Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

The Body Weight Squat

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The Body Weight Squat

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM

A player on an 11U travel baseball team asked what he could do to increase his lower body strength. The following response was prepared after consulting with NSCA certified strength and conditioning coaches at the university and professional level.

The squat is a basic, multi-joint, closed kinetic chain, functional movement that is involved in both daily activity and sports performance. Squats are everywhere every day. Babies do it before they learn to stand and walk. Students do it when they sit down in class, pick up a heavy back pack or tie their shoes. Athletes do it when they take a defensive stance in basketball, break down to field a grounder, start a sprint in track and swimming, perform a long jump, block a kill shot in volleyball, content for a rebound or jump up to snag a line drive, etc. Squatting is a movement that can help all athletes regardless of their age, sex or sport, jump higher, accelerate quicker, run faster and avoid lower-body injuries.

Because athletes are constantly moving in and out of the squat position, it is essential that all athletes, especially young athletes know how to squat properly. Unfortunately, many young athletes don’t know how to squat properly and this can have a negative impact on movement, performance and the risk of injury.

While the primary focus of older athletes who know how to squat properly is to develop size, strength and power by performing a variety of resisted, back squats and/or front squats, the primary focus of many young athletes is to learn how to properly perform a body weight squat. Any athlete who can’t perform a body weight squat with perfect form should not attempt to squat against external resistance. Why? Because adding resistance to dysfunctional movement will not improve the movement. It will usually make it worst. Developing solid body weight squat mechanics will improve movement and performance short-term and serve as a foundation from which they can build upon long term.

So, how do you learn how to perform a body weight squat?  There are many ways to teach a young athlete how to squat, but one that has been shown to be effective for many youngsters is the prayer squat. It’s a simple, lower body exercise that requires no equipment and can be performed anywhere; at home and on the court, track or field.

Prayer squat – How to do it.

  • Stand erect with your feet shoulder-width or slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing straight ahead.

  • Place your hands together in front of your chest as if you are praying.

  • Tighten your core to stabilize your spine.

  • Hold your chest up and out and keep your head up and eyes forward.

  • Shift your weight back on to your heels while pushing your hips back.

  • Inhale and squat down like you are going to sit in a chair by first shifting your hips back then down to create a hinge-like movement at your hips and knees at the same time.

  • As you lower your hips, your knees will start to slowly shift forward.

  • Squat down until your elbows touch your knees to ensure that you squat to parallel.

  • Keeping your back flat, and chest and head up, exhale and extend your hips and knees by pushing your feet into the floor through your heels.

  • Your hips and torso should rise together while keeping the heels flat on the floor and knees over the toes.

  • Drive back up to the starting position. This is one rep. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps and gradually progress to 3-4 sets of 10 reps.

Coaching points.

  • Keep your head up and eyes looking straight forward throughout the exercise.

  • Keep your trunk up, back flat and core tight throughout the exercise.

  • Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up.

  • Go down and up slowly under control. As technique improves, go down slowly under control and explode up under control.

  • Don’t allow the heels to come off the ground on the way down.

  • Keep the knees in line with the toes, don’t allow the knees to cave in, bow out on or extend beyond the toes on the way down.

  • At the bottom position, the knees should be over the toes and body weight should be evenly distributed between the balls of the feet and heels.

  • From the side, your tibia and torso should be parallel to each other and the back should be flat, not round.

Progressions. When you can do 3×10 with perfect form, you can make the exercise more difficult by performing one of the following variations.

  • Place your hands behind your head (prisoner squat) to raise your center of gravity and increase the need for stability.

  • Spread your feet, turn your toes out slightly and hold a DB or KB close to chest height (goblet squat) for added resistance near the center of the body.

  • Hold a DB in each hand at arm’s length down by the sides (DB squat) for added resistance to each side of the body.

Regression. If you can’t perform a prayer squat, use a band to help you develop the proper movement pattern and strength. Start by wrapping a medium elastic band around a pole or sturdy object about 18″ off the ground and perform the following steps:

  • Step into the band and place it at the base of your spine, just above your butt.

  • Take a step backward to create tension in the band.

  • Place your hands in a prayer position in front of your chest.

  • Inhale, set your core, squat until your elbows touch your knees and hold it.

o   The support of the band will help you to shift your weight back further than you normally would without tipping over backward. Get a feel for what this is like, with your torso vertical and the bulk of your weight shifted toward the back half of your foot.

  • Drive back up to the starting position. This is one rep. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps and gradually progress to 3-4 sets of 10 reps.

While there is no conclusive evidence that the squat will make you better at sport-specific skills, unless your sport is weightlifting, research does show that the squat will help prepare the body for sports that require strength, speed and power. And, it just so happens that the majority of sports require power, strength and speed.


Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a S&C consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager

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