Barbell front squat is one of the most important strength exercises for weightlifters of all levels and periods of preparation. Everyone squats anyway, but loads differ depending both on the preparation stage and training ‘philosophy’. The exercise imitates the clean position, thus, it is a basic drill for Olympic weightlifters.
Apart from that, front squat is also used by bodybuilders and other athletes. However,front squat technique and mobility demands may be slightly different, compared to Olympic weightlifting.
Front squats are a variation of barbell squats. However, they shift the load more to the quads, compared to the traditional option. Also, they involve the upper back which is responsible for keeping a firm position without any rounding.
What muscles are involved in the front squat?
Primary muscles worked:
- hip adductors;
- lower back;
- upper back;
Since the center of gravity in the front squat moves slightly forward compared to the regular squat, a lot of athletes find it difficult to squat deep. To make this exercise safe, you may also need optimal mobility of all joints, including ankles (weightlifting shoes can help), shoulders, and wrists.
Нow to do front squat?
Unrack and starting position
Grab the bar slightly wider than the shoulder width.
Take a step forward and place both of your legs in line with the bar. It is really critical, especially for beginners, not to hurt the back. I sometimes make this mistake as well and take the bar off the racks in the split position. But I don’t recommend that you do this in any case.
Place the bar on the front of your shoulders: over your collar bones.
Breathe in, tighten up your trunk, and take the bar off the racks.
Take two steps backward and fix your leg position: the feet must be shoulder width or slightly wider apart and the knees point out 5-10°.
Squat back, not down
Start driving your hips backward and only then bend the knees. One of the biggest mistakes in the front squat is moving your knees forward. It may seem weird for a newbie, though.
Weight on the heels
Another common mistake is shifting the center of gravity to the toes, especially along with driving your knees forward. Don’t let it happen. Think about keeping your weight on the heels both during the upward and downward movement.
Keep your trunk tight
Another common mistake is approaching the front squat only as a leg exercise. It is important to start every set by driving your hips backward and pointing the elbows up. Keep your back tight from the moment you put the bar on the shoulders, then tense the core muscles.
Look straight ahead, not up
Always look straight ahead while squatting – it helps to keep the spine neutral for every rep.
Proper front squat tempo
Front squat is an auxiliary exercise for the clean, so its structure should follow particular standards. Control the movement. Doing the front squat, up to 80% of your 1 RM, try to perform the descending phase slowly and explode back up quickly and powerfully. Fast rising in the front squat is even more important than in the back squat. Athletes often have a ‘bad habit’ of cleaning the bar confidently and then sitting in the hole for some reason.
Squat as low as you can with the proper technique
Control the downward movement. Once you have reached the bottom point, start rising actively. Breathe out while standing up or at the top point. Learn how to breathe carefully not to lose trunk balance.
I often hear about this problem from both CrossFitters and experienced Olympic weightlifters who struggle to grab the bar fully. As for me, many athletes just don’t know how important it is and how to fix this fault. Find more information about this issue HERE.
Weightlifting shoes and belt
I always say that athletes must use weightlifting shoes for Olympic weightlifting training all the time. They help to squat deeper and to do that safely, especially if you lack ankle mobility. This problem is really common among novice and intermediate athletes. As for the belt, from my own experience, there is no great need for that. Even if you already use a belt, I recommend putting it on for 70% front squat weight and more in order to keep muscles toned up.
My advice on the front squat:
- Face the racks – it is a safety issue.
- Don’t hesitate to find a spotter.
- Always use a full grip.
- Always work for the full range of motion – make your tendons and joints ready in case the bar makes you squat low at competitions.
- Patience and correct angles during the downward movement will let you develop the biggest power on the way up.
- There shouldn’t be any ‘sticking points’ while rising out from the hole – one smooth movement. If it happens all the time, decrease the working weight and try to rise smoothly.
- You should always set your mind to push the hips backward, knees out, and rise with acceleration – it is more productive in terms of muscle efforts.
I will remind you that the warm-up is essential before the front squat – both general and special since you involve the whole muscle system. You can skip the warm-up only in case you have squats in the end of the training plan.
For athletes who significantly lack mobility, I have several options:
- you can use an alternative grip: either cross the forearms and put them on the bar, or wrap straps around the bar and hold them. Such a variation has some funny names: bb front squat, mummy grip. Zercher squats are also a good squat variation that have a similar quad emphasis while also being more comfortable.
-Front SQUAT with strapsis one of the best exercises for developing special mobility in weightlifting or CrossFit. The main idea of the front squat with straps is to correct and improve the bar position on the chest during the entire movement. Be ready to cope with some discomfort at first. But believe me, soon you will notice great progress in upper limb mobility.
If you have little mobility, I recommend squatting with straps only with light weights and for 2-3 sets as a warm-up before any main clean&jerk exercise or front squats. If you are an advanced athlete with sufficient mobility, you can use straps for working sets from time to time.
-BOX Front SQUAT - is an excellent preparatory exercise that helps develop muscle feeling, balance, and kinesthetic awareness. It teaches patience and the right position of a barbell on the chest.
Select a box that will allow you to squat down to your desired depth and place the box behind you.
Approach the box as close as possible, try to touch it with your toes. Lower yourself slowly onto the box while at the same time maintaining a neutral spine. Do it slowly, the pelvis stretches back, knees to the sides, and the torso and elbows forward. Be prepared for the fact that you can’t keep your balance - this is normal for beginners.
I recommend doing this exercise as a warm-up before jerks (clean&jerk, cleans, front squats), do a total of 2 to 4 sets, 6 to 8 reps.
- Frankenstein Front SQUAT – this movement is a great drill to help the athlete understand the position of the bar during the front squat.
How to do it:
The feet are in a shoulder-width stance and slightly turned out.
The bar is securely in the channel between the top of the shoulders and the base of the throat.
The arms are extended in front of the body and held high. The shoulders are square to prevent the bar from rolling forward.
The hips descend back and down and go lower than the knees, the lumbar curve is maintained, the heels stay grounded.
The move is complete at full hip and knee extension.
Front squats are also used in a set with other exercises to boost capacity, strength, and c&j results.
In my training programs, you can find many helpful combinations:
Clean PULL + CLEAN + Front SQUAT + JERK
CLEAN from blocks + Front SQUAT
MUSСLE SQUAT CLEAN+FRONT SQUAT
Power CLEAN + Front SQUAT + PUSH PRESSFront SQUAT + PUSH PRESS