Front Squat How-To for Serious Muscle Density

Jan 19, 2022 | Exercise guides, Strength & Conditioning

Of all the myriad ways to squat, there’s one variation you could probably stand to do more often: front squats.

Set your leg workouts on fire with the front squat

Front squats challenge your body to balance weight across your shoulders (front delts) instead of behind your neck like a back squat. So, while you might be able to move more overall poundage with back squats, everything is working when you front squat. Your trunk has to be stable enough to keep you upright and your shoulders and arms need to control the weight while your posterior chain moves it. 

Because it’s more difficult to maintain an upright position as your core fatigues, you have to work harder for good form. But front squats also give you an easy out. Dumping a heavy barbell in front of you is easier than grinding through the concentric (standing up) part of the squat.

So if you want that front squat PR, you gotta be a hero and fight for it.

Having a strong front squat sets you up for success in other movements like thrusters, wall ball shots, or clean and jerks. But if you train front squats right, they’re also sneaky good for building thickness in your legs. Add regular front squatting to your leg workouts and reap the rewards of size/strength gains in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

Newer athletes often start with air squats and goblet squats, but front squats are another excellent option for molding Bambi-fresh legs into healthy tree trunks. Plus, the added challenge to your coordination and balance will help make you a more well-rounded athlete. 

Check out our guide to front squats including grip methods and mobility concerns. Master the technique and thank us later when your legs are unbelievably sore. 

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How to Front Squat

Points of Performance

 

Setup

Set your barbell up in a rack at about chest height so you have the leverage to stand it up out of the pins. Pull yourself under the bar so it rests across the front of your shoulders at the base of your neck. Find your preferred grip (see below), then step out of the rack and get your feet ready in your squat stance—between hip and shoulder width.

 

Grip

There are two ways to grip the barbell for front squats: the Olympic front rack grip and the bodybuilding (aka, Macarena) grip. We’re going to focus on the front rack grip, but the bodybuilding grip can be useful if you have shoulder or wrist issues.

For the front rack grip, your arms will take the same shape as a weightlifter in the catch position of a clean. Place your hands on the bar just outside of shoulder width. With a loose overhand grip, drive your elbows under the bar so they point at the wall in front of you and the bar rests across the “shelf” of your front delts. 

Keep your elbows up through the entire movement to prevent your chest and torso from diving forward.

Coach’s Tip: The key to maintaining an elbows-up position here is to loosen your grip. Don’t try to keep a full hold on the bar. It should be resting on your open fingers, and sometimes just a few fingers as your pinkies can sort of fly free. Your hands are just there to keep the bar in position, not hold it. 

Squat

Brace your core, unlock your hips, and sit down into your squat. Keep your spine neutral, gaze forward and chest up as the bar path tracks over your midfoot.

There’s a subtle difference in squatting technique here compared to a back squat. Squatting with a load on your back allows your hip hinge to be a little more exaggerated. But for the front squat, try not to lean into the hip hinge or you risk tipping forward and losing the weight. 

The front squat descent still starts with the hips and knees like a back squat, but with more focus on sitting down instead of back. 

 

Recover

Once you hit depth with your thighs parallel to the floor or (preferably) deeper, reverse the movement by squeezing your glutes to stand up. When the weight gets heavy, you’ll have to focus on tucking your pelvis and driving hard with your hips. 

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Common front squat problems

A few of the same issues pop up among athletes working on their front squats. Most of these sticking points are related to the front rack position and the mobility/stability required to keep an upright torso.

Ankle mobility

As you squat down, your knees need to move over your toes which requires some freedom in your ankle joints. Check out our blog on mobility exercises and tools for weightlifting for some help here. Do banded joint mobilizations if you have any pinching sensation in the front of your ankle.

Shoulder Mobility

Tight lats, traps, and delts can hugely restrict the range of motion in your shoulders necessary for a stable front rack. Mobility often becomes less of an issue as you perfect your front rack position, but if you have trouble here, Dr. Aaron Horschig from Squat U has some advice and homework for you.

Lily Frei Headshot

Lily frei

Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.

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