure that made you a good athlete is often different than the body structure that makes one a good lifter. You have to have strong legs, but sometimes other squat variations may be more appropriate. 

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