Front Squat: Benefits, Muscles Used, Technique

Front Squat: Benefits, Muscles Used, Technique

The front squat is one of those exercises you should never go without in your routine if you’re looking for serious development in your lower body.

What it is

The front squat is a variant of, not a substitute for, its sister exercise: the back squat.

And the principal difference is where we place the bar.

Back squat vs front squat

Which muscles does it work?

When carrying out the front squat, the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the upper thigh) are activated to extend your knees; while your gluteus maximus is activated to extend your hip.

This way, you’re able to lift from the lowest position while straight, without suffering the phenomenon of the Lombard paradox. Don’t know what it is? It happens frequently with the front squat! To find out more, click here.

Elbows

In turn, the spinal erectors (muscles that connect the vertebrae) are activated isometrically to keep your back straight.

The front squat forces you to keep your core straight by opening the angle formed by your hip, so the bar doesn’t fall forward.

The front squat activates the vast external, internal, rectus femoris and crurals more than a back squat.

Quads on fire in the front squat!

ATG Squat

When I talk about front squat, we’re not referring to type done with the bar and ATG (“Ass To Grass”) style or Powerlifter style, i. e. lowering at least below perpendicular level, letting the hips drop lower than the knees, and bringing the knees and tips of the feet forward.

I hope that at this point no one is shocked by the fear of performing this stance, but, in this article it’s explained perfectly.

Grip

Just to be clear, I’m referring to the front squat version with rack or Olympic grips, that’s is, with the bar on the collar bone and the grip as in the photo below:

Technique

Relation to the Olympic movements

The front squat is directly related to the Olympic movements, as the position of the bar in a clean is basically the position of this squat at the lower end.

This point will be of special interest for those who do Crossfit. And look at the thighs of any Olympic athlete…

Another variant of the squat directly related to these lifts is the Overhead Squat, sometimes called simply the OHS.

Benefits of the Front Squat

  • Improves stabilising and mobility of the lower body
  • Multi-joint work
  • Increases strength
  • Adds muscle mass, with an emphasis on the quadriceps, and not so much on the glutes, as is the case with the back squat
  • Activates the metabolism
  • Improves body composition
  • Reduces the risk of injury in sports, and in power and explosion activities

Why do the front squat instead of the back squat?

We’ve already discussed the benefits of the front squat over the back squat in terms of its activation of lower body muscles, but what does that mean?.

Greater development of the quadricep muscles

The demands of the front squat, in terms torso verticality, generate a greater ankle and knee flexion, increasing activation and therefore muscle development of the quadriceps.

Front squat

More verticality in back squats

Front squats are a great exercise for improving your back squat technique.

When lifters bend their hips by leaning the torso forward due to lack of mobility, it places them in a position where the shear forces on the spine are increased.

This is a highly common problems amongst lifters with long thighs, as the increase in the length of the femur bone forces the lifter to lean forward to shift their centre of gravity and not lose their balance.

Femur

The front squat is a great exercise for improving ankle mobility, which is the limiting factor for maintaining verticality during the squat movement.

Less tension on the lower back

The increased stabilising demands of the exercise, as well as the vertical position of the torso isometrically activating the erector muscles of the torso, not only make the front squat a less painful exercise for back lifters, but also make it a fantastic exercise for people suffering from chronic back pain.

Problems when performing the front squat

To execute the front squat you need to have good hip and ankle mobility (ankle dorsiflexion).

It’s also necessary to have good shoulder rotation mobility and wrist joint flexibility.

As an essential recommendation for any type of exercise of this type, before starting the series of movements in question it’s necessary to warm up and dedicate some time to the mobilising of the joints in order to avoid injuries and, above all, to prepare all the muscles and parts involved in the execution of the exercise..

Cross grip

If, no matter how hard you try, the clean grip I’ve mention in each outline is not possible, there’s always the option of trying the cross grip, although you do run the risk of it rolling down if you handle high loads and the bar is not high enough.

Cross grip

Joint mobility

We should be doing joint mobility exercises, both of the lower and upper limbs (focusing on the shoulders) before the exercise.

Have a look at these videos from the one and only Kelly Starrett:

Before starting a routine with the front squat, if required, a good place to start is to try the stretches recommended in those videos.

How to do the front squat

Like any complex lift movement, in the front squat you need to maintain the right technique and posture at all times in order to avoid failing the lift and, above all, causing an injury.

Initial position

We’re going to place ourselves in front of the bar, which is placed in the rack, and then “get in” under it, adjusting the position of the grip and the support points above our body.

In this case, it’s quite similar to the opening of a military press, or if we’re already used to and perform Olympics, to that of a clean lift.

Taking the bar from the rack

Now it’s time for action.

Before taking off the bar, make sure to have the correct grip, and with a breath of air, fill your lungs and hold your breath, and with a push, drop the bar, back up 1-2 steps, and we’re ready

Now, if you started incorrectly, the movement won’t succeed. So, apply the same concentration and intensity in this first phase as you do during the complete execution of the movement.

The position of your feet should be approximately the same as your shoulder opening, perhaps a little wider, depending on the characteristics of the individual, and the feet can be in the range of 30-45º.

Lowering stage

A breath of deep air will fill our lungs and facilitate stabilisation.

During the execution of the entire concentric movement, it’s important to hold the breath, as this will maintain the intervertebral tension and keep us solid.

As we said before, the descent “ends” when we reach the “limit”, which is with our hips as close to the ground as possible, with our knees going over our toes.

The elbows are always kept in the highest position possible, which requires good shoulder mobility, as the palms of our hands should touch our shoulders. In this phase, the isometric pressure on the abdomen to stabilise the posture and the correct elevation of the elbows will be high.

As a summary, visualising our position, we should have:
  • Torso straight and chest out
  • Knees facing outwards
  • High elbows

Lifting phase

It’s very important to note that the weight is mostly deposited onto our heels, and it’s from there that we’ll push and force as we exhale to initiate the concentric phase, or the lift.

In this phase, the 3 points above must be maintained in order to achieve repetition.

Recommendations

As you can see at first glance, this movement is not exactly for beginners, but it’s worthwhile going to a centre or coach who can teach optimal execution of the movement and help you take advantage of all the benefits of the front squat.

Related Entries

  • How is the squat performed correctly? Find out in this link.
  • Find out more benefits of squats here.
Review of Front Squat

Muscles used - 100%

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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
Under the motto “Knowledge Makes me Stronger”, Javier Colomer clearly expresses his intentions to share his knowledge and experience within the world of Fitness. His BPT training system is proof of this.
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