You’ve probably seen today’s move in one form or another. Well, it’s finally time to learn about this foundational movement for both fitness and performance, that also works the legs and abs.
THE MOVE: Front Squat
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Squat: quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs.
WHY DO IT: As we mentioned earlier, the front squat is a foundational movement. It is a direct progression on the goblet squats and kettlebell squats that we’ve featured before. You’ve also seen the front-rack position in some form or another as well, and the front squat itself is a necessary movement if one is to master the clean & jerk and other more advanced compound lifts.
This goes without saying, but proficiency in the front squat is an essential skill to have if you’re serious about working out and training. The front squat takes the Frankenstein Squat one step further; instead of having your arms straight out in front of you, your arms are bent and your hands are cradling the bar.
It’s important to note however, that this is the only thing that changes from the Frankenstein Squat to the Front Squat. Everything else stays the same. The front-rack position helps keep the bar stable on your shoulders, but you still have to make sure that your torso remains upright. This prevents the bar from falling into your wrists.
The right position for the front-rack is still the position for which you don’t need your hands to support the bar. You do need to keep the bar against your neck, which will take some time getting used to. Furthermore, you need to have the requisite mobility of the wrists (so that they can bend backwards and allow the fingers to cradle the bar), shoulders (so that you can position your hands outside your shoulders), and thoracic spine (to keep your elbows up and your torso upright) to do this correctly.
As with the Frankenstein Squat, you must keep your torso up and squat with proper form in order to keep the bar on top of you shoulders, and you can’t shoot your hips up faster than your shoulders when it’s time to squat up. With the extra security provided by the front-rack position however, the loading potential of the front squat is much greater than all of its regressions. Once you can front squat proficiently, it should have a permanent place in your programming, especially if you train in the Olympic lifts.
HOW TO DO IT: Place a barbell in a squat rack at a height just below your shoulders. With your arms straight out in front of you, hold the bar in your fingers. Your hands should be outside shoulder-width, with how far apart they actually are largely dictated by your shoulder mobility and what’s comfortable for you.
As you can see in the video, once you’re in this position, you want to turn your elbows under the bar and rack the bar on your shoulders. In this position, your elbow should be up and your fingers cradling the bar. Stand up and walk the bar out to commence your squat.
Brace your abs to support the weight, and think about spreading the floor with your feet to initiate the squat. The mechanics are important here, and perhaps the most important cue to keep in mind while you’re descending is to keep your elbows up at all times. Also, instead of pushing your hips back, think about squatting between your legs. This means your knees and ankles should bend forward a little more than in a powerlifting squat, for example. By doing these things, you’ll be able to keep your torso upright and the bar on your shoulders.
Go down as far as you can while keeping your elbows up, and drive through your feet to stand back up. Be sure to full extend your hips at the top. Repeat for reps.
The Front Squat is one of the big rocks when it comes to fitness, so it should be one of the first movements you do in a training session. It should primarily be used for strength, and the intensity should be high on this exercise. As such, I would recommend using it for 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps; the high variability here is because the sets and reps will depend on your strength needs at any given time. A lifter in an intense phase of training probably needs 5 sets of 3, while a lifter who is deloading is better served with 3 sets of 8.
The front squat is one of the most essential lifts in the gym, with excellent loading potential. If you can do it, it should be a staple for many years to come. Let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram @halevylife !
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.