Why FRONT SQUATS reign king

The back squat is not the king of all exercises for our baseball program and here’s why….

1. Lumbar spine and Pelvis Mechanics

The biggest reason we moved exclusively to the front squat over 5 years ago is to protect our kids’ low backs. The front squat goes a long way in keeping the pelvis in a more neutral state compared to the gross anterior tilted patterns many athletes get into with back squats.  The pelvis isn’t as able to shift anteriorly creating huge shear forces through the lumbar spine because to do so on the front squat would require massive amount of lumbar hyperextension to keep the spine erect which would be incredibly tough to do and keep hold of the bar.  Shear forces on the back squat can grow exponentially high, especially with kids that have less than stellar technique.

Any coach that has time in the field has had athletes come up with low back pain after squatting. If you haven’t then you haven’t coached long enough. More often than not, these are just minor issues, like a slight bulged, or slipped disc.   The pain limits them for a week or two, but gradually goes away and they are back to normal.  Eliminating back squats in favor of the front squat has eliminated our lumbar spine problems completely. Type front squat vs back squat into google and you’ll find any numbers of studies citing higher compressive, and shear forces occurring at the L1-L5 level of the spine in the back squat.  

Pars fractures are a huge problem with athletes due to the year round games, lessons, showcases etc. so protecting the lumbar spine has become priority number one in the weight room. Pars fractures come from extension and rotation patterns and the back squat is no help for us in that department.  A squat of any kind isn’t kind on pars fractures but the larger forces along with the anterior pelvic tilt and extension patterns the back squat creates makes a recipe for aggravation.  Often times with pars fractures, athletes are asymptomatic.  Guess what a good ole back squat will do to that.  You got it…not asymptomatic anymore.

2. Hard to screw up

This 2nd point ties in completely with the above notion, but I have seen athletes maneuver a back squat up in any 100 different ways.  Athletes can grind their way through a back squat with horrendous technique that when finished makes you wonder how they’re not paralyzed with multiple disc herniations from their butt actually beating their shoulders vertical.  Again, if you’ve coached for any amount of time you’ve seen these problems.  You’ve seen an athlete that looks great at 70%, and 80%, but at 90% it turns into horror show.  I don’t want to make absolutes here but it’s very tough to compensate in a front squat with a less than stable and vertical spine.  If they fold forward in the hole they drop the bar….and that’s it.  If their hips rise before their shoulders, they can’t keep hold of the bar and the lift is over.  It’s incredibly tough for an athlete’s hips to rise faster than their shoulders in the front squat. The front squat, by nature, is a more protective lift than the back squat, because when an error in the torso occurs, an athlete is forced to drop the bar.  No more folding forward and still muscling the bar up while flexed over like a question mark.

I have watched kids shift their weight side to side when first taught the back squat like it was a game of twister. When we moved them to front squat the problem completely disappeared.  I was too young at the time to realize the problem but it was quickly solved when we switched him to front squats.  This isn’t an isolated case.  Many athletes shift weight to a leg or rotate their hips massively to one side as a compensation pattern but when kids move to a front squat the 9 times out of 10 the problem corrects itself.

3. More even loading pattern

Powerlifting style back squats with a low bar and extremely wide base use much more hip activation to accomplish the movement. One of the things I like about the front squat when taught properly is a more even loading pattern throughout the lower body.  Athletes will always compensate to their strengths.   We have all seen that athlete that when the weight is too heavy in a back squat they keep pushing their hips back, folding over more and more in the hole but not actually getting any lower.  Knee angle never changes once they reach that sticking point.  The front squat requires much more knee flexion and we aren’t able to glide back as much into the much stronger hips.  We get a more even loading pattern with the quads and hamstrings in the front squat.

4. Thoracic Extension

Thoracic extension is a massive part of baseball and the front squat promotes thoracic extension. Without it, athletes can’t complete the lift.  The same isn’t true in the back squat.  Extension and rotation are a vital part for any throwing athlete.  I know I’ll be walking a fine line with the PRI crowd on this one but I want strength in the thoracic extenders.  I think kids sit too much these days and stare at screens, shoulders get rounded over and posture sucks. We’re promoting posture with the front squat and strengthening the long and weak mid back.

I have no problem with those that do back squats and it’s still a great exercise. Athletes are not professional lifters and they shouldn’t be thought of that way.  They all have technical flaws in lifts, and will so especially as the weight increases.  There isn’t ONE lift that makes or breaks a baseball player or any team sport athlete for that matterLifting is all general in nature, meaning none of it is specific to what occurs on the field of play, especially a back or front squat.  If you need more reinforcement on this concept then I suggest you study Anatoli Bondarchuk, and Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Principles of Dynamic Correspondence.

I’m not in the business of creating powerlifters, or Olympic lifters and will continue to find the most effective means for creating better ATHLETES. I believe that the front squat allows us to achieve that goal while being a more viable option to keeping our athletes healthy.