Last Update On January 26, 2012
How To Front Squat With Proper Form
The front squat will forever remain in the shadow of the back squat. However it's still an extremely valuable exercise that adds meat to your upper back, quads and glutes. This tutorial will show you how to do it with correct form for maximal results.
Step 1: Setting the power rack/squat cage;
The front squat should always be done using power cage/squat rack/squat stands. First you need to adjust the height of the rack/stands. Most people prefer to have the bar at mid-chest level. If you set the bar too high on the rack you will have to go on your toes in order to un-rack it. This is not necessary and may throw you out of balance. At the same time you don't want to set the bar too low because you will have to squat deep down in order to un-rack it and get ready for the real action. For most people mid-chest level is a good start and works just fine.
If you are using a power rack/squat rack with safety pins set them at level where they are just below the bar when you are at the bottom of your front squat. You don't want to have them too low because you the pins should catch the bar the second you lose it. At the same time if you set the safety pins too high the bar will touch them at the bottom and it can throw you out of the groove and make you lose balance.
Step 2: Choosing a rack position
Since the front squat is done with the barbell placed on your front shoulder instead of your traps the rack position can be a problem for some people. There are three possible rack positions and each has some benefits and downsides.
The Cross-armed Grip
This one is usually good for unflexible individuals and people with huge upper arms and upper body in general. Therefor you will see a lot of bodybuilders using it. The benefits of the cross-armed grip are: less wrist and elbows stress. However the cross-armed grip does not always offer sufficient stability and it's harder to keep your chest up. A lot of people will end up losing the bar.
Of course practice will fix this.
The Clean Grip
The clean grip is the grip used by Olympic weightlifters. It's the same as the rack position of a power or full clean. The clean grip is the grip that offers the most stability during front squats. However many people will complain from wrist pain due to lack of flexibility.
If your wrists are giving you hard time using the clean grip you can try the following solutions:
-use only three fingers including your thumb to hold the bar;
- Since the hands are just merely preventing the bar from moving you don't need to keep all of your fingers on the bar. There are quite a lot of Olympic weightlifters that front squat while having only three fingers in contact with the bar. This will reduce the needed flexibility and will relieve some wrist stress.
- not keeping your elbows up;
You have to remember that the hands are not holding the bar. During the front squat your elbows should never be directly under the bar. This is the best way to hurt your wrists flexors. Don't do it. Keep your elbows high and parallel to the floor as much as you can even during the hardest sets.
Shut up ! I don't want to hear excuses. Keep your elbows up !
The clean grip showed by Helen.
Note: I like to wraps my wrists during front squats using some kind of cheap bandage. In my opinion you should do it too in order to reduce the risk of hurting the joint and to keep it warm and flexible. Make sure that the wraps are not too tight to prevent circulation or too loose to offer sufficient support.
The Straps Grip
Another intelligent way to avoid wrist pain during front squats is to use wrist straps. You just loop the straps at even places on the bar and use them to keep the weight in position. There is minimal wrist and elbow stress that way while the position is quite similar to the clean grip. Make sure the straps are tight as hell. You want them to be part of the bar for maximum stability.
Note: The clean grip still offers more stability compared to the straps and people with enough flexibility may prefer to use it. At the same time all three variations work just fine and heavy weights were lifter using them all. Use what seems best to you. They all work just fine but it will take some time getting used to your preferred style.
The straps grip
After you've made your choice assume your preferred rack position while getting under the bar. The un-racking of the bar is very important. It's essentially a quarter squat. You get under the bar, you bend at the knees and lift the bar from the pins. Make sure you don't use your back during the process. It's the legs that do the work.
Once you've un-racked the bar make a few small steps in order to get in position that is far enough from the rack so that you don't hit the pins on the way up but close enough to allow you to rack the weight easily after your set is finished.
Step 3: Assuming your starting position
The front squat is usually done with shoulder width stance or slightly wider. Having unnaturally wide stance on front squats is not needed and will place too much stress on your adductors. You can find more information on wide and close stance squats here. In general a medium stance is best and you get plenty of adductor stimulation provided you don't let you knees move inward.
Step 3: The Descend
The front squat is different than your regular back squat...and especially the powerlifting or low-bar squat. I guess you've heard the saying “sit back on the chair”. This may be true for a low-bar squat but the front squat is essentially a straight forward up and down movement. You don't sit back because sitting back also means leaning forward and during a front squat it cannot be done. The bar will simply fall forward.
The front squat descent is quite simple - you simply sit down between your legs while maintaining neutral spine alignment. However there are important points to be taken into consideration
- back should be in neutral alignment and no rounding of the back is allowed;
- your heels should be on the ground otherwise your are placing too much stress on your knees;
- elbows should be kept as close to parallel to the floor as possible;
- you should no be looking up at the ceiling or down - keep your head at neutral position;
- don't let your knees move forward at the bottom of the squat;
The biggest problem most people encounter during the descend of a front squat is being afraid of letting the knees move past the toes. I'm sorry to bring you the bad news but you can't squat deep without your knees passing your toes during front squats. It's impossible. The personal trainers have started this knees behind toes non-sense a long time ago and have caused a lot of damage already. Unless you have knee problems you should not fear letting your knees move forward during a front squat. It's natural. That's how humans squat. If you keep your heel on the floor and you don't shift your entire bodyweight to your toes you will be fine. Don't be afraid to let your knees travel forward.
Speed of the Descend
The front squat is a power exercise. It's supposed to be done fast. This is not a machine or cable exercise. The descend should be fast but also controlled. You DO NOT want to simply let the weight bring you to the floor and smash you. That's the best way to hurt yourself. You should be extremely tight during the descend. Tense your abs like they are going to cramp. This will protect your spine and make you more stable all over. More stability equals more strength. So flex your abs and go down under control but not artificially slow like you do on the leg extension machine “in order to feel the burn”. Remember: barbell exercises = power exercises.
Pausing at the bottom
In general there is no need to pause at the bottom unless you want to work on your starting strength. Pausing is not that dangerous provided you have safety pins to catch the bar if you can't get up. However there is no need to do it at the beginning. Get better at the original form and then do what you have to do.
Step 4: The Ascend
This of course is the hardest part of the lift to do properly. However it's actually quite simple. Once you are at the bottom you should immediately push the floor away with your legs while keeping your elbows parallel to the floor as much you can and sticking your chest out in order to maintain balance and keep the weight at position. The list below contains important elements of a successful front squat ascend.
- keep you chest up and stay as upright as you can;
- push explosively with your legs;
- keep your elbows as high as you can;
- don't let your knees move around - this indicates weak adductors and is stressful on the knees;
Frequently Asked Questions:
High Rep Front Squats?
The barbell front squat is a weightlifting exercise that does not tolerate high reps because of the highly demanding rack position. If you go for high reps the upper back will tire first if you are using a weight demanding for your legs. That's why most people will do fine if they stick to triples and even doubles. If your goal is hypertrophy I recommend using the rest/pause principle explained in detail here. This will give you everything - heavy weight, volumes and growth.
Is there carry-over from the front squat to the back squat?
Yes. There is a lot of carry-over to the high-bar back squat or Olympic squat which is quite similar to the front squat. You should not expect much of a carry-over to your powerlifting low-bar squat because the front squat is quad dominant movement. The low-bar squat is all about hips. At the same time strong quads and upper back haven't hurt anyone so using the front squat as an assistance exercise might help you even if you are a powerlifter.
What's good ratio between a front squat and back squat?
In general your front squat will be around 80-85% of your deep high bar squat. If you are doing raw and deep low-bar squat the front squat usually ends up being around 70-75% of your powerlifting squat. This is just a guideline but it's a good one. Of course use common sense and if you can low bar squat 400 pounds don't go for 280 pounds front squat without ever trying it and building form habits using lighter weights. You may hurt yourself.
Does the front squat place more stress on the knees?
Yes, it does. During a front squat your knees travel forward over your toes more than they would do during a back squat. However if your form is top notch and you don't have any serious knee issues you should be fine.
Does the front squat work the hamstrings and glutes?
The front squat works the glutes pretty hard but the hamstrings are having a break due to the upright torso. I guess you are wondering how is this possible. The reason for this is that at the bottom of the squat the hamstrings are not stretched and they can only help you so much on the way up. At the same time the glutes are still in a position from which they can contract pretty hard. Think of the front squat as a close grip bench press - there is less chest (hamstrings) and more triceps (quads) and shoulders (glutes) involvement.
How should I balance my legs if the front squat does not work hamstrings?
You should perform hamstring dominant exercises. My favorite is the Romanian deadlift or RDL with plates under your toes for more hamstring activation. Another solid option is the good morning, the hip pull-through, regular barbell deadlift....etc.
How many times a week should I front squat?
It depends. If you are going to use the front squat as an assistance exercise I don't see why you need to do it more than 1-2 times a week. At the same time if the front squat is going to be your main exercise for legs you can do 2-3 times a week if there is enough rest between workouts and you don't expect to break PR every time you hit it.
Is it effective to perform the front squat with dumbbells?
No, it isn't unless you are going to use the exercise for cardio purposes because the weight you are going to be lifting won't be demanding and you won't build much muscle mass. Besides how heavy dumbbells can you get on your shoulders safely?
Can I replace the back squat with front squat in programs like Starting Strength and StrongLifts?
Yes, you can but problems will come. The first problem is - fast stalling. The back squat works more muscle mass and therefor you lift more weight. More muscle mass involvement = heavier loads = longer linear progress.
If you rely on front squat for most of your training your hamstrings will be lagging in no time. Actually I would even say that for the back squat as well. The squat in general is quads and glutes. The more hamstring dominant exercises are Romanian deadlifts, deadlifts, good mornining, box squats...etc. That's why if you are going to make the front squat your main squat make sure to add Romanian deadlifts to Starting Strength or StrongLifts. You can do them instead of power cleans which are a waste of time if you want to build muscle mass anyway. At the same time front squats for 5x5 won't work at all when the weights get heavy because of fast upper back fatigue and failure to stimulate your legs. More on front squat and high reps here.
In general it's “better” to use the back squat but if you tweak the programs (which actually means you won't be doing them anymore - not a crime !) you will see some good gains. Just use common sense and listen to your body. Always!
I don't have a rack. Can I power clean the weight and squat it?
No. You will always power clean way LESS than you can front squat. Find some stands or go to the gym.
Is it safe to bail out of a front squat?
Yes, it is if you do it correctly. In general the front squat is super easy to bail. Just let the weight go forward and go back FAST!. However I recommend using squat rack and safety pins for maximal safety.
Should I use weightlifting shoes for my front squat?
You can try using them and see if your knees like it. You be able to go deeper and stay more upright but your knees will travel forward much more which also means more stress. Make sure the heel of the shoes is not too high in order to prevent it.
Good Luck. Happy front squatting.
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