While the back squat is often labeled as the “king of all exercises”, the front squat usually follows close behind. Like many of the other barbell lifts, it is often performed incorrectly. In order to efficiently develop muscular strength and safely enhance athletic power, good technique is a must.
The Lift Off
The first step in performing a perfect front squat begins at the rack. To start, the bar needs to be set at shoulder height. Inexperienced athletes will often place the bar too high in the rack. This requires the athlete to over-extend in order to un-rack the bar. While many can get away with this early on, it can be dangerous when attempting to squat a heavy weight.
The next step is to position the bar properly on your chest. Start by gripping the bar at shoulder width. For weightlifters and crossfitters, this will also be the same grip you use to perform the barbell clean movement. From this position we want to pull ourselves under the bar while at the same time pushing our chest through the ceiling. The elbows should be lifted together to the highest possible position
If done correctly this will create a ‘shelf’ for the bar to sit comfortably on top of the shoulders and chest. Doing so will also increase the rigidity of your upper back. This will help you maintain an upright trunk position throughout the entire lift. Leaving the elbows in low position can lead to a rounded upper back. This greatly increases the odds of dropping the weight as it gets heavy. You will also place your body at risk for injury.
Mobility issues at the shoulder and/or thoracic spine (upper back) may cause the lifter to not be able to reach the high elbow position. It’s acceptable to leave the fingers in contact with the bar and have an open palm to reach the high elbow position.
This allows the weight to stay balanced on top of the shoulders. Athletes who are new to the front squat will often try to maintain a grip on the bar when they don’t have the appropriate mobility. Over time this can place unwanted stress on the wrist and elbows. It can also lead to pain and eventual injury when attempting to lift heavy weight.
It’s now time to un-rack the barbell. Position yourself under the bar with your feet evenly spaced around shoulder width. Take a big breath while bracing your core. Extend your hips and knees at the same time (with even pressure between both legs) and stand up with the bar.
Filling your lungs with air and bracing your core before you lift the barbell out of the rack is essential, especially when attempting to squat heavy weight. With this big breath and bracing technique, this can make the heavy weight feel lighter when the bar is on your chest. Stabilizing the core with a big breath will allow you to lift massive weights without breaking in half.
Just like the high-bar back squat, the front squat will also use a straightforward or slightly upward eye gaze. This will keep harmful forces from being placed on your neck during the lift.
With the bar secured properly on your shoulders, take three steps backwards in a slow and steady manner. Set your feet in a comfortable and stable position. Foot placement should mimic the same position used during the high-bar back squat. The feet may be pointed slightly outward and the stance should be at a comfortable width. Each athlete will have a slightly different stance width based on his or her individual anatomy and level of mobility.
Prior to initiating the descent of the squat, establish a proper foundation with your feet. Ensuring the feet are in a tripod position gives our body the stable platform it needs to move with good technique.
Next, squeeze the glutes in order to bring your knees into good alignment with the toes. Stabilize your back by taking a breath “into the stomach” and bracing the core muscles.
In order to perform a proper hip hinge during the front squat, the hips will only push back slightly. This allows you to engage the powerhouse of your body (the glutes of the posterior chain). By hinging the hips back slightly, the bar also remains over the mid-foot. This allows the body to remain in balance. The amount of backward movement will however be less than the back squat.
It’s a misconception that with the front squat, the knees need to move first. This misconception will lead the athlete to potentially overload the knee joint and capsize their potential to lift heavy weight.
Here’s an example of a great looking front squat by Clarence Kennedy.
The Bottom Position
The bottom position of the front squat will closely mimic that of the high-bar back squat. The torso will remain fairly vertical in order to keep the bar on the shoulders.
The depth of the front squat will be based on the specific requirements of an athlete’s sport choice and goals. An athlete competing in football or baseball for example will only need to descend to a parallel position. This means the hip crease will be parallel to the knee joint.
For those training in the sport of weightlifting or competitive crossfit, the hips should descend to the greatest depth possible. This will allow these athletes to develop the strength needed to meet the demands of their chosen sport where the clean and snatch are often taken in a deep squat position.
This deep squat position will eventually cause the knees to translate forward over the toes. As we have discussed in prior articles, the body can handle the stresses of this forward knee position as long as two requirements are met. First, the knees must not move forward prematurely into this position. Second, proper training programming must be used to allow for proper recovery.
We need to be more concerned with WHEN the knees move forward in the squat and not IF.
Video Commentary: This is a great example of front squat technique from German weightlifter Max Lang.
Once we have established a stable bottom position it is time to begin the ascent. The ascent is all about driving with the hips and keeping the torso in a good upright position. Often inexperienced athletes will let their back round during this portion of the lift.
Often coaches will use the cue to keep the elbows up during the ascent. This can be a good cue to a point. We also need to cue the athlete to drive their chest upwards. A good front squat requires both high elbows and an upright trunk. Failing to cue both can lead to a rounded upper back and eventual injury.
Front Squat Sequence
- Position the bar securely on your chest and shoulders with your elbows high.
- Establish a stable tripod foot.
- Generate external rotation torque at the hips (Verbal cue: squeeze your glutes)
- Create a rigid trunk by taking a big breath and holding it tight. (Verbal cue: big breath & core tight)
- Slightly hip hinge to engage the posterior-chain. Keep the trunk in a vertical position. (Verbal cue: push the hips back only a bit)
- Remain balanced by keeping the bar over the mid-foot during the entire squat.
- Stand straight up from the bottom position while maintaining an upright chest position with the elbows raised high.
Until Next time,