Although I’m not a fan of certain exercises—Leg Extensions, Dips, pretty much anything involving a Smith Machine—I can appreciate that there is a time and place for everything.
That’s why I don’t agree with people who write about the dangers of Squats and Deadlifts, because those exercises that led to their back problems. It’s been my experience that these are usually the same people whose Squats look like maximum-effort, rounded-back nightmares and whose Deadlifts resemble epileptic seizures. The exercise is almost never the problem—the lifter is.
So when I say baseball players should not perform Back Squats, it’s not because I think Back Squats are bad. I just believe they’re a bad fit for baseball players. I still have baseball players Squat. A lot. Just not with a straight Olympic-style bar.
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Why Back Squats Are Bad for Baseball Players
Baseball players subject their bodies to unique stresses. Throwing a baseball results in over 7,000 degrees per second of internal shoulder rotation. That’s over 20 full revolutions per second! Baseball players also experience valgus stress on the elbow equivalent to hanging a 40-pound dumbbell on a string from the hand.
Back Squats place baseball players’ shoulders under even more stress by putting the shoulder in an “at-risk” position (maximal external rotation and abduction). Combining heavy weight with this position increases the likelihood of rotator cuff/shoulder impingement by increasing compression and reducing the sub-acromial space.
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Plenty of baseball players perform Back Squats with no ill effects, but I believe the risks outweigh the rewards. Consider a few alternatives that provide similar benefits without the danger.
Watch demonstrations of each exercise in videos above.
Back Squat Alternatives
Giant Cambered Bars (GCB) and Safety Squat Bars (SSB) are excellent options because of their shape. The Giant Cambered Bar allows athletes to squat with their hands closer to their sides. The bar’s design allows for high- or low-bar placement and stabilization work since it sways a bit. The Safety Squat Bar allows athletes to squat without placing their shoulders in the “at-risk” position. It can only be used in a higher position on the back.
If you don’t have access to specialty bars, you can use a standard Olympic bar to perform Front Squats. With the bar placed in front of your body, you are forced to stay a bit more upright and fight the urge to tip forward. The only time Front Squats would be a poor choice is for athletes who have a history of acromioclavicular (AC) joint issues. In this case, a barbell placed on top of the AC joint may cause discomfort.
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Dumbbell/Kettlebell Goblet Squat
Goblet Squats are arguably the most user-friendly Squat variation. For Goblet Squats, athletes just grab a dumbbell or a kettlebell and hold it like a “goblet” in front of the body. If you use a kettlebell, hold it by the handle. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back while simultaneously pushing your knees out. This is the exercise I recommend to any athlete who doesn’t have a lot of experience squatting. I have yet to meet anyone who couldn’t perform a solid Goblet Squat with five to 10 minutes of coaching.
Single-Arm Kettlebell Front Squat
I love asymmetrical or offset-loaded exercises, because they force athletes to engage their core and stabilize their body.
With this variation, you “cradle” a kettlebell near your chest on one side of your body, making sure your wrist stays in a neutral position throughout and that the bell itself rests on your forearm. Perform all required repetitions on one side of the body, switch, and repeat on the other.
Double Kettlebell Squats
This is a progression from the Single-Arm Kettlebell Squat. The only difference is you cradle two kettlebells–one on each side.
The Back Squat is an excellent exercise, but it’s not right for every athlete in every situation. The ability to match the right exercise with the right athlete and make the necessary progressions is often what separates the great trainers from the not-so-great.
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