Best Exercises You Could Ever Do: Barbell Front Squats


So the more I think about squats, the more I’m starting to like everything about front squats. I mean, walk into any kind of gym and you’ll see everyone and their dog performing partial range of motion back squats on the balls of their feet with pelvic rolls and way too much weight to make them look cool in front of all the other kids with 13 inch calves. You’ll rarely see anyone using any appreciable weight on a front squat where their calves are becoming closely acquainted with their hamstrings, and where they’re not shaking and shuddering all over the place.

Mike Boyle’s a huge believer in the power of the front squat, combined with the reduced shoulder, back, and neck trauma, it means it’s safer overall, which is something all strength coaches and personal trainers have to be paranoid about and make sure their clients stay injury-free. An injured client isn’t training, which means income goes down, which means you’re an idiot for programming a dangerous program for a client who wasn’t ready for it. But I digress, let’s check out the Front Squat

Why it’s better than Back Squats:

For dudes like me with low back injuries, using a front squat variation makes sense as it reduces the horizontal force arm distance from the axis of rotation in the L3-5 region and the resistance point at the shoulders. The axis of rotation at the hip joint and the center of gravity are closer together, which limits the amount of torque being applied to the spine and reduces any kind of shear force it will feel, and requires the exerciser to stand more upright than leaning forward, again reducing stress on the low back.

Add to that the fact that most of the real-world things we’ll have to push with our legs will be in front of us instead of behind us, and it makes front squats a more “functional” exercise for developing strength. Most people can find a way to cheat a back squat to use their hips more than their quads, which means it won’t be as complete of a leg developer as a front squat, and since most people out there tend to have weaker quads it makes sense to train them if you want them to get stronger.

Additionally, if the individual has to unload the bar because they can’t lift the weight (pussy) they have a better option to unload it than a back squat in that they can simply drop that shit into the rack, swear, kick a water bottle, and try it again with a little less weight. On a back squat, you get something like this:

How to Make this Happen:

First, a lot of people just simply don’t have the shoulder flexibility to get into this position with any kind of weight on the bar, so most people will have to start with an unweighted bar, and try to perform the squat without actually touching the bar. This will make the person consciously aware of where the bar is and how to position their shoulders to keep it upright. Once they can do this, they can think about adding some weight to the bar and hanging on to that sumbitch.

The three common grip types out there are the conventional clean grip, where the bar lands on the shoulders in the same grip as when performing a power clean. This can be hard on the wrists and elbows, as the position is tricky to get into. Another common method of gripping the bar is through a cross grip, where the exerciser essentially mimes choking themselves, while holding the bar on their shoulders. This is not one of my favorites, as it makes you look silly in the gym, plus the additional pressure through your carotid artery and brachial plexus can result in some less than happy endings. I prefer the front hook grip, shown in the first video, as it’s the easiest to use, less pressure on the wrists and elbows, and reduces pressure on the subclavian structures that are kind of a big deal. Essentially, use your thumb and index finger to form a mini-triangle and push the bar to hold it on your shoulders.

Now that you have a grip on the bar, take a slightly wider than shoulder width stance, and drop it like it’s hot.

In other words, lower down as far as possible, and drive up through the heels and mid foot, trying to keep your foot solid on the ground. I talked about squatting through the heels being the wrong way to describe squats HERE, so make sure you keep your toes dug into the ground to make sure you’re not resembling a pirate balancing on a peg-leg.

Coaching Cues:

Keep the back straight and the abs tight so that you resist flexing forward, as the weight on your shoulder will want to pull you down in front like Snooki on a bender and looking for a new guido. Depth is the goal, and the knees should go past the toes as long as the heels don’t lift off the floor. Now get in there and throw some weights around!!!

About deansomerset

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehab Specialist, personal trainer and probably the coolest guy my mom knows, I try to impart a little knowledge with a sense of humor to keep people reading. I've always thought if it's something that can grab your attention, you're gonna remember it tomorrow!!
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3 Responses to Best Exercises You Could Ever Do: Barbell Front Squats

  1. R Smith says:

    Dean,

    What great timing you have: Today is Wk4, Phase1 of Show N Go, so I’m front-squatting. Took me a while to acclimate to them, but I’m quite fond now.

    What do you think of using the SSB to front squat, as shown here: http://www.youtube.com/user/bruno082985#p/u/155/LkfVTZZlinQ
    Really feels good, similar to a goblet squat.

    • deansomerset says:

      Hey R. Not too sure about the positioning of the SSB, since the shoulder doesn’t have much room to hold a padded bar, plus the weight is positioned differently on the bar which would put it further forward than a conventional back squat. I always believe in using the conventional bar for front squats, and SSB for back squats as needed. Good question!!

  2. I’m for goblet squats, but you’re making progress by moving the weight to the front.

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