Legs are clearly the largest and strongest muscle group, and squats are the most important muscle-building exercise you can do for them. In “what is a front squat”, we will discuss what you need to know.
Let’s detail the how-to as well as the many benefits of this effective variation to the standard squat movement. Lastly , we will discuss the important ways on “how not to do front squats”, for saving your back and your knees.
What Is a Front Squat?
It is the opposite of a standard leg squat, but not really. The starting position is upright but the bar will be in front of you rather than behind. The majority of the weight will be placed on the front of the shoulders rather than the upper back.
The vertical movement is similar to a regular squat, but a lot more challenging. A picture will present the best front squat description, but I will give a more detailed outline to demonstrate the proper front squat form in some easy steps.
Squats should be an essential part of any athlete’s training regimen. Not only do they build strong core and leg muscles, but they also help your body balance out inconsistencies along your back and shoulders.
What Does a Front Squat Work?
There are many types of squats, all of which focus on something different. The traditional squat is a compound multilateral movement that targets your gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, and even calves.
Due to the placement of the bar, front squats differ greatly from regular squats. When talking about the front squat vs back squats, the main difference is that by performing a front squat you would focus more on your quads (quadriceps are at the front of your thigh) and upper back.
The way the front squat stabilizes your body and how the bar is held forward engages your back muscles more than many other leg exercises.
How To Front Squat
In order, be sure to follow these steps for the safest front squat.
5 Simple steps to perform front squats
To begin with the initial movement, use only a bar without any weights. This will allow you to feel how your body moves with no risk of injury. Learning how to front squat will take a little time.
To learn more on squat movements and other key leg exercises, check out my article, What Is A Squat Exercise.
1. Choose a Grip, the Front Squat Hand Position
First of all, front squats allow for a wide variety of grips to be used. They can be performed as dumbbell front squats, kettlebell, barbell, or even with a medicine ball. The barbell front squat is the most used, so regardless of the grip you choose on the barbell, your hands should always be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Obviously, the kettlebell front squat or using a medicine ball will look and feel a bit different, but it is the same concept. It works the leg muscles differently than a standard front squat.
In order to perform the cross grip, you should simply place the bar on your front shoulders and cross your hands above it. Your elbows should be pointing forward and your arms should be parallel to the floor.
This is a much less stable grip than the regular clean grip but doesn’t hurt your wrists as much. Cross grip is often preferred for lighter weights.
Regular clean grip
When using a barbell, the classic grip is the same as the one you would normally use while performing a clean and jerk. Place the bar on the front side of your shoulders. Some people prefer putting all fingers below the bar, some put only 2 or 3 fingers. This is up to you.
Your elbows should be parallel to the ground below. Moreover, both of your arms should be aiming straight ahead and be parallel to one another and the floor at the same time.
The downside of this grip is that it requires very flexible wrists. But don’t worry about that, there are plenty of other options. This grip is preferred for heavier weights.
You can use straps to strap on the barbell and grab them instead of the bar. This would allow your wrists to be in a much more comfortable position and to rest, while also not giving up on the stability of the bar.
2. Adjust your feet
If you’ve already chosen a grip, grab the bar in your preferred position and make two steps forward. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Your toes should point outward, not inward, but only at a very slight angle.
The narrower your feet are, the more stress you are putting on your knees and quadriceps. Have that in mind, when experimenting with foot placement.
3. Tighten the core and breathe in
Once you’ve chosen a grip and placed your feet in the right position, it is time to take a deep breath and hold it. Pull your shoulders back and tighten your core muscles.
4. Perform a movement as if you are to sit down
Push your knees forward and your hips back. Don’t move your shoulders or chest muscles and keep them up. Your eyes and head shouldn’t move and you should be looking forward.
Lower your hips until your hamstring is parallel to the floor.
5. Push the ground down
Imagine as if your back is propped up by a wall. This is how stable your back should be throughout the entire movement.
Push the ground down and lift yourself and the bar up without moving your knees inwards or outwards. Also push through your heels rather than your toes. Squeeze your quads and glutes at the end of the movement and don’t completely lock your knees to prevent injury.
Front Squats Benefits
Much like the standard squat, the front squat benefits are to build strength, muscle, cardio, and most importantly boost your testosterone levels by engaging the whole body, which, in the end, greatly facilitates muscle growth.
There are entire books written on the benefits of stronger legs. Aside from that, there is a series of benefits that differ from the ones of a standard squat:
It’s not as harmful to your knees
Back squats are the number one exercise for leg strength building but they definitely damage your knees more than almost anything else, especially if you go heavy. By bringing the weight forward, your knees are less prone to injuries.
They don’t stress your lower back as much
Front squats allow you to perform the movement while focusing on your quads and upper back, thus are more appropriate for people who have lower back issues.
It also improves your core
By bringing the bar forward, a large portion of the stress lies on your core to stabilize things along with your upper back. Whereas with the standard squat, your gluteus moves backward more and this tension falls on your lower back.
Front Squats Most Common Mistakes – How Not to Front Squat
There are many mistakes you can make while performing a compound movement like front squats. Let’s dive into the most common mistakes you should definitely avoid.
1. Knees moving inward or outward
If you find your knees shaking, or in an outward or inward direction, you should definitely decrease the weight and start over. You are probably not a powerlifter, so take it easy. This is not the exercise that you should be delving into the big plates right away.
This does not only lead to serious injuries but also lowers the impact this exercise has on your muscle-building process.
2. Not keeping your core tight during the whole movement
Your core should be rock-solid during the entire movement. Imagine there’s a boxer standing in front of you and throwing consecutive punches toward your abdomen. That’s how hard you should flex your core while squatting.
You should release the pressure on the top, after performing each rep. If you don’t tighten your core, you might end up shaking or losing balance, which can be dangerous. Tightening your core basically helps with your stability.
3. Holding the bar, instead of laying it on your shoulders
Your arms are there to simply support the weight of the bar and balance it. They aren’t holding the bar. The beauty of this movement is that you can perform it without even holding the bar with your hands.
Let the bar lay on top of your shoulders freely, then simply support it with your hands.
4. Elbows moving
Don’t move your elbows. That’s it. Your shoulders, chest, elbows, and back should be static throughout the movement. If you make the mistake of moving your elbows up, you might end up dropping the bar over your neck. If you move your elbows downward, you can drop the bar over your feet. Both of which, you should avoid.
5. Looking up or down
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t tilt your head forward or upward. Simply look in the mirror or wall in front of you and don’t move your neck. Your neck should be relaxed and static. Looking up or down can lead to neck injuries.
6. Don’t fold your back
If you fold your back forward or lower your upper back, you are either going to drop the bar or damage your knees or lower back. Keep your back straight during the entire movement.
How to incorporate front squats into your workout
Front squats are much easier to learn compared to traditional back squats with less risk of injury. Regardless, you should properly warm up before performing any compound exercises.
Typically, you want to start your squat workout routine with the toughest and most complex exercise for each muscle group and work toward isolating movements.
For this reason, you should place the front squat at the beginning of your leg workout as the first or second exercise, after warm-up.
It is a good idea to start your workout with something lighter, in order to properly warm your knees and back. A perfect exercise to achieve this goal is dumbbell lunges.
The amount of reps you perform while doing front squats depends entirely on your preference and goals.
Since you can’t go as heavy with the weight as with back squats, a good rep range to go for is between 10 and 12 repetitions per set. Lower numbers of reps build strengths but won’t bulk your muscles as much. Whereas much higher numbers of reps would build muscle stamina but still fail to inspire muscle growth.
Thus, if you are looking to build muscle and strength at the same time, aim for the middle ground of 10 and up to 15 reps at the highest.
Number of Sets
The higher number of reps you go for, the lower the number of sets should be. For instance, if you choose to perform 25 repetitions per set, you should go for 3 or 4 sets. Whereas if you go for 10 – 12, you should stick to 5 or 6 sets, making the squats the primary focus of your workout.
Exercises to Pair with Front Squats
Regardless of the type of squats you choose to incorporate into your leg day, they should be your primary focus during that day. Other exercises shouldn’t be neglected but should be treated as secondary.
Thus, if you feel like you don’t have enough energy to complete your workout after 5 sets of front squats, lower the number of sets or reps for isolation exercises.
Good exercises to pair front squats with:
- Box Jumps
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Romanian Deadlift
- Barbell side lunge
- Single Leg Curls
- Leg Extensions
As you can see, some of the best exercises to pair squats within your workout are the ones that either target other parts of your legs, mainly your hamstrings, or isolation movements like leg extensions or curls. Besides front squat muscles, target other leg muscles to increase your squat lift weight.
What Is A Front Squat – Wrap Up
Front squat exercises are an excellent way to get the most out of your leg workouts. It’s important to switch it up on leg day, using new movements to hit your muscles differently.
The front squat is a bit more challenging and because of the angle, you won’t be lifting as much weight with this movement compared to standard squat exercises. However, front squats hit the same muscles as a standard squat, while targeting the upper back and front of the thighs more as well.
If you have any questions or comments on “how to do front squats”, please leave a message below and I will respond.