Deconstructing the Front Squat

When it comes to elite strength and conditioning the mechanics of squatting are critical for the development low body strength and power.

When it comes to elite strength and conditioning the mechanics of squatting are critical for the development of lower body strength and power. Most coaches and athletes utilize both the front squat and the back squat in their training programs. The front squat is used primarily to develop the muscles of the low body including the; quadriceps, gastrocnemius, and the gluteus maximus. The front squat is by nature a more quadriceps dominant exercise than the back squat and requires more mid-line stabilization, and muscle activity in the hips, and spinal erectors. Both the back squat and the front squat develop strength and power in the low body but, there are differences in maximal muscular performance. There is typically an increased capacity for maximal lifts with the back squat, as the front squat is ideally 85% of the low back squat in most athletes.

Research in Journal of Strength & Conditioning examined and compared the biomechanics of the front squat and the back squat. They found the two squat variations did elicit very comparable levels of muscle recruitment and activity. Researchers noted that performing the back squat created much more compression of the spine and torque in the knees. Researchers asserted that the front squat might be a more effective movement to elicit lower body strength and power, simply due to the fact that the same stimulus is present, but with much less stress and injury risk to spine and knees. Overall this study indicated that front squats may be more beneficial as compared to back squats especially with athletes who have knee limitations and injuries.

Biomechanic Breakdown of the Front Squat

  • Hip -Extension and Flexion
  • Knee -Extension
  • Ankle and Plantar -Flexion 
  • Spine -Extension
  • Shoulder -Flexion
  • Scapula and Clavicle -Elevation and Upward Rotation

Benefits of Performing the Front Squat With Good Technique

  • Air squats, goblet squats, and barbell front squats are a great starting points to teach and learn squat progressions and more complex movements to newer athletes.
  • Front squats enable the body to become skilled at transference movements which will aid an athlete in the development of the clean, the jerk, and Olympic Lifting in general.
  • Front squats create a super strong mid-line, they demand core stabilization, and increase more overall abdominal development.
  • Front Squats are a better choice for athletes with physical limitations, flexibility issues, and injuries. The movements of the front squat create less stress on the knees and less spinal load, compression, and flexion.

Front Squat Basic Skill Review

  • Take time to find your starting position.
  • Find your natural foot stance width your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your toes slightly out so your toes can follow the path of your knees.
  • Find your grip on the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Receive the bar from the rack on the front of the shoulders and step back onto the platform.
  • Keep chest up and raise the elbows high.
  • Stabilize the midline taking in a deep breath.
  • Keep the feet flat on the ground pushing down through the heels.
  • Squat down until the thighs are below parallel.
  • Keep the chest up, back tight, and the elbows high when coming out the the squat aggressively drive the elbows up to come out of the hole.
What About Tempo?
Whether you choose a tempo of down slow, up fast, or 50X2, tempo training changes the dynamics of a front squat dramatically. Many coaches are using tempo training to facilitate stronger, faster, and more powerful muscular development. If you have limitation and/or you are injured slower tempo training the front squat may also be a viable option for building strength and power. Simply requiring an athlete to use a tempo, the coach can monitor technique and form keeping the chest up, knees out, ass to grass, and a neutral lumbar spine position. If you are interested in gaining strength quickly a squatting program with varying tempos can lead to more strength gains. Creating a pause at the bottom or top of the movement initiates more stabilization muscles and muscle fibers in general, allowing you to get stronger as you methodically work through your weaknesses.
Limitations and Mobility Issues
The movements of the front squat can expose limitations, mobility, and flexibility issues in the wrists, shoulder girdle, hips, knees, and ankles. Simply altering hand placement for a front squat variation and performing flexibility and mobility work can help an athlete in progressing to front squat with correct and comfortable form.

Front Squat Variations

  • Front Squats with Straps
  • Front Squats with Crossed Arms
  • Front Squats with Straight Arms
  • Front Squats with Wall

Work through these techniques with an empty barbell then increase weight as needed.