To start, consider this:
Single leg (1L) training transfers to two leg (2L) activities, but 2L training doesn’t necessarily have the same transfer to 1L activities.
It seems the traditional 2-leg back squat is ALWAYS the go-to lower body exercise for athletic performance. Additionally, the back squat HAS to be deep; ‘Ass To Grass’ (ATG) as they say. I absolutely, have no problem with the traditional back squat. I simply don’t believe that they have to be the foundation of a baseball player’s on-field performance, nor are they indicative to on-field performance. What if some of my baseball players can't traditional deep squat for whatever reason? Does this mean they have no chance of excelling on the field or have no chance at getting to the next level of competition? I’ve been extremely fortunate (and honored) to have trained MLB players of all positions. Many of them have reached the highest level of success on the field, with practically no "ATG" traditional squatting in their training. I can say the same applies to our MiLB, collegiate and high school players. Squats (deep and/or parallel) are not the only answer. The players shouldn't feel as if they've failed because for some reason they can't perform traditional back squats below parallel. There are other lower body training alternatives that will absolutely smoke your legs while achieving a strong, athletic, and functionally performing lower half. Our approach to program design is simple; design a lower body training program that is centered on the lower body movement needs of the player and less around any one exercise (e.g. traditional parallel stance squat). Successful training results aren’t about any one exercise but about sensible progression and the synergistic impact of the entire program that enhances on-field performance.
Baseball is about running, throwing and hitting. It’s a rotational sport dominated by powerful, explosive movements. All of these movements require forces to be transferred thru diagonal patterns; from one shoulder to opposite leg/hip. The transfer of these forces is maximized by a ‘superstiff” core, single-leg stability, as well as upper body stability.
When designing baseball performance training programs our lower body training has to be designed with “on-field” performance in mind, not “in-gym” performance in mind. On-field performance must be supported by the multitude of exercises that go way beyond the “bar-across-the-back” dogma. Core stiffness and single-leg hip stability are two of many characteristics necessary for generating and transferring power, especially the power needed in baseball.
When choosing exercises for our lower body program the selection criteria is based on but not limited to: (1) enhance hip mobility, (2) enhance single leg hip stability (7 Frame, as termed by JC Santana), (3) enhance core stiffness, and (4) improve strength.
The following represents some, not all, of our lower body exercises to enhance on-field performance; they are not only single leg in nature but also a few alternatives to the traditional back squat.
1) Front Squat - dumbbells or kettle bells are great options to the standard straight bar front squat
2) Hex Bar Deadlift
3) Romanian Deadlift (RDL) although a very popular exercise performed traditionally with straight bar, DB's makes a nice alternative
4) Split Squats
5) Single Leg Squats
6) Single Leg RDL
In closing, always ask this question when designing your baseball strength and conditioning program, “if single leg (1L) training supports two leg (2L) activities, but 2L training doesn’t optimally support 1L activities, what strength exercises would you emphasis with your baseball players?
Train Hard! Train Smart!