T Nation

Back Squat Substitute in SS?


I've been lifting for a few months now, first just doing the Reg park 5x5 to get used to some lifts and the routine, and more recently starting strength.

I'm 6'3", 200lbs, and I'm lifting for strength & size; I play beach volleyball a lot, some indoor, some softball, and some floor hockey. More concerned with overall strength and injury prevention than anything else. 18 months ago I herniated two discs in my upperback (T6-T7 area) in a skydiving accident, and 15 months ago I got hit by a car and tore my PCL, MCL, and meniscus. I retore my knee 6 months later on a botched slide into second base.

Fast forward to now and my knee is pretty much healed and solid, everything has been progressing nicely over the first 4 weeks of SS except my back squat. I still get back pain all the time as my discs have not healed well, and this pain has been inhibiting my backsquat. I don't feel pain during the squat, but my backpain was much worse at night (every night) when I was regularly doing them.

In the last 4 workouts I've replaced the back-squat with a front-squat and my back pain has decreased significantly. I've heard the front-squat might be more beneficial for the tall-lifter, but I've also heard "don't F with the program newbie". All my weights are still very light, but I'm curious if this is an OK substitution. (Workout1 becomes Front Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Workout2 becomes Front Squat, Standing Shoulder Press, and Power Clean).

If not, is there some assistance exercise I could add to balance the new program? Also, my back is largely undefined, and I feel like I've been overcompensating for this back injury which has led to poorer posture and probably kyphosis. Are there assistance exercises I should add in general to help with this? I'm not sure SS hits the back very much outside of PCs, so I wouldn't mind some lifts as long as they didn't have the spinal compression similar to the back-squat.

Thanks for any help,


I would get on a different program if I were in your shoes. Lifting for strength and injury prevention doesn't make sense if you're risking an injury every time you lift.

Back squats are the cornerstone of the SS program, and front squats just aren't going to work the same. Just get on a basic split that uses lower body lifts your back can handle. Machines could be a big help in this case.


You should absolutely do front squats. If you can't back squat without pain, you shouldn't back squat. There's nothing magic or sacred about starting strength. If you need to do front squats instead, fine. (Don't call it SS though)

It's a great exercise, brought my back squat from 242 to 398, and it's impossible to "cheat" your way out of the hole and risk your back.

About your upper back: You're not doing any form of row? Do what your spine allows you to. Chinups are good too. And front squats will strengthen your upper back as well.


I did front squats for eight weeks of SS. I think I went from 3x5x205 to 3x5x295.


Pull downs + rows for back development. Squeeze for 1 second at the end of the concentric part of the lift to really activate the back muscles.


ABsolutely the front squat can be substituted in for the back squat. I believe even Rip himself says so, although he is a firm believer in back squats.

Front squats fix a lot of common technique errors in squats. Also I would work on your t-spine ala cressey/robertson activation drills if you can do so without serious pain.


Good to hear. Didn't mean to suggest it was "still SS", just asking if I could substitute the FS for the BS, and if so if there were any assistance exercises to make up the difference.

The FS hasn't been giving me trouble. As far as rows go, what way should I approach them? There is a pivoted bar that points out to take plates that I can leanover/lay over and lift (don't remember what this thing is called). Then theres the barbell row, and I've seen people doing this lay down on the ground under the smith machine with the bar locked a few feet above, then pull their bodies up with a locked back.. does that work the lats in a similar way?


T-bar rows

that's an inverted row.

Try several exercises, find what feel good for your spine, where you get sore/how sore you get. I like weighted chinups, which should be pretty kind to your back as well. But anything that doesn't hurt and allows you to get (a lot) stronger is a safe bet.

EDIT: List of "good" exercises for perfectly healthy people (you should be careful with that back, but I bet you'll find something that works):
Barbell rows (strict or with some body english)
T-Bar rows. (strict or with some body english)
Dumbbell rows (strict or with some leg drive, in which case you'll call them kroc rows (search on youtube))
Chinups or pullups
Inverted rows
Rack chins (youtube them)

Try some, see how it feels and come back and ask some more, or live happily ever after.