The back squat is the classic lower-body lift. It packs muscle on your glutes, quads and hamstrings, as well as recruiting your abs and lower back which must work hard to stabilise your torso as you lift and lower the bar. It’s also an effective strength-building move, which is why it’s so popular with elite athletes from 100m sprinters to UFC fighters to American footballers to swimmers.
But there’s another move you should add to your leg-building workouts if you’re serious about adding muscular size and strength to your lower body: the front squat.
It’s an often-neglected lift but one that deserves your attention. While similar the back squat, it has one key difference: you hold the bar across the front of your shoulders, at the top of your chest, rather than behind your neck.
This significant adjustment forces your quads, the muscle group on the front of your thighs, to manage and move more of the load, as well as making your core muscles work even harder to keep your torso upright and your upper body balanced.
And there’s a bonus, too. Unlike the back squat, where it’s common for your form to suffer towards the end of each set, the position you’re in for the front squat forces you to stay upright and maintain the correct form, which means you can squat far more safely. Here’s everything you need to know.
How to Do the Front Squat
Start with the bar secure in the squat rack, level with the middle of your chest. Hold the bar with hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Step in close to the bar and lower into a quarter squat so the bar is level and touching the top of your chest and front of your shoulders. Without letting go of the bar, bring your elbows forwards and up as high as you can manage. Focus on keeping your elbows as high as possible throughout the squat – this will keep your body upright and the bar secure in the crook of your hands and resting against your chest and shoulders. Drive up to take the bar out of the rack.
Take one step backwards. Position your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing very slightly diagonally away from each other. Brace yourself, take a deep breath in to fill your chest and keep your torso strong, then bend your legs to lower into a squat. Keep your knees wide apart and heels down. Lower until your legs are at least parallel with the floor, then drive back up to stand. That’s perfect form. If you’re struggling, here are some ways to improve.
Front Squat Form Tips
The perfect form for the front squat can be difficult due to limited flexibility of the wrists and forearms if you’re not used to it. If that’s you, start by warming your wrists up. Interlock your fingers and rotate your wrists in both directions for a couple of minutes. Still an issue? A solution is to get into the position where you’re about to lift the bar out of the rack, but cross your arms and hold the bar against your shoulders. Keeping your shoulders high is still a priority here. You’ll probably not be able to lift as much weight so knock the weight plates down until you’re comfortable.
As soon as you let your elbows drop, the weight will tip forwards, pushing you off-balance and signalling the end of your set. Fix this by focusing on pushing your elbows towards the ceiling throughout the move. Also, try bringing your hands closer together or further apart to find a position that lets you keep your elbows high.
Front Squat Variations
As with all squats, ankle mobility and calf flexibility can be an issue. While you work on improving those departments, you can still front squat by elevating your heels on small weight plates for this move. This can also allow you to go deeper and put more emphasis on your quads for greater development.
A regression is to do goblet squats instead (also a good warm-up for the full front squat). Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell vertically by one end – like you’re a nobleman drinking out of a goblet. Squat down until your elbows touch the insides of your knees, then drive back up through your heels. This move will help you get used to holding the weight in front of you.