Trainer’s Talk – The Front Squat

We’ve been on our front squat cycle ince the beginning of May. The first few weeks were spent box squatting which helped us wake up our glutes and hamstrings. Now we are moving onto front squats without the box which will allow us to add more weight to the bar.

Some differences between the Front and Back Squat: One of the most frequent questions we get is why we front squat instead of back squat since we can squat more with the barbell on the back. Below are some of the differences between the two:

  • Obviously, the bar placement is different. In the front squat, bar is positioned on the front of the shoulders rather than on the upper back. The gives the athlete a counterbalance to allow for a better posterior weight shift, which improves squat depth. Yay! No more getting called out for not going below parallel! Also due to the bar placement, bailing out of a front squat is easier and safer than bailing out of a back squat.
  • The front squat allows the athlete to fully extend the hips and it enforces better form. In the back squat you will sometimes see the butt rise up first, which makes the squat look more like a good morning. With the front squat it becomes more obvious if the butt rises first and the athlete can then self-correct or dump the bar if form is poor.
  • In the front squat, because the center of gravity of the weight is shifted forward on the body and the shin angle has a more forward inclination compared to the back squat, it tends to place more stress on the quadriceps. We’re still working the hamstrings and gluteal muscles, but the quads get a bigger stressor with the front squat. Since we are also deadlifting during this strength cycle (which really works the posterior chain), the front squat is a nice complement.
  • The upright torso angle of the front squat can help reduce shear stress on the spine. More forward lean equates to more shear stress, as the resistance is moved further away from the axis of rotation. Eric Cressey uses the example of a see-saw where your lower back is the middle point to illustrate this point. Moving the load further out increases the risk of going into excessive lumbar flexion under heavy weight. The front squat – even under heavier loads – keeps the athlete more upright, or else s/he will have to dump the bar.

Front Squat Tips: So now you know a few differences between the front and back squat. Below are some tips to focus on the next time you front squat.

  • Don’t place the j-cups too high. You want to be able to brace and get set up tight under the bar before you take it out of the rack. This is true for all of your lifts out of the rack, but I’m using this chance to make my point. I see people having to get on their tiptoes to take the barbell out of the rack. It’s hard to get tight with a heavy bar on your shoulders. Get tight and then unrack the bar.
  • Grip – Because we do Olympic Weightlifting in CrossFit, use a clean grip width if possible as it will transfer to the same feeling when you receive the bar in the clean position. This should be outside of your shoulders. You can play around with your grip width and see what gets you in a better position. Remember that hands should be open – fingertip grip – with bar resting on your anterior delts. Don’t go too narrow. Chest up.
  • The bar should be placed as close to the throat as possible. It takes a bit to get used to but I know you can do it!
  • Elbows up – Puppet strings attached to your elbows and to ceiling. Don’t let those elbows dip.
  • Brace – Don’t go soft at the bottom of the squat. Keep that core braced.

Mobility for Front Rack Position – You hate to front squat, you say? Nonsense. That’s just your lack of mobility talking. In addition to coming to Mobility with Roskopf on Thursdays (I was not compensated for that plug), focus on these areas on a regular basis.

Needed for a good front squat:

  • Good thoracic mobility.
  • Good ankle mobility.
  • Good wrist mobility
  • Good hip mobility.
  • Good core stability.

If you need help in these areas – come see Mike, Chad, Rich or me. We are happy to give you some drills, stretches, etc., to improve your front squat technique. Until next time – Happy Squatting