The back squat is the king of strength development exercises. I do not think that anyone would dispute this point. This one exercise can put on a tremendous amount of lower body and core strength if preformed properly. It has been used by athletes of all sports and fitness enthusiasts, which has led to great speed and power development translating to improvements on the field of play. So why then has the back squat come under so much controversy over the last few years?
The fear that the back squat will lead to lower back injuries has dominated this conversation and lead to quite a few strength and conditioning coaches removing it from their training programs. The opponent says that the possibility that the back squat can lead to disc compression and/or herniation makes a great argument for taking the stance of removing it. There are also many alternative squat movements that can take its place which make sure that the back is spared, which include the front squat and rear foot elevated split squat. So with these options available it seems to make sense to say let’s just drop the back squat from our training tool box.
On the other side of the table the proponent would say the back squat, if done properly with the right population most certainly does not injure the back and it is by far the most superior exercise at building strength. As far as disc compression goes gravity is constantly applying compression to your discs and sitting down in your chair all day doesn’t help either, which you are most certainly doing at this very moment. As far as disc herniation goes herniated discs are taking place in the sedentary population much more than it does in the athletic or fitness population. The back squat should then be included in the training program of any serious athlete.
So how did the back squat receive such a negative connotation from a number of strength and conditioning coaches? It started in weight rooms with too many athletes and not enough coaches to give proper supervision, with athletes that had no right back squatting due to limitations back squatting anyways and with egos dictating loads that were inappropriate for the athlete. This is just three examples that have led to coaches removing back squats all together from their programs. The number one thing a strength and conditioning coach wants to make sure of is that their athletes stay injury free in the weight room and if that scenario is not being met things must change.
To be honest I have gone back and forward in my opinion over this debate. At this time I do believe back squats are appropriate for the right athlete. Can any exercise lead to injury, yes, but if done properly with the right population it is an appropriate exercise and should be done. It is a tremendous strength exercise that is matched by no other. If there is a qualified strength and conditioning coach supervising an appropriate number of athletes who have been deemed ready and properly coached to perform the exercise correctly the back squat is a safe and extremely effective option.