The Front Squat: The Most Beneficial Exercise You May Not Be Doing

For me, Front Squats are second only to good mornings in overall carryover to the squat and deadlift. In other words, Front Squats are a phenomenal main accessory movement that is highly underutilized often due to the degree of difficulty and discomfort that they are known to cause. However, I believe you are missing out on some serious strength if you are not including them regularly in your programming, whether you are an athlete or general health seeker. In this article I will be going over some of the benefits of the Front Squats as well as some tips and when/how to fit them into your own training!

Why Front Squat?

The front squat is one of my favorite accessory movements of course due to the carryover that they have to my competition squat and deadlift. The front squat places a unique stress on the body that cannot be easily replicated in other movements.

  1. Improved Upper Back Strength: The front squat of course, requires you to hold the Barbell in a “ racked” position on the front of your body as opposed to on your back. Holding the bar in this position requires the lifter to utilize the mid-upper back to keep the upper body upright. If the upper back is not “tight” throughout the movement you will fall forward and have to dump the bar. Upper back tightness is a cue that should be used in all of the competition movements, and having a strong upper back in General helps in many other areas of life besides just Powerlifting, including improved shoulder health and better posture.

-Training Tip: Squeeze the Shoulder blades together to engage the upper back and cue the elbows to “touch the ceiling” throughout the entirety of the lift. These cues are applicable whether your are holding the bar in a traditional “arms crossed” manner or in an Olympic fashion with your wrists bent and fingertips holding the bar.

  1. Bulletproof Core: Similar to number 1, the front rack position in front squats relies heavily on the lifter to engage core muscles to keep the body upright through the entirety of the movement. This will result in a stronger core, which is an area just about every one of us needs work in, not just for sports performance but for health and function in every day life.

-Training Tip: Be sure to brace your abs at the beginning of the movement and engage these muscles. For further benefit, perform beltless front squats to focus even more on core development.

  1. Build Up The Wheels!: Front Squats have been proven to recruit more quadriceps muscle fibers than other variations of the squat, which is why they are favored by bodybuilders as a staple to build stronger, more developed quads. Also, if you are a powerlifter who is looking to develop more quad strength (speed off the floor in the deadlift for example), than the front squat may be your best option to improve this area!
  • Training Tip: Perform the movement with a narrow stance (and heels raised on a 2.5 lb plate if you’d like), to further isolate the quadriceps muscles.

Programming Considerations:

  • The front squat is often utilized as a main accessory movement performed after either the competition squat or deadlift in training. I have found that for building strength, front squats work best for me in the 3-5 rep range and for hypertrophy I stick in the 8 rep range. Front squats are constant in my training, usually utilized 2-4 times a month on either my deadlift day or my squat day. I usually perform them to a high box on my deadlift day for further hip development, but will alternate between traditional front squats and box squat front squats on my Competition Squat days. While my personal favorite way to use the movement is as a main accessory, front squat can also be used as a max effort variation performed at the beginning of a workout for a 1-3 rep max.
  • The front squat can be utilized with several variations including:
    • Traditional Front Squats: General lower body strength/power development, improved core strength.
    • Front Squats to a box: General lower body strength/power development, improved core strength, with an additional focus on glute hamstring development with the addition of the box. This is an excellent accessory to both the sumo and conventional deadlift.  
    • Front Squat w/ chains: Chains can be added to teach a controlled lowering of the barbell as well as overload at the very top of the movement, preparing the Central Nervous System for heavier weights.
    • Front Squat w/bands: Bands will again add an overload component to the movement, but the bands speed up the eccentric phase of the movement compared to chains, teaching the body to use the kinetic energy built up in the movement for a more explosive concentric phase.
    • Paused Front Squats: These can be utilized to develop strength and optimal positions in a lifters sticking point. For many raw lifters, this will be at the very bottom of the movement (in the hole).  
    • Narrow/Wide Stance Front Squats: This will depend largely on a lifter’s traditional squat stance and a lifters deadlift stance to determine which is most beneficial. Using myself as an example, I am a wide stance squatter and sumo deadlifter so I find the most benefit from using a wide stance in the front squat the majority of the time. However, using the opposite stance occasionally is great for bringing up weaknesses. Again, this will depend on the lifter and requires some self awareness of ones weaknesses or maybe a second set of eyes (a coach or lifting partner) to determine this!
    • Tempo Front Squats: These are performed at a given tempo (For Example-3 sec down:1 sec pause:1 sec up) and can be included in a program to drill proper positions and control in the movement. Tempo squats also increase the amount of time under tension in the entire body making these a popular choice for athletes of many sports, and the general health seeker looking to add muscle and strength to their frame.

After reading this article hopefully you see why you need to include front squats in your training. While they are certainly not the most enjoyable exercise to perform at times, the benefits far outweigh the temporary discomfort we will feel with a heavy barbell resting on the front of our shoulders. Throw front squats into the mix for a few weeks and begin to reap the benefits that this underutilized movement has to offer!

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