Another big buzz concept in the world of strength and conditioning is ditching the traditional back squats because of the prevalence of low back injuries with the exercise. I’m sure many of you heard about Michael Boyle’s “Death to the Back Squat” campaign on the internet, and it really stirred the pot in the field because so many people hold strong loyalties to the back squat. Boyle’s reasoning is quite simple and stems mainly from experiential evidence; he’s witnessed on too many occasions a low back injury resulting from back squatting. From that viewpoint, you can’t fault the guy in the slightest.
As for me, I like to play on both sides of the fence. I do think that back squats are a great exercise when technique is sound, and the exercise is appropriate for the athlete’s body type. I think most of us would agree that “perfect” squat technique is rare, and generally the first movement compensation is lumbar flexion. This lumbar flexion causes the lever arm of the resistance to put excessive strain on the low back, which in turn results in the high number of injuries with this exercise (Durall, 2005). However, I completely understand Boyle’s concept of the risk-to-benefit ratio of back squatting versus other great exercises that can accomplish the same thing, if not more.
Many professionals are becoming advocates of single leg squatting and RFESS (rear foot elevated split-squats) to improve lower body strength and mass. Because the nature of single leg work is more demanding than bilateral work, the external load needed is much less than the traditional back squat, which many believe to be much safer means of developing leg strength than back squats. The spinal loading becomes less, yet the demand on the legs becomes more, sounds like a win-win right?
Durall, C. &. (2005). Avoiding Lumbar Spine Injury During Resistance Training. National Strength and Conditioning Journal , 64-72.