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Why We Don’t Back Squat

Telling people we don’t back squat usually gets one of two reactions. The first being that people think we are “soft” and not serious about training. The second actually relates to the first but in a different way. People will say, “oh, you are one of those “functional” people aren’t you?!

At first, it is hard to tell if being called a “functional” person is actually an insult. If you delve a bit deeper, you quickly realize that a lot of people think of “functional training” as doing circus tricks, “goofy”, and not “real” strength training. I don’t blame them to a degree because overall our industry has done a lousy job of teaching what functional training actually means.

Yet, when we present the science, making people back squat makes less and less sense. Let’s start at the beginning, squatting is both a movement pattern and an exercise which makes things VERY confusing. However, the difference is really important when we think about the back squat in general.

When we are talking about the squat as a movement pattern, we are talking about getting as deep as possible which usually requires a more upright torso. Why is this important? Doing so builds better ankle, knee, and hip mobility that relates to healthier low backs and the ability to create better power. Oh and want to use the squat to build better glutes? You better go deep!

Why? As spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill explains, the deeper you go into a squat the more you have to abduct the hips which engages more of the glutes. Sounds obvious enough right? So, we want people going deep into their squat, but here are the issues.

You say that to people and they say, “I can’t, I have mobility problems here and here and here.” Then we have to work on ankle mobility, hip mobility, we have to do this and that and EVENTUALLY we get you to squat. The reality is, it is much more simple than that!

“Little” cues allow for us to get BIG results!

If we think about a popular term coined by the famous physical therapy system of PNF, we know “proximal stability creates distal mobility.” That is a fancy way of saying if an area closer to our center of mass creates stability, the areas further away gain greater mobility. That is because our neurology plays a big role in our movement. Basically when we have greater stability our body feels “safe enough” to allow the extremities to move more.

Press Out squats as Jessica demonstrates is how create that foundation of stability. 

Cool, so, how does this relate to the back squat and my whole point? Well, if we watch how the average person first squats we usually see all types of compensation because their core doesn’t feel stable. The best thing the body does in that situation is simply create all sorts of flexion.

Once we teach HOW to create core stability, all of a sudden people’s squat so much better! That is half of the battle. What we do in the lower body is equally important and we see this proximal stability issue in a different light.

So many people have ankle mobility issues, including yours truly. Having played basketball for a decade, my feet are literally ruined. I even have fused bones from when I broke parts and kept playing. So, I shouldn’t be able to squat low or I should compensate a lot because these joints actually can’t move very much. What I HAVE to do is create stability in the right places to unlock whatever mobility I do have.

As Jessica shows below, it starts with what we do with our feet! Using the “Joint by Joint Approach”, if I have stable feet, then I will gain greater mobility in the ankle joint. This is a far faster and more effective means of getting people to squat well!

Jessica shows how we teach to be active with the feet to create stability from the ground up that gives us a better squat and mobility. 

How does this all relate to why we don’t back squat? The most obvious is hopefully the fact that with the barbell on the back, we don’t get the opportunity to use the load as a means to teach how to engage the core correctly. That is why you see so many people “dump” into their pelvis as they back squat. When they do so, they elongate the core and lose the stability these muscles can offer creating more stress on the lumbar spine and LESS on the actual leg muscles.

Here is an equally and even MORE important reason why. Research shows that most people over the age of 30 have some changes in their spine! “one-third of people 40-59 years have image-based evidence of moderate to severe degenerative disc disease and more than half had moderate to severe spinal osteoarthritis.” (Science Daily HERE)

When fitness professionals and strength coaches discuss this issue, they typically say, “well that doesn’t mean you have pain.” You know what, they are ABSOLUTELY right!! It doesn’t mean you have pain NOW! What spines that start to change hate A LOT is spinal compression. Guess what putting a good weight on your back does? Yup, lots of spinal compression, meaning as we get older we are less and less tolerant of this position.

Our DVRT concepts don’t only apply to Ultimate Sandbags but how we think of using kettlebells too (scroll through our progressions).

I know, I know, you want to get strong though and that is why you back squat because you are serious about your fitness goals! I’m with you, however, does having to back squat give us the ONLY way to get strong? A famous study by Gullet et. al gave us the following insights, “The front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces and extensor moments. The results suggest that front squats may be advantageous compared with back squats for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health.”

Wait one minute….we have an option to squat that will train our leg muscles, but spare much of our joint issues that cause people to have pain? That’s silly why would we want to do those! (extreme sarcasm) You can see the answer isn’t why wouldn’t we back squat, the question is why WOULD we back squat when we can get strong and help our bodies at the same time?

DVRT Master, Cory Cripe shows how we can make traditionally “light weights” feb VERY heavy. Take a 100 pound Burly Ultimate Sandbag for a spin on some of these progressions. 

That is why tools like Ultimate Sandbags and kettlebells are so great. Well, what about the barbell front squat? The barbell front squat is okay, but we can’t make the same core integration that helps our backs and our performance, people are often limited in the wrists and shoulders, AND we can’t challenge the body as in as many unique ways as you have seen throughout this blog post.

The goal of training is not to just work hard, but to be smart about the time and effort you put into training. The best programs are those that keep you training for life and make you feel as good as you look! Imagine the impact upon people we could make if we could put them in a position to succeed and show them exercise doesn’t have to hurt!

Find out more about these powerful strategies and how we get results so fast as we break down all these progressions and cues in our L.I.F.T. program. You can get the entire program PLUS 2 FREE Ultimate Sandbags with code “lift1” HERE or get great individual modules like our Squat program with the same code HERE! We guarantee you will never look at the squat or functional fitness the same way again!