Squats, Front Squat Harness and Rules of 5 4 3 2 & 1

Dr. Daniel Baker,
Strength Coach,
Brisbance Broncos Rugby League Club

Unless you are a showboat, the reason to lift weights is to improve performance (sports peformance or health/fitness performance for life in general).


The Australian Strength & Conditioning Assocation (ASCA) has determined that there are 5 desired outcomes of a lifting routine aimed at improving sports performance. They are 5a; Improved body/limb/joint Control and Stability 5b; Increased generalized muscle Size and General Strength 5c; Increased Maximal Strength 5d; Increased Power 5e: Increased Strength-endurance.

The full squat, with the top of the thigh below parallel with the floor, is a key exercise for improving sports performance. But what if you don’t like full squats?

Then you have 4 options. They are: 4a. become someone who embraces full squats, 4b. go to the Big House of Mirrors and have a good long hard look at yourself, 4c. Invite Carson and QE blokes over for a make-over or 4d. glue your toilet seat down.

Full squats are not the be all and end all of lower body training. Full squats, be they back, front, overhead, box etc are just one portion of one group of lower body exercises choices ~ but they are important.
Lower body training exercises can be categorized into 3 groups – 3a; the Squatting group (Back, front, overhead, box etc), the Pulling group (Deadlifts, Romanian deads, stiff legged, reverse hypers etc) and the Split leg group (Split squats, lunges, step-ups, 1-leg squats). (For power training, eg. 3a. band box squats & jump squats, 3b. power cleans/snatches and other olympic lifting pulls 3c. split jumps, power lunges).
In rugby league and union (and other sports), there are 2 types of trainers ~ 2a. those who embrace full squats and 2b. those who don’t do them or seek to avoid them wherever possible (“I am sore, can I do leg press instead?”).

At the Broncos, we embrace full squats as the cornerstone exercise for improving leg drive. We do not have a leg press, leg extension or leg curl machine. I tell the players what execisdes to do, what weight to lift, sets and reps, rest period, everything. If you are at the, Broncos, you are full squatting.
However, we realise that due to the intense physical collisions in rugby league, that players get bothersome injuries time to time that preclude them from safely or effectively doing free weight barbell squats. So what do we do?

We have a number of strategies we use, depending upon the injury. Here is 1 of our strategies.

Pictured is David Stagg, who holds our club tackling record. As he only weighs 97 kg and has great endurance, he has to do plenty of tackling (ie. the bigger blokes run at him and he keeps aiming up at them every single time). From this heavy collision-oriented workload, he can get niggling shoulder injuries that detract from his full range of motion in some weeks. In this instance, he cannot actually get his right arm up to do a full back or front squat ~ but he is still doing his full squat training using the Front Squat harness from GetStrength. So he holds the harness at chest level with his right hand and takes the usual front squat (clean grip) with his left and starts knocking out multiple sets of 10 reps.

Like all great tacklers, he knows the value of keeping his leg drive strength up. He is not seeking ways of “getting out” of full squat training, he is seeking ways to embrace it when injury may preclude conventional, traditional barbell full squat training.

There are a number of different methods to ensure full squat training continues despite bothersome injuries. The Front Squat Harness is one. Other specialty bars offer other methods. As an athlete or coach, you may need to GetSmart about your ensuring your full squat training continues throughout the season.

david stagg
David Stagg – holder of Broncos NRL tackling record

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