Front Squatting 101: How to Front Squat Like a Badass
By Alex Lewis, Chief HUGEness Officer
Why Front Squat?
We’ve all been told that the back squat is more awesome than the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition so why should we even bother with the front squat? While back squatting is undoubtedly awesome for most and provides benefits front squats can’t, it’s also troublesome for many who struggle with back, hip, and shoulder injuries. In addition to generally being more back friendly, the front squat offers additional awesomeness that even the mighty back squat can’t duplicate:
- It hits your quads more directly
- It allows you to achieve better depth
- It allows you to maintain a more upright back position
- It hits your core and upper back in a different way due to the bar position
- It transitions to cleans better than back squats
In addition, double blind university studies also show front squat maxes are directly correlated with your ability to pick up chicks. Ok that’s complete bullshit, but the point is that they are awesome and provide benefits that few if any other exercises can.
How to Front Squat Properly
1. Bar Position/Grip-
The first thing most trainees struggle with when front squatting is how to place the bar on their shoulders. You can go with 1 of 2 grips: either the “clean grip” or the “cross-armed” grip. We highly recommend the clean grip if possible as it has greater carryover to the Olympic lifts (see image of Kendrick Farris to the left) and overhead pressing movements as well as making your wrists more flexible. If you lack the flexibility to do it with a clean grip, you can use straps to make it easier as you see this guy do around 1:15 in this video
. I’d recommend you start this way and work your way up to a clean grip rather than using the cross-armed grip. Whatever you choose just remember that your hands shouldn’t be holding the weight at all; the bar should rest on your shoulders.
2. Elbows/Chest Up - Once you get comfortable with the grip, the next trick is to make sure that you get your elbows up and keep them up throughout the entire movement. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds (especially as you start to move some real weight). If your elbows and chest drop, the bar will start to come forward, feel heavier, and you’ll be screwed. Plus keeping your elbows/chest up ensures that your mid and lower back stay in good position and don't round. Getting into and maintaining the proper position requires solid upper back strength and flexibility and is yet another reason why front squats are awesome. The best cue I’ve found is simply “elbows up, chest up”. 60% of the time it works every time.
3. Squat! - Now that you’ve got an awesome grip and high elbows all you need to do is squat to parallel with a straight back. Piece of cake right? Well not really, but it is easier to maintain an upright spine and hit proper depth with a front squat vs. a back squat. This is due to the fact that the bar position removes some of the stress from the back, hips, and hamstrings so you’ll have no trouble gettin low like you are in a Lil’ Jon video.
My favorite tip for helping people squat lower is “push your knees out” or “spread the floor with your feet”. These cues work miracles for some people because by pushing your knees out you are creating more room for your body to drop into proper positioning and also forcing your glutes to get more involved. Even though front squats are more quad dominant than back squats, you’re still gettin that booty plenty involved so make sure you’re using it correctly by pressing those knees out!
4. Additional Points -
As I’ve noted above, front squatting requires a good amount of mobility in the upper back, wrists, and shoulders in order to get into a good position. You would be smart to incorporate foam rolling
and active stretching in areas where you notice you’re tight. As you start to gain mobility in these areas you’ll definitely notice it’s easier to get into proper position and all of a sudden the movement will start to feel a lot more natural. I've racked up more injuries than I can count, but through proper warmups and foam rolling I'm still able to hit decent positions on the front squat (me to the right).
The Goblet squat
is another awesome squat variation that teaches you how to squat with the weight centered in front of you vs. behind you. Renowned diesel and strength coach Dan John swears by it and says it is the easiest way to teach somebody to squat. You should incorporate goblet squats into your routine no matter what, but especially as you are learning to front squat as it will help you discover how a deep squat with the weight in front of you should feel.
Here’s a sample workout that I perform regularly that incorporates both quad dominant (front squats) and posterior chain dominant exercises. Simple and very effective.
1. Active stretch
2. Box jumps - 5 x 3
3. Front squats - 4 x 8
4. Single leg RDL - 3 x 8
5. Kettlebell swings - 4 x 12-15
6. Goblet squats w/ KB - 4 x 12-15
It’ll take some time for you to feel comfortable front squatting, but once you get there I assure you you’ll open up a whole new world of awesomeness for strength and size gains you were previously lacking. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and until next time, stay HUGE my friends!