Archive for Mike Boyle

Which Squat Variation Should Athletes Use?

Posted in Z.S. Basketball Training, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by zenithstrength

I remember seeing Mike Boyle at the Perform Better Summit a few years back and he turned a lot of head’s when he stated that he didn’t back squat athletes. He preferred the front squat variation to the back squat. He eventually added the front squat to the list preferring to go with single leg variations instead. A lot of coaches took issue with his view-point which was that the low back was the weakest link in the bilateral squat lift and he could get better results with heavy single leg training.

I agree with his assessment that the low back is a limiting factor and if you have someone lift a lot of weight in a single leg stance it doesn’t necessarily correlate to bilateral lifts. For example if you can get an athlete to lunge with 225lbs it doesn’t mean that he can necessarily squat 450lbs.

As strength coaches, our job is to teach movements and while there are an infinite number of ways to  improve strength, I feel that there is tremendous value in using the squat while training athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to which variation of the squat front or back, limits the amount of risk while still providing a training effect.

In my opinion, the front squat is the safer choice for the majority of athletes and while also improving movement and performance markers implications such as the vertical jump and broad jump.


There is a great series done on Ben Bruno’s blog written by Jim Reeves comparing the front and back squat in-depth.

He analyses joint motion at the hip knee and ankle and compares the two lifts and the data might surprise you.

Joint Motion/Alignment Front Squat Back Squat
Hip Flexion 56.1 43.8
Ankle Dorsiflexion 69.2 70.4
Knee Flexion 63.4 69.0



  • There is more hip flexion in the front squat vs the back squat while reducing low back shear. Basically the front squat allows for more hip motion while maintaining a relatively safer, more upright low back position vs the back squat.
  • There is more movement in the knee-joint during the back squat than the front squat which might be contrary to what most people think. That’s interesting to take in terms of knee pain and while squatting for some with knee pain won’t be an option it seems that the front squat is the more knee friendly of the two.

Now obviously there can be discrepancies between two people and what their squat looks like but in general the front squat allows you to keep the upper back more upright and its easier on the low back because of the reduced torso angle.

Core Strength


One benefit of the front squat is that it hammers the anterior core and works the obliques and rectus abdominis.  The load shift to the front forces a posterior tuck of the hip to engage the abs and glutes to keep the hip neutral. Most athletes generally are weak in this area so anytime you can shift the load to the front during an exercise you should.

During the back squat, it is much harder to keep a neutral spine and it will force more compression in the low back as you arch our back. Arching the low back disengages the abs and glutes and puts you in a mechanical disadvantage and puts a lot more work in the low back instead of having the glutes and abs help out.

This isn’t to say that back squatting will lead to low back issues but keep in mind that for the majority of athletes who “live” in extension the back squat reinforces the pattern and might not be the best variation for them.

Squats and Shoulder Health

Both the front and back squat can put stress on the shoulders. The front squat can put stress on the A/C joint with the front loaded bar position while the back squat forces the client to externally rotate the humerus which can be an issue for certain training populations.

We don’t back squat our overhead athletes, mainly because of the position it puts the athletes shoulder in. Since most throwers/tennis players need external rotation range of motion and generally have more range on their dominant/throwing side, putting them in that position can cause some instability in the joint and we feel there are “safer”  options such as the front squat.

While the front squat is a great variation for throwers, if they have A/C joint issues or injuries the pressure of the bar can aggravate that. In these cases use the safety squat bar for either front or back squats. We also have harness front squat variations as well.

I’ll put a post up of some different variations we use at Zenith Strength in a future post.

There is a more research needed to fully examine which squat helps improve vertical jump and broad jumps the most. However, if the goal is to minimize risk while improving performance I feel like the front squat is still the safer option.


While I have talked about the benefits of front squatting this isn’t to say that I don’t like back squats. Most athletes need to work on improving movement patterns, and again the goal should be maximizing performance while minimizing risk of injury.

I think it was Charlie Weingroff who said something to the effect of how you train your athletes and how you train yourself should not be the same. Just because you may have a bias towards a particular system or a set of specific exercises doesn’t mean your athletes need to train that way. Be diligent and match exercises appropriately to athletes who can perform them with solid technique.

Minimizing risk includes appropriately pairing the squat variation with the athlete while considering multiple factors. This is why we assess athletes and while we like the front squat there still may be instances where squatting might not be the best option for them. The last thing you want to do as coach is have an athlete tweak or injure something while lifting in the weight room.


3 Strength Exercises to Improve Linear Acceleration

Posted in Z.S. Basketball Training, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2011 by zenithstrength

Just about every sport involves short bursts of acceleration, whether it’s a wide receiver getting off the line of scrimmage to run a route or a tennis player chasing down a drop shot, an athlete’s ability to accelerate is one of the most important factors that determines success on the playing field. The bottom line is that you must put a tremendous amount of force into the ground to propel yourself forward. In order to do this you must work on getting stronger. In addition to strength training, another key component is teaching the proper mechanics of acceleration making sure that the athlete is pushing into the ground versus sliding the foot back.

Joe Defranco has a great article on acceleration mechanics and some great cues on teaching the start of the 40 yard dash and explains importance of getting full hip extension during the acceleration phase.

At Zenith Strength we use many different tools to improve linear acceleration of our athletes.

Here are my 3 favorite exercises to strengthen the lower body and improve first step acceleration.

1. Heavy Forward Sled Drags and Heavy Pushes

Heavy sled dragging and sled pushing should be a staple in your program if your goal is to improve starting strength and leg drive.

Both movements teach hip extension and enable the athlete to put force into the ground to improve their hip extension strength.

They also put  the athlete at a 45 degree angle which is the position you want to be in when accelerating.

You can also combine the sled work and get a drag push combo. I got this idea from Joe Defranco a few years ago.

Below is a video of the drag/push combo.

2. Split Squats with the rear foot elevated.

Split squats are a fantastic exercise to build single leg strength in the quads, glutes and hams in the weight room.

The rear foot elevate split squat (rfess) is the go to strength exercise used by  Mike Boyle, Joe D and Martin Rooney, some of the best coaches  in the industry,  for developing strength for linear acceleration. They work with some of the best athletes in the world and when they talk about what works for them you have to pay attention!

Here’s a video of Ben Bruno doing some RFESS with 75lb dumbbells and a weighted vest.

3. Woodway Force Resisted Sprints

The Woodway Force is a fantastic piece of equipment found and used by top collegiate programs and training facilities  to build acceleration power as well as top speed leg turnover.

We can set the load, which is the resistance, to teach the athlete to drive back to propel them forward and really work on improving their hip extension power output.

We will use a load that is 10-20% of the athlete’s body weight and have them sprint for 5 secs and rest 30 secs sometimes longer to make sure they are fully recovered during our power workouts. You can adjust the duration and rest periods depending on the sport you;re training for.

If you don’t have access to one you  can also uses resisted bands around the waist.

Here’s a video using the Woodway force .


Try these exercises out and you should notice an improvement in your ability to accelerate.

Train Hard!


Single Leg Variations for Tennis

Posted in Xtreme Tennis Conditioning, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2010 by zenithstrength

The necessity for single leg training in your program is undeniable if you are an athlete. Think of the how many movements involve one leg contacting the ground while the other leg is in the air.

After reading  Advances in Functional Training by Mike Boyle, and reading a lot of Mike Roberston’s articles  looking into the rationale of single leg work I agree with the trend that is shifting towards implementing more single leg work.  That doesn’t mean we don’t integrate any bilateral work either. We still have our athletes trap bar deadlift and squat but no matter how much you squat or deadlift if you’re not implementing single leg work in your training, you are never going to reach your athletic potential.

We use many variations and we classify our single leg exercises as knee dominant and hip dominant. Some of the exercises overlap and involve a little of both.  We like reverse lunges, split squats with the back foot elevated, lateral lunges, walking lunges, and single leg Romanian dead-lifts to name a few.

However, for  even more variations and progressions, Josh Henkin has come up with some creative ways to challenge hip stability and single leg strength.

Check out his video.

Some of these variations are advanced progressions  and don’t look as easy as he makes them look. Give them a try to change-up your single leg routine. You should see a big difference in your lower body strength, stability and an improvement on the playing field.

In Strength,