Squatting is a staple in any strength and conditioning program. Having everyone squat the same or use the same type of squat variation is where coaches go wrong. Each athlete has their own structural anatomy. Each person’s femur lengths are different, they all have different pelvic positions, different acetabulum depths, different torso lengths and different shoulder mobility.
In my opinion, the sport that the athlete plays should be taken into consideration when prescribing a squat variation as well. We mainly prescribe the front squat or front rack position for our baseball players. This is not because I dislike the back squat but because of common postural structures I see in baseball players as well as the risk vs reward in the overhead thrower.
The lumber spine and pelvis position of the baseball player is a huge reason why we moved away from the back squat a few years ago. Protecting the athletes back is priority number one. A lot, and I mean a lot of baseball players are in lumbar extension. Performing the back squat sets the pelvis into anterior tilt which is a position that a lot if not most baseball players live in. The front squat will allow the pelvis to sit neutral and force the athlete to keep integrity of the anterior core which will keep the spine erect and neutral. Baseball requires a tremendous amount of rotation, rotating while in extension then adding an axial load to the extended posture of the athlete will only increase the risk of injury.
Reason number two why we bailed on the back squat for baseball players is because of the shoulder and the elbow position during the rack position. Throwers require an extreme amount of external rotation to throw a ball with any kind of velocity. The head of the humerus is held into the socket of the shoulder (called your glenoid) by a ton of small, very important ligaments. These tissues and ligaments wrap around the joint to stabilize the entire shoulder. Above these ligaments sits the rotator cuff. Adding more stress to the rotator cuff is not worth the risk for an athlete that throws on a daily basis. So, holding a bar on your back will drive the shoulder into external rotation (ER) and may cause even more instability at the glenohumeral joint. We want to keep the humerus centered in the glenoid as much as possible. Excessive ER will decrease end-range stability and increase stress at the elbow causing more discomfort.
The scap is another reason why we prescribe front squats over back squats. We preach on the daily to allow the scap to work around the rib cage or the thorax. Getting into the front rack position allows for the scap to do just that. Anterior loading the bar will force the athlete to keep the rib cage down and neutral which will allow the scapula to sit neutral.
The front squat will also allow the athlete to achieve proper thoracic extension which also is vital in throwing a baseball. Without thoracic extension the thrower will not be able to get into true over head flexion. When we asses our athletes we see a good number of guys that either have flat or rounded thoracic spines. This may come from the amount everyone looks at their phones, sitting on a bus or plane, sitting in class or just not having the muscular endurance to hold proper positions in the thoracic spine. The front squat challenges the athlete to get into a solid position and hold thoracic extension in their upper back to perform the lift properly.
This by all means is not the end all be all on why not to back squat your athletes. We have had a lot of success in keeping athletes healthy after seeing a reoccurring theme in back injuries from athletes back squatting. This works for us and our clients and that is what matters most. I am not a coach to shame an exercise or look down on a coach for programming certain exercises that I don’t agree with. Everyone has their reasons to or not to program certain movements for athletes, as long as you have your “why” and can explain the “why” is what matters most.