Apr 12, 2018
Front Squat Focus

Lower-body strength training is important for all athletes, including softball players. But with so many choices, how can coaches decide which exercises are best? According to Cressey Sports Performance Strength Coach Nancy Newell, NASM CPT, CSAC, there is one exercises that is perfect for both building strength and keeping your softball athletes safe from injury — the front squat.

Why is the front squat so perfect for softball players? In a blog for Stack.com, Newell explains that, unlike the back squat, this exercise places the stress of the load on the core rather than on the spine. The back squat can also place the shoulders in a difficult position, whereas the front squat places the shoulder in a safer position and decreases stress on this joint.

While the front squat is a great exercise, it’s important to get the movements and coaching cues right in order to gain the most benefit. Newell offers some suggestions to ensure your athletes aren’t making mistakes. The first issue she sees often is placing the bar low on the shoulder. This will cause the bar, and your body, to roll forward. Instead, place it closer to your neck on what Newell calls the “meaty” part of your deltoid. Next is to use the cross arm grip instead of the traditional front squat grip.

“I prefer the cross arm grip for the simple reason it’s less stressful on the elbows than the traditional front squat grip,” Newell writes in a blog for her website. “A study by Werner et al showed that softball pitchers specifically are already experiencing significant compression and varus forces during the windmill delivery. In my mind, why add more unneeded stress to the elbow if we don’t have to?”

Another tip is to make sure your athletes’ feet are not too far apart. Newell explains that athletes’ feet should be placed slightly outside hip-width with their feet angled slightly. To help keep your stance steady, Newell also stresses the importance of not allowing the eyes to drift towards the ground.

“When performing the front squat we want to look slightly above the horizon,” she writes. “This is sending a message to our body that we need to stay tall. If you coach an athlete to look down at the ground their entire body will start to collapse forward towards the ground. Eyes are a very small part of the human body but when it comes to lifting technique it plays a crucial role in cleaning up technique.”

If you have athletes who are new to lifting, Newell suggests having them squat to a 13- to 15-inch box. Many of these athletes don’t have the ability to control their depth yet, so doing this helps them build up strength. Over time, coaches can lower the height of the box until the athlete can complete the squat without any assistance. The last tip from Newell is to take a large breath through the nose when squatting down and keep a tight torso.

“Don’t exhale all your air out when you squat down,” she writes. “By blowing all the air out, you essentially become an empty soda can that is easily crushed.”

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