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    As an up and coming Strength and Conditioning coach your information has been invaluable Ash.

    Ash i was wondering if you get players to squat below parallel often in training. The reason i ask is that with lower back problems associated with repetitive deep squatting and deadlifting and the need to get the players on the pitch each week if you have ever found any problems.

    I have found front squats to be quiet good in avoiding most of these problems as the players are forced to keep upright. I also occasionally insert a heel raise and have found a greatly improved squat technique. Any further advice would be greatly appreciated.



    Hi Jim, thanks very much for your kind words, I feel a great honour in being able to assist fellow coaches in their development, Gary Egger was my mentor in Australia, along with the late Bruce Walsh, the true Grandfather of strength and conditioning in Australia, and the legendary Lyn Jones, Harry Wardell and Luke Borreginne, all these guys gave of their knowledge openly and freely, and I repay them by trying to reach their lofty heights and to pass on what I have learned as well.

    As to squats I like my guys to squat to a depth that they feel comfortable with depending on their level of flexibility, prior injury status and fatigue levels from day to day, we do a lot of box squatting and the box is a 47 cms plyometric box, with extra mats if needed, so the player will sit to around parallel, also later in the week say a Thursday for a Saturday game our focus is power so we only do jump squats or quarter explosive squats from the pins in the power rack or band box squats. We have also been doing a lot of belt squats for our older players and also those players that have a prior injury history related to axial loading, they have been very well received.

    I agree fully with your comments on the front squat a much under used movement, I believe players actually get to a deeper squat position, and it is also a great confidence builder for the clean, as if you can front squat 140kg for a triple then you have the confidence to get under a 120kg clean and know you have a strength reserve to stand up with the weight once you have locked it in.

    All the very best, ashley


    The need to use a heel lift to improve squatting indicates that the lifter has mobility issues that should be addressed.

    Poor ankle mobilty, hip mobility thoracic spine are usually the contributors to this problem.

    Whilst these issues remain unaddressed the lifter will continue to lift with poor form. Furthermore, in their day to day activities, training and during games they will continue to recruit the “wrong muscles” for the job and compensate with other areas of the body to make up for a lack of mobility in another area.

    For example, an individual with poor thoracic spine mobility will have increased lumbar spine movement to compensate. This makes the lumbar spine more susceptable to injury. It is performing a task it wasnt meant to do.

    I watched the Cronulla Sharks warm up the other day. The players were doing high knee lifts. The majority lacked mobility and were using their lumbar spine to complete the movement and give the appearance that they were lifting their knees high. It was clear they were all hyperextending at the lumbar spine and using their cervical spine to assist as well.

    It is no wonder there are so many injuries in Rugby League. The training methods used by some of the elite teams are still “old school”.

    The Cronulla Sharks have endeavoured to modernise their training by incorporating dynamic flexibility, however, no attention has been given to where the movement is coming from. The players are just reinforcing poor movement patterns. And worse, loading these poor movement patterns in the weight room.

    Do this interesting test…..

    Ask your players to take their shoes off and perfom a bodyweight squat. If they cannot do this with correct form, there should be NO loading in the squat movement pattern until the issue is resolved.

    You would be better served using single leg training ie lunges. They will assist in developing mobility and avoid compressive forces in the lumbar spine.



    Using heel raises in the early stages of teaching the back squat is fine. This teaches proper depth and also recruits all of the quadriceps muscles to a greater degree. Once the athlete has adpated to this then the raise can be removed or reduced until optimal squatting is achieved.

    Also I am sure improper dynamic flexibility is not the source of evil for NRL injuries. If a movement is performed incorrectly in a warm-up there is no logic behind explaining that they would strength train incorrectly as well. In the warm-up for an NRL match I am sure players would not be concentrating on their lumbar spine positioning, but rather winning the match.


    I have found that most peope just squat with far too narrow a stance which causes quite a few of the problems, which of cause is exacerbated by too heavy a load for there state of development, cheers, ashley


    If I may offer my limited experience with squatting there are a few things I’ve noted

    1.) Most people have tight soleus or hip flexors which often affects there squatting.. while people do a lot of standing stretches for calf’s there’s often not many done with a bent knee.

    2.) Without getting into a flame war, In reply to andrews post about so many injuries in league… I think its fair to say that because of the nature of the sport you’d be extremely lucky to get through a year without an injury… Form goes out the window with the forces involved in contact sports so while it maybe true that certain people are lacking thoracic mobility or whatever I don’t think you can attribute that to the high injury rate.

    3.) I think you could debate powerlifting depth VS olympic depth all day but I think they’re both valid and I’d think it would depend on the individual and there build/injury history. Also the difference between winning and losing on the field isn’t going to be whether a player has squatting to 90degrees or 110 degrees its going to be how he converts the in gym performance to the field.

    As I tell the guys I work with ‘A gain of 5kgs on your squat isn’t going to make you a better player BUT training to get that gain will’

    Hope my minor contribution can help in some way


    Very sound advice and could not agree more with the points that you have raised, like Louie says, “everything works, but nothing works for ever” I have seen good results on what i would have considered to be a “bad” program because of th epassion and dedication that the person training put into it, thanks for your words, ashley


    Just a few quick points off the top of my head this am …

    I always get an athlete to squat (even if they have a heel raise issue – unless the technique is very bad or they have severe injury)
    I start by checking the footwear first then using a comfortable heel raise and each week or so reduce it slightly until the athlete is doing it with none.

    My reasoning is simple – in the game they will play on Sunday with massive hip forces required and they must be strong …. heel raise will occur on ther field … also the calf won’t be fully flexing thru a full ROM – so why worry about it in the gym on that day?
    Once we recognise it and are moving in the direction of getting the calf or soleus felxible then I think we are doing ok.

    Front Squats are great – for everyone – especially for taller guys.

    As Ashley pointed out foot width is important as is foot orientation.
    (I also believe that the increase in adductor ‘activation’ in the wider squat helps the hip movement and strength much more – inclduing in speed work, once posture is correct. Often wider squats can have poorer posture and without good core work I feel it weakens the abdominal wall – but I digress)

    I always go below parallel or ATG (if possible) – get best bang for buck (some VMO activivation, good stretch on the knee, unload the quads for a second and relax before hamstring recruitment etc.)

    Poor Hip Flexion and Thoracic tightness are issues in some cases.
    In fact one of the biggest problems I think is adductor tightness.

    Just a few quick things …


    there is an extremely good article by eric cressey worth reading … in fact it is the embedded clips that are worth watching


    I think Ash made two extremely (sorry make thats three) salient points

    1) many athletes try to squat to narrow – have a look at the power position you use in action – your feet are generally slightly out from the line of the hip

    2) dont use a weight you cant really handle – it takes time to build up true squat strength and form – with our younger athletes if they cant perform a one leg squat to just below parallel – they are not strong enough to be loaded up
    – we use one leg and light front squats to ensure our athletes understand the concept of squatting correceltyy and we prefer them to break parallel – not necessarily ATG – but definitely an inch below parallel … with existing injuries that of course may need some examination.

    3) individualise for the existing flexibility, body shape, strength and limb to back length etc of your athlete – that may mean front squats are preferable to back squat, and ensure any box squats are to the correct height for that athlete etc

    remember these are all dynamic they change over time and you need to observe when to respond to such change

    Some of these limitations however do not reflecy a lack of flexibility or mobility – some reflect the inherent structure of the athlete – we all perform better in slightly different body positions as we are all anatomically hung together is slightly different ways ( a classic example is the hip joint – some of us have beautiful deep set acetabulums lined with exquisitely thick cartilage our joints last our lifetime – others have far less coverage .. they are on the hip replacement list) … your big challenge as a conditioner is to recognise what works best for the individual and what is a true weakness needing addressing in that individual.

    best wishes – feed off people like ashley as much as you can – their stored knowledge is the most precious asset in our community – and use your own brain to its limits … the brain is a muscle that can move the world !


    How much weight or what % of MR should you put on the jump squats? and the 1/4 explosive squat? So that you donĀ“t loose the explosivness of those workouts.

    Cheers guys!, Nico.


    I tend to use around 40% of max 1RM back squat to start with and then increase or decrease based on feedback from player and also a visual on explosiveness from me we will use more Tendo unit to be more specific with the load also 1/4 squat I will wave from 60 – 70 – 80% of 1RM back squat due to the short range of the movement, but again this is just a start point for you and then you can change as you see fit from talking to player and observing, cheers, ash

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