Is it because that’s what huge guys do, your football coach said it would develop more strength; you read too many Muscular Development magazines that IFBB Pros say they do? I challenge any of you reading this to ask yourself if you can come up with any real explanation as to why back squatting is so great.
Unless you are a competitive powerlifter or bodybuilder, there is likely no legitimate reason why ‘leg day’ (assuming you’re not the general population of gym goers that actually works out something more than arms and chest) should revolve around the back squat. Now am I saying that you should eliminate the back squat from your repertoire of leg exercises, absolutely not! I want to examine other ways to work out the legs but also get more bang for your buck.
Let’s go back to the title of this article and answer; why do we back squat? If you are in fact a regular guy or gal you are likely working out to improve on lean muscle mass, fat burning and the ever so popular catch phrases, ‘functionalbility’ and ‘core strength.’ Back squatting does improve lean muscle mass which in turn does burn body fat. Assuming you are a very good squatter you can indeed improve core strength, albeit in one plane of motion, you are strengthening the core. From a functional movement standpoint, when in life do we ever load something on our back and squat down? On many occasions I have picked up an object such as a bag of groceries from a squatted position and lifted it up to a shelf or table though. I have also had to pick up flimsy sacks of mulch out of the back of a truck and place them on the ground, or help load and unload an old 85lb dog with bad hips in out of my old Jeep (miss my old Lab, Rocky and Jeep). Fact is, as active and busy people we constantly are putting load in front of our bodies, and never behind. If we can come to an agreement that we do indeed function like this daily, then I ask you all again, why do we back squat?
One could argue (and I will all day) that the front squat is a much more functional lift than the back squat and that in order to make everyday tasks easier (or my definition of functional training) more emphasis should be placed on front squats. There is a lot of negativity that comes with the front squat and with that I can understand, until I began to explore innovative ways to incorporate that movement with other pieces of equipment besides a barbell. The number one complaint I have from ‘soccer mom’ is that her wrists hurt, or ‘I used to play college football at division 19 NERF football dad’ is that he cannot move, because his range of motion is shot from rotator cuff injuries. Sorry guys and gals but I am not going to let front loaded squats get in the way of making you become strong, functional and lean.
My favorite exercise to introduce front loading to, is the bear hug squat using my Ultimate Sandbag. Because I am able to apply load closely to the mid-line of my client I am coaching I am able to alleviate many excuses or pain quite often associated with front squats. Ailments such as lower back pain from excessive leaning forward are eliminated with proper loading of the mid-line or making the sandbag part of the body. Absolutely no wrist or shoulder pain because I am teaching proper thoracic muscle flexion. And no knee pain from your knees drifting over the feet too much, because of the sandbag’s weight shifting back so that proper hip flexion and hamstring/glute activation can take place by decelerating and accelerating through the heels.
Using the Ultimate Sandbag, we can simulate the example earlier of lifting a dog in and out of the Jeep by performing a Zercher squat. Not only do we get to work or thoracic muscles and legs properly but you will notice a Zercher squat resembles a standing front plank giving you or your client a more efficient method of training multiple muscles at once. Once we have established our basic front loaded squatting methods we can then dig into advanced exercises for athletes or anyone looking to step up their fitness levels even more. By adding staggered bear hug and Zercher stance, you can put yourself or client into an unstable position, which will give us a more neurological effect meaning more muscle activation. This movement is great if you have infants. If you are a mom or dad, how many times are you on the floor with you baby playing with them and have to pick them up from the floor, or evening leaning over inside a crib to pick up your toddler? I am sure a lot of times, so let’s be sure you can handle that range of motion and ‘live’ weight for the sake of not only the baby, but also your knees and lower back.
As you finish reading this and watching the video I have set up for you, I want you to again start thinking more and questioning what it is you are doing to improve yourselves daily and more importantly your clients and athletes that lack the great knowledge that you as coaches and trainers already possess. I want you to keep back squatting, but I also want you to find other ways to get better. I will be the first to admit, I am a numbers guy, and I want the big squat. Take it from me, if you can incorporate these methodologies to your current regime, I promise only better results will follow, and yes that means a bigger back squat if that is what you really want.