I know what you’re thinking: ‘gee, Erica, what a bold title you got there.’
Or, ‘gee, Erica, do you really want to open this can of worms?’
Or, ‘gee, Erica, are you prepared to fight a bunch of pissed off powerlifters?’
Or, ‘gee, Erica, why can’t you just write on baby snow leopards?’
While I like to think I’m a woman who puts herself in the middle of the road on most topics, the squat is a bit different. Certainly, this is a topic that makes my extreme side bubble to the surface.
But before you get all lit up, I am not to blame here. Rather, it’s my astrological sign. I’m a Scorpio, okay?
So if this article pisses you off, remember I’m a Scorpio. Or if this piece makes you want to punch a wall, remember, I’m a Scorpio. Or if it makes you want to send me hate mail, remember, I’m a Scorpio. We are fiery people who are known for saying extreme statements from time to time. Don’t blame Erica. Blame the Scorpio in her. That is all. ;-O
Astrology aside, you’re probably wondering why I don’t use back squats in my athletes’ programs.
Of course, I’m not the first to do so, and can list a handful of coaches who throw back squats in the trash when it comes to programming. What’s funny is, nothing has caused more polarization in the strength and conditioning industry than the debate of back squats. In fact, it’s ended friendships. It’s caused internet wars. It’s caused Twitter battles. And I’m willing to bet it will cause the zombie apocalypse.
Cool. Bring on the zombies.
Why I Don’t Use Back Squats
Right off the bat, let’s get into the population I train.
I’m either coaching youth athletes (ages 12-14) who are new to strength training, or elite athletes 14 and older who are trying to stay healthy and prepare for college sports.
For the newbie athletes (ages 12-14), I’m not so sure throwing them under a barbell without checking in on their movement patterns will help their athletic performance.
To that end, every time I have a youth athlete perform a bodyweight, TRX-assisted, or light Goblet Squat, I’m amazed at how piss poor they’re performing them. Even with all the external cues in the world, body mechanics and motor skill learning are real, folks.
Here’s an excellent start when teaching youth athletes the squat:
I don’t care if you’re a coach who was a former powerlifter who chased back squat numbers his entire life, but your programming isn’t always best for your youth athletes. Teach them the movement first, then go from there.
When it comes to older athletes (ages 14 and up), by this time, they’ve proven to me they can squat well. Whether this is with bodyweight or a kettlebell, they’re a green light.
Lately, I’ve experimented with making the deadlift the main lift. And if they’re coming to me a second day, the other main lift may be a barbell hip thrust or single leg deadlift. Don’t kill me, please.
Let’s take the conversation back to the population I work with: youth soccer players.
For a sport that involves a tremendous amount of pushing and anterior movement, why do I need to add more to the fire? Put simply, when will these athletes really hone posterior chain strength?
Especially if I’m given limited time (2x a week) with these folks, you bet we’re deadlifting the crap out of some trap bars:
Getting athletes to pike their hips back into a hip hinge position is not only critical for building hamstring strength and reducing chance of injury, but it reinforces them to get into “Athletic Stance.”
Everything comes back to Athletic Stance, too:
– Being able to change direction faster.
– Being able to react faster.
– Being able to produce a countermovement of force to jump higher.
– Being able to decelerate safer.
Truthfully, if you’re not having your athletes deadlift, you may need to rethink your life.
After 7 years of coaching youth athletes, *knock on wood*, I’ve tallied up ZERO ACL injuries. Don’t argue with me here.
Other Reasons I Don’t Use Back Squats
1. Athletes are fine with it.
Over the past few years, my athletes haven’t noticed I’ve x-ed out back squats. What they do notice is we are deadlifting a hell of a lot more, and they absolutely love it.
“We can’t wait to deadlift!” exclaim my female athletes.
If this isn’t music to my ears, I don’t know what is. It’s nice to have athletes on the posterior chain bandwagon. It’s important, especially for soccer athletes who are known for career-ending ACL tears and hamstring strains.
So this bears repeating: bulletproof those hips, yo.
2. I find other squat variations beneficial.
Maintaining the strength of the quadriceps is critical for injury reduction, and I still include some degree of quad dom movements in my programs.
However, I find other quad dominant variations far more beneficial than back squats, such as Bulgarian Split Squats, Single Leg Squats, and Zercher Reverse Lunges, which all hone a single leg strength component, as well as lumbo-pelvic stability component. Because let’s be real: most soccer athletes have some whacky asymmetry in the pelvic area going on, so what better way to address than unilateral movements?
3. Back pain and balance complaints.
Most of my athletes say they feel pain in their backs OR unstable when performing back squats. Okay, then enter: Pitshark on Landmine Squats.
Just because I don’t use back squats, doesn’t mean other variations are off limits. I like to think I’m open-minded and malleable when it comes to my athletes’ needs.
What I love most about the Pitshark is you can go heavy as hell, while still keeping your body balanced and symmetrical.
And what I love most about Landmine Squats is the anterior loading which allows the athlete to truly *sit down* and hone more depth and hip mobility. Boom.
4. Back squats don’t work the glutes as much as you think.
Any time a guy hits on me and says, “dang girl! Your booty is nice. Do you squat?” I end the relationship immediately.
Do you even research, bro?
With that said, when we look at EMG glute activation studies, the deadlift and hip thrust rank higher than the squat.
From a hip extension torque standpoint, the barbell hip thrust is your best bet. I mean, don’t you want to build strong, powerful and explosive athletes?
Yeah. Deadlifts, hip thrusts, and big booties for the win.
5. The world hasn’t ended.
Back squats aren’t in my programs. Alas, the world still spins. Athletes are healthy. And people are having fun.
Okay, but what if an athletes reallyyyyyyyyyy wants to back squat because it breathes life into them? Well, I won’t say no. I’m not that much of an a-hole…COME. ON.
So if this happens, I’ll let them back squat, but at the same time, I pepper in more hip movements as accessory work:
Rarely has this happened, but when it does, I remain empathetic. After all, some people just love to back squat. Totally fine.
So before you send the hate mail, remember I’m a Scorpio.
But also, it’s worth mentioning that context matters.
Remember a few weeks ago when the Chelsea manager said they weren’t lifting weights anymore? Naturally, everyone freaked out and failed to look at the context of what he was saying. The next day, the players were doing kettlebell movements on the pitch, which probably meant he was referring to barbell training as weight training. No biggie.
Either way, I’m thankful you read this article word-for-word and I hope this sheds light on the context of my athletes and why I do what I do.
The decision of not using back squats has boded well for my athletes for a long period of time. But. Once it backfires and causes injuries, is the moment I’ll might have to rethink my ways. You know, like any coach who evolves and hones professional development.
But for now, let’s keep the streak going and say no to back squats.