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:
- It is the most well known and popular squat variation
- It is often praised as the king of all exercise
- It is less awkward than other variations such as front squats
- 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.