Recently I was asked why I don’t value the back squat as a necessary movement, and especially for those who compete in athletic competitions (play sports).
Due to this, I wanted to reference a few parts of my vertical jump training eBook, and explain why the back squat is really only necessary for those people training exclusively for mass.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t back squat myself, but there are very few athletes who I have trained with who I felt it was necessary for.
Moreover, the majority of my experiences with back squat programming has been for “because I want to see if I can do it” reasons, and not necessarily for any distinguishable benefits. Of course if you are training for size solely the back squat does have some pretty legitimate benefits, I just fail to see necessity of it for athletes competing in sports.
Reason 1: Most People Can’t Back Squat with Good Form
If you are anything over 6’ tall the back squat becomes much more difficult to perform, and the amount of people who are over 6’ feet tall increases drastically in the world of sports when compared with the general population. Before the summer going in to my Sophomore year in college I had never even done a back squat, and thus started my first attempt at it at a lofty 95lbs.
The reason for this being that I had already built some considerable athleticism without ever needing to think about it. After my first few sessions back squatting it became quickly apparent that to go up any further in weight I was going to need to perfect my form as much as possible.
Which I actually attempted to do. From then until now I have spent literal hours sitting in the “3rd World Squat” position, ingraining a natural squatting motion, and a movement pattern that I can rely on regardless the amount of weight used or reps performed.
As stated in my eBook, “this stretch was aptly named due to the ability of individuals from “third-world” countries to execute perfect squat form without any necessary training; it is a natural position to them.
For individuals from countries where technology levels are low and chairs are far less abundant, sitting in perfect squat form becomes a way of life.
“You are what you repeatedly do.”
These people have ingrained this positioning by utilizing it as a way to sit, so that they avoid sitting on the ground, yet still manage to remain comfortable.”
If you haven’t worked on your form to the point that it is a motion you can perform “cold” or without a warm-up, you probably are not ready to put any weight on the bar.
Although I would not necessarily recommend this option often, a smith machine can actually help an untrained athlete learn a squatting motion. If you were to use this strategy, squat with very low weight, and a narrow stance.
Along with this, a major problem of the back squat is that it is possible to attempt (with large amounts of weight), even if your form is horrendous.
As I stated before, “A back squat is easy enough to do, even if you are doing it incredibly incorrectly. This can lead to injuries incredibly easily, since it is easy enough to do with improper form.” If your form is not something that a majority of people would consider excellent, you are better off not doing it at all.
Reason 2: Even with Proper Form, Back Squats Are Tough on Your Back. Front Squats Are Not.
An injured athlete doesn’t do you any good in competition.
An athlete that cannot squat 225 lbs is still far more useful than the athlete who stressed their back to exhaustion and has to sit out. Within the first 1 second of thinking about a back squat you can see where the problem lies, you are literally loading your lumbar and spine with weight.
Of course for a lot of people this is not a problem.
Especially if you do not play a contact sport, or a sport with violent turning and change of direction motions, you might not see the disadvantage of this for a longer period of time.
However, if you do play a sport where these characteristics are involved, it is absolutely unintelligent to risk wearing out the muscles which protect your spine, as well as your spine itself.
It just does not make sense. As shown in my eBook, “A study conducted in 2009 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning assed the forces produced through the movement, as well as the energy absorbed in the knee, during both the front and back squat.
The results of these tests determined the actual effectiveness of each exercise for these variables, along with the safety risks to keep in mind. The tests results concluded that:
- The front squat produced a greater amount of quadriceps and lower back force
- The back squat absorbed more compressive force, as well as overall stress
- The back squat forced higher levels of knee extensor movements
- Front squatting less weight can result in the same amount muscle activation as back squatting more weight.”
When there is such a better option right in front of you, it is hard to make a cause for why it should not be used almost 100% of the time.
Reason 3: Single Leg Movements Are More Important for Everything in Athletics
This passage from my eBook sums this reason up pretty well, and I don’t think it needs much more explanation,
“One of the primary examples of the direct benefit of the Bulgarian split squat was a study conducted in 2005 and produced in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. The study used untrained individuals to determine whether the free weight bilateral (two-footed) squat would perform better than the barbell unilateral (1-footed) squat.
For the unilateral squat, the group used the barbell Bulgarian split squat. Utilizing the same rep scheme and intensity for both groups, the study determined that over the course of 8 weeks, the individuals who performed the Bulgarian split squat both improved more, and outperformed, the bilateral group in terms of unilateral vertical jump power output and jump height.”
If there was one athletic movement where you would assume that the back squat was clearly the best way to train it you probably would guess it would be the vertical jump, right? They basically look like the same motion; however, the correlation just is not as great as you would expect.
Along with this, a bilateral-stable movement does not do very good for improving starting and stopping speed, as well as any change of direction. The back squat is ineffective for training many sport-specific movements.
Reason 4: The Goblet Squat is All You Need, With Nearly No Risk for Injury
As stated in my eBook, “The goblet squat is not something most athletes will encounter in a regular gym, since it does not come with gaudy numbers or “PR’s.” It does, however, significantly work your core muscles, as well as flexibility and leg development.
The one lacking area of this exercise is the overall amount of force you can produce, yet the flexibility that you will gain in your lower back and legs more than make up for this. By front-loading a manageable dumbbell in both hands, your body will naturally sink well in between your knees, providing a strong stretch of the groin, hip flexors, and hamstrings.”
When you combine the ability of the goblet squat to perfect the movement patterns of your lower body, with the power and strength gains that single leg movements and front squats provide, it is easily apparent that there is no need for risking injury with the back squat.
Even those with limited flexibility can increase their overall movement ability by practicing goblet squats, instantly making them a better athlete.
Personally, I do still back squat. Sometimes with great frequency.
As far as gut-checking, toughness workouts, the back squat can challenge just about anyone. Within the last week I have even devoted myself to beginning the 20 rep squat program, something I had done about 4 years ago as well. I have gone through cycles of Smolov Jr, 5×5, 10×10, 3×3, and other rep schemes; all with variating levels of success.
This time, I decided to go with the 20 rep squat program to give myself a legitimate mental and physical challenge, along with building anaerobic and aerobic endurance in a unique way.
I will go for a minimum of 4 weeks with this, and then push until I feel my body becoming worn out from the excessive amount of work performed each session.
You can follow my 20 Rep Squat journey on my YouTube Channel-Adam Kemp Fitness!
As you can see in this video of me at 145lbs, my form is not perfect. I have always struggled to increase my ankle flexibility due to the nature of basketball (ankle sprains through the years), but it is a form I feel comfortable with repeating each rep-and do not experience any extra stress on my knees or back.
Along with this, I will again take a considerable break from the back squat (months), before I again add them back in to my programming and tackle another challenge.
If you are training only for size, back squat as much as you would like!
I certainly suggest that you work to perfect form before you do, but I admit that the benefits are there.
However, I am simply suggesting to all of my friends who train athletes and are athletes, that you look beyond the Instagram memes about how awesome “squatting” is, and focus on movements that will increase the health of your body, and your ability to perform when it comes time for competition!