The Single Most Important Lift for High School Athletes

When writing a strength program for a high school athlete there should be two primary questions a strength and conditioning coach takes into consideration…

  1. Is this lift appropriate for the developmental age of the athlete?
  2. Is this lift laying a foundation so this athlete can excel in other movements?

Of course, there are other factors that come into play when programming.  However, in my opinion, these are the two biggest considerations a strength coach must take into account.

So, with that said, there is one lift that trumps all others when it comes to addressing the criteria listed above.

The front squat and teaching variations of the front squat are king for high school aged athletes.

Typically, I use the following progressions when building towards the front squat…

  1. PVC Front Squat w/ 3-3-1 tempo
  2. Goblet Squat
  3. BB Front Squat

Now, making the claim that the front squat is the best movement for high school athletes is a bold statement.  So, here are my top three reasons why the front squat is the most important lift for a high school athlete to master.

1: The Front Squat Teaches Postural Stability

This allows the athlete to train to train with a vertical torso and teaches them to engage their core and lat’s under an external load. The front squat when compared to the back squat allows young athletes to learn how to truly sink into a squat rather than bend when loaded with a barbell.  If an athlete learns how to properly front squat early in their training experience they will have a higher level of competency when they are actually ready to back squat.

2: The Front Squat Teaches the Catch Position of a Hang or Power Clean

We have all seen a young athlete attempt to catch a power clean. Its ugly.  If you provide an athlete with the mobility to catch in a good rack position and if you provide them with the proper strength and stability to do this with a flat back and vertical torso their potential to Olympic lift with proficiency will be increased.  In addition, when presented with a heavier load they will have the strength and competency to drop under the bar and catch in a powerful position.

The Front Squat Provides Less Axial Loading than the Back Squat

Remember, we are talking about 13-18 year old athletes who are rapidly growing and developing. What we put on the athletes back matters!  The back squat places a MASSIVE amount of stress on the lumbar spine and forces the athletes to externally rotate their shoulder in order to perform the movement.  This puts them in an extended position that can be risky if the athlete is not prepared for the load.  However, the front squat requires an upright posture, thus minimizing flexion in the lumbar spine and increasing core stabilization.  This makes the front squat a much safer strength movement for developing young athletes.

When you are putting together your training program I encourage you to look at the loads you are giving your athletes.  If you have a program that allows your 8th, 9th and 10th graders to heavy back squat I would suggest rethinking this approach and looking at what will set your athletes up for success later in their athletic career.

If you are serious about building your athletes properly, your strength program should be built around the front squat.  Nothing crosses over to more movements and there is no lift that can be made more developmentally appropriate than the front squat.

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