Kelsey Kiel Back Squat

You Don’t Need to Back Squat
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt

“Do you need to barbell back squat to be strongAF?” 


“If you are strongAF does it mean you back squat heavy?”

Maybe. This is correlation, not causation.

“Should I barbell back squat?” 

It depends. 

“Is barbell back squat the best way to get strong?”

No. It’s highly effective given the right circumstances. But “best” is dependent on context and the individual. See above…”it depends”.**

Let’s examine the barbell back squat – why it’s good, when it’s not, and who and how it should be used for your goals. My aim is to raise education and awareness on how and when to best use this movement.

Most people don’t realize how technically-demanding the barbell back squat is. It requires a lot of prerequisite mobility, motor control, and strength to perform WELL (i.e. in a way that won’t give you a back injury). Additionally, there seems to be a knowledge gap (or lack of creativity?) for people who want to get strong but think back squat is the only way to do so.

Let’s dive into some honest talk about squats!

Do you need to barbell back squat to be strong? 


We need to be much more precise and clear with our words. Do you mean absolute strength or relative strength*? Or you just want to be strong enough to do the activities that you love to do without pain and better than most of your friends (because, hell, we all have egos. Me too!) 

Strength comes in many flavors. If you don’t get clear on what exact flavor you want, you could get the recipe for some gross flavor. Do ya get what I’m saying? If you want mint chip kind of strength, tell your coach you want mint chip, and they’ll give you the ingredients to MAKE mint chip. But if you’re vague, “I want ice cream strength”…they might give you the recipe for nasty ol’ butter-pecan because that’s what they thought you meant and that’s what they like (frkkn butter-pecan psychos). 

Injury often comes when our actions are not in alignment with our goals. Which is why getting VERY CLEAR with your language and goals is important.

A lot of people think back squat is the only way to get strong because that’s what they see the most examples of in western culture. If we grew up in Greco-Roman times, we’d all be wrestling and hunting wild lions and boars, and running with spears looking like Spartans. They didn’t back squat to get ripped. But now-a-days, people watch powerlifters low bar back squat #700 and think, well, they’re strong, so I should do what they’re doing!

That chain-of-thought is understandable. “That strong human is doing X. I also want to be strong. So I will do X.” 

But ask yourself is your goal to powerlift or to get strong? The two paths may have overlap, but are not identical. Additionally ask, “Do I have the skill or ability to do what that strong human is doing? And how long did it take them to get to where they are?”

Consult with your coach and determine:

– Is back squatting an important part of me achieving my goal?

– Is back squat something I enjoy doing, even if it is not a necessary step in achieving my goal?

– Do I have the requisite mobility and motor control to back squat well?

Back Squat Alternatives

If you don’t need nor want to back squat, there’s plenty of other exercises to implement to get strong. Additionally, if you do need/want to back squat but don’t have the skill/ability yet to be in a “good” position, you should use these exercises to build STRENGTH while you improve your squat SKILL:

Other ways to get STRONG lower bodies:

Bulgarian Split Squats (heavy. light. Drop sets. Plyometric. Get creative. No one said they had to be easy.)Sled Pushes and Sled DragsSandbag Squats Anderson Yoke SquatsFront Squats (Barbell, DBs, KB’s)Safety Bar SquatsZercher SquatsLandmine SquatsStaggered Stance SquatsLunges (for distance or for load) or Step-UpsKnees Past Toes Split SquatHex DL (in a squatty setup)Hip ThrustsGood Mornings. Don’t even get me started on hinging, the list will be too long.

*Absolute strength = absolute strength which is the ability to produce maximum force irrespective of body weight

*Relative strength = Relative strength refers to the ability to produce maximal force relative to your bodyweight

Do you have to back squat to be strong?

If you are strong AF does it mean you back squat heavy?

Maybe. This is correlation, not causation.

As much as back squat is a strength movement, that strength comes as a byproduct of being proficient at the skill of back squat (skill-specificity). Meaning, if you are very good at back squat, it will effectively build strength. But the reverse is not always true. If you have a strong lower body, you may not be a good back squatter (or even back squat at all) – this may be due to injury history, mobility restrictions, your body’s unique mechanics and proportions, etc.

A really good example of this is Coach Fritz’s client, Shane.

Shane is a decathlete and can single-leg squat more than he back squats. Due to his proportions, back squating does not put him in an optimal position to move load. Watch it! 

The Truth About Back Squats

At the end of the day, these statements are all true:

Back squat is a tool you can implement to get strong. Back squat is not the only tool that will make you strong. If you want to back squat in order to get strong, make sure you have the requisite mobility and motor patterning to squat well, so that you end up getting strong rather than injured.

Who Should Back Squat?

Should I barbell back squat? It depends. 

– What is your injury history, training experience, and movement ability?

– What are your specific goals?

    Do they need to include a back squat to achieve them?

    Do you want to include a back squat?

Is the Back Squat Technical?

People don’t talk about how TECHNICAL the barbell back squat is. But did you know that many NFL quarterbacks don’t back squat? 

That’s because the risk/reward ratio for that movement on a highly valuable and technical player doesn’t weigh out. THAT’S how technically demanding the back squat is. Their strength and conditioning coach knows that the quarterback’s job is to be strong enough to do their job, not be the strongest back-squatter on the team (see how their training is in alignment with their specific goal/job?) So, quarterbacks get strong and agile lower bodies in a variety of other ways.

Prerequisites for Squatting

Back to you…to squat OPTIMALLY (which means in a way that won’t cause injury) requires a lot of prerequisites:

ankle foot mobility + stabilityhip mobility + stabilitythoracic mobility + stabilitycore and pelvic control, stability, and motor patterning

If you lack in any of these areas, back squatting may put you in compromised positions. Meaning that the squat pattern may start to turn into a hinge pattern – putting undue shear stress on your spine or pelvis, which may lead to an injury. If you’re injured, it’s hard to train and get strong.

As a coach, I often program other exercises to help clients develop strength that are more in alignment with how their body moves NOW, while simultaneously putting them through mobility and skill-specific exercises to increase their capacity to be in a better squat position LATER (because yes, I believe we should all have the ability to sit to a chair/toilet and stand back up).

Is barbell back squat the best way to get strong?

No. It’s effective. “Best” is dependent on context and the individual.

By now, I hope you recognize that “strength” and “back squat” are not synonymous nor mutually exclusive. 

If you want to love your strength routine (and life) start focusing on what’s


Seriously. You don’t have to train the way your neighbor does because you are not them, you are not their injury or sports history, you do not have the same goals, you do not have the same lifestyle or priorities in life or the gym. So start asking questions like “WHAT’S BEST FOR ME & my goals” instead of “what’s best?”.

GET CLEAR with your words. GET PRECISE in your actions.

Do you love to back squat? Do you hate it? Does it cause you pain or feel great? I’d love to hear your feedback!