The Front Squat
Why you should include the front squat in your exercise program!
The front squat is a lift that many people neglect from their exercise programs. The benefits of performing squats are both well known and plentiful, but there are some important differences between the front squat and a conventional squat. Probably the main difference is in the core activation. During a conventional squat many people bend excessively at the waist putting increase pressure on the low back. However, in a front squat, the weight rests on the shoulders, leaning forward would lead to dropping the weight, so the lifter is forced to keep their torso more upright. This causes increased activation of the core.
This is not to say that conventional squats don’t have a place in your program, or that front squats are necessarily better, but they are different. By changing the way you perform an exercise your body has to adapt and this can lead to increased gains in lean muscle mass and performance. The body “gets comfortable” with exercises you perform regularly, by varying hand position, foot position, weight, etc. your body is forced to adapt to the new stimulus.
On the right you can view a video of how to perform a front squat. In the video you can see the position of both the hands and arms. This is important, because for those looking to learn how to perform Olympic lifts, such as cleans, this is an important position to learn.
For some people front squats may be an exercise that is beyond their capabilities to begin with. The most important thing is to first learn proper squat mechanics and work up from there. One method I use with clients who are not able to perform a squat correctly is to start with a ball wall squat. This allows the trainee to take some of the bodyweight off the squat by providing a ball to lean against. This ball, positioned between the low back and the wall at roughly the belt line, also keeps the back in a proper position as the trainee squats. This allows the trainee to focus on things like foot position and knee tracking while grooving the proper movement pattern for the back into the trainees brain. Eventually, when the trainee lifts heavier weights the position of the feet, tracking of the knee and optimal back alignment are important in reducing the risk of injury. Feet should be roughly shoulder width apart, toes pointed forward, the knees should track towards the outside toe as you squat down and the back should be at the same angle as the shins are from the ground.
The next exercise I like to use is the TRX squat. The TRX squat allows the trainee to hold on to something, and provides some stability/assistance to a person who has difficulty with body weight squats. The goal is progress to body weight squats that have correct form without the TRX.
Once someone has mastered the body weight squat and has shown the ability to perform proper squat mechanics, I then progress them to the Goblet Squat. The goblet squat puts the weight in front of the body, forcing the core to activate, but does not require the same positioning as a front squat. On the right there is a video detailing the goblet squat.
Once you have mastered the goblet squat you are ready to begin adding the front squat to your program. Watch the video and make sure that you are performing this lift correctly and in a safe manner. I always suggest having a spotter with you, especially if you are lifting heavy weights.
To your success,
Keegan Marshall CPT, CES, MMACS