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Front Squat Parameters for Upper Back Strength?


#1

I’ve been doing front squats primarily to help with posture and upper back strength. I’m just wondering what parameters work best for these goals? Paused or normal? What depth? Light or heavy? etc. Anyone have thoughts on this?


#2

I’m not sure a leg exercise is the best primary choice to fix an upper body issue. The upper back is used in front squats, for sure, but that’s kinda like using deadlifts to build big shoulders. Things like LYTP raises, face pulls, and pull-aparts by the dozen will be a more direct solution.

But for the square peg-round hole solution, I’d look at heavy front squat static holds. Like just unracking the bar, in your front squat position, and standing there supporting the weight. Basically, Point 1 explained here. It’ll hit the abs a ton, but also every support muscle from the hips to traps.

What does your entire training plan look like? The days, exercises, sets, and reps.


#3

Chris,

Thanks for your reply. Fair point about using front squats to strengthen the upper back. My logic is I’m using front squats as an assistance exercise anyway, so why not try to maximize their upper back benefits.

I’m on week 3 of my second cycle of 5/3/1, which turned out to be an upper/lower split in practice. This isn’t exactly by the book (which I do own). Plan is to tweak the assistance each cycle until I find the right balance of work/recovery/variety. Overall, it’s going well. I feel pretty stupid for not giving 5/3/1 a shot sooner.

Day 1
OHP - 5/3/1, plus 0-2 Joker sets, depending on how I’m feeling
pull-ups in between sets of OHP
bench press - 5x10 with 60% of TM
cable row in between sets of bench press
3x10 db curls super set with tricep extensions

Day 2
deadlift - 5/3/1, I may do a set or 2 paused deadlifts with 50% of TM after the main sets
front squat - haven’t really programed this consistently yet to be honest
5x10 face pulls super set with an ab exercise (cable crunches, captain’s chair, or ab wheel, depending on what’s available)

Day 3
bench press - 5/3/1, plus 0-2 Joker sets, depending on how I’m feeling
heavy (for me) db rows in between bench press sets
OHP - 5x10 with 60% of TM
lat pull-down in between sets of OHP
3x10 db curls super set with tricep extensions

Day 4
squats - 5/3/1, plus 0-2 Joker sets, depending on how I’m feeling
RDL - 5x10 (I’ve been getting super sore after these!)
5x10 face pulls super set with an ab exercise

Two reasons for wanting to strengthen my upper back. First, vanity. My posture has gone to shit since college. Sitting in front of a monitor every day for work has taken its toll. Second, I think my upper back (not to mention core) are holding my deadlift back. My shoulders cave forward on my heavier sets, and I have a hard time maintaining a “big chest” at the top.


#4

Really, with what you laid out, I’d just do the front squats like front squats not like “upper back building squats”. They’ll do their thing no matter what without any extra tweaks.

What I would do is throw a 3-5 count pause at the top (peak contraction) on every rep of face pulls. That really drills the upper back stabilizers and reinforces static strength in that area.

Also, I shifted this over to the 5/3/1 forum instead of BSL so you can get some more specific feedback about setting up the plan overall.

De-constructing Computer Guy has some general tips, for training and outside the gym, that can help.


#5

heavy goblet squats are fantastic assistance movement for upper back strength. Paired with face pulls and band pull aparts, you can’t go wrong. I’m not sure what you’re capable of, but shoot for 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps with the heaviest dumbbell you can handle, held at chest hight, elbows out. Simply holding that thing in place while doing squats will do wonders for your upper back.

also try to get in 100-200 band pull aparts or face pulls per day, or every training day (can do 50-100 of each per day, shoot for sets of 20 reps). I keep a monster mini band in my office and rep out with it all day long, every day.


#6

Chris,

Thanks for giving me some actionable advice! I’ll add the pauses to my face pulls and work in some of the posture movements described in ‘deconstructing computer guy’ into my day.


#7

Thanks, marc. I’ll alternate between front squats and heavy goblet squats as you describe and see what feels best.


#8

Seconded on goblet squats.
I don’t do them very heavy (about 25% of my bw) cause they’re at the end of my workout, but keep the dumbbell pushed against your chest, brace by filling in air and actively pull your shoulders and ribcage down, keep a proud chest during the movement and you’ll really feel the upper back working.
They’re also a good tool to focus on other squatting cues and reinforce habits (spread the floor, knees out, sit into the hips etc etc).

As for front squats programming - as a generic rule, can’t go wrong with 5x5FSL. If you want to push them, you might want to pyramid down during the cycle, doing for example 5x5 SSL on the “5” week, 10x5 FSL on the “3” week and 5x5 FSL on the “1” week - this really depends on the rest of your workout and how you feel after deads and so on.
I’ve never done 10x5 on front squats so I can’t vouch for it, it might or might not fatigue you too much. 5x5 SSL on the lightest week and 5x5 FSL on the other two weeks should be optimal, tho.
Definitely avoid 5x10 or any other high-reps scheme (like 1x20), they work best for lower reps - I’ve been doing them as main squat movement with PR sets and keeping up with doing 7-10 reps on top sets is not optimal.
Obviously, you’ll need to know your TM, you could either test the 5RM on your next deload or go by eye and try to base it on your back squat %.