T Nation

I Have an Issue With Front Squats

I keep throwing them into my routine’s though since I know that means I need work. Ok, the issue I’m running into.

Initially my shoulders were always in too much pain doing front squats, back squats I can do nearly double the weight comfortably. When doing front squats the first set or two feels good, but then I start feeling the bar drop as my shoulders/back wear out. This tends to manifest itself in a upper back workout holding my chest upright and feeling the stress on my upper/middle back. It’s a little sore the next day as well.

I didn’t have this side effect before throwing front squats in after deads. Is this a sign of back weakness, fatigue, or bad posturing?

I wouldn’t do them in the same workout. I’m a big fan of splitting deads and squats/Oly lifts into separate works. That may help. If your shoulder hurt, then I’d suggest working on shoulder, chest, lat and wrist flexibility. Ian King’s Lazy Man’s Guide to Stretching has helped me a lot. It’s worth a shot because if you’re not doing front squats you’re missing out.

Try putting front squats earlier, maybe even first in your workout. If it’s a fatigue issue this should definitely help. I really can’t tell you if this is a form issue because I’ve never seen you squat. Just remember. Keep those elbows up and your eyes forward or slightly angled upwards.

Really try to put deads and squats on different days. Also try bringing the bar right behind your collar bone. Almost to wear its cuttin off your air, but not quite. It’s very uncomfotable but it takes some strain off the shoulders and back.

I was having this same problem until I realized I was shrugging both shoulders up too much once I had the bar racked on them. This caused a lot of fatigue in the traps and shoulders and compromised my air supply. I found that if I kept my shoulders down and mildly retracted and focused instead on keeping my elbows elevated, I could front squat with much less fatigue (and better postural alignment). I should mention I used a crossed-arms style grip. I don’t know how this would work on a clean style grip. Hope that helps.

I think it is just fatigue setting in if your first two sets are fine. If you front dquat in a clean position, one of the things that I make a conscious reminder of is to keep my chest high. That naturally keeps my elbows up. The fact that your thoracic spinal erectors are sore means that they were working on keeping your spine stable. Since I do OL, I find that front squat are more valuable to me than Back squats. Dan John, by the way, thinks that they are the TRUE measure of leg strength.


Something I’ve been wondering about Front squats lately, too: Is there such thing as a wide stance front squat? Meaning, doesn’t the nature of their leverage rely on a fairly close stance?

Are you doing these to improve your Olympic lifting? If so, then ignore my suggestion. If not, then read on. I use the Sting Ray attachment. Iron Dan John will say that using this is the wussy way to do it, and I’m not disagreeing withn him – I am indeed a front squat wuss. But if the choice is between not doing them at all (and I used to never do them) or doing them with the Sting Ray, you’re better off using the Sting Ray.

Even with the attachment, I initially experienced a similar problem – my upper body would fatigue trying to hold the bar up. At the end of a workout my neck and traps felt like they got as much of a workout as my legs. You may also experience the same thing because I bet that you’ll probably be able to use more weight with the Sting Ray than before. But that’s just a matter of building strength in this area.

Once you get adjusted to it, front squats become very comfortable. If you like doing high reps with squats, the Sting Ray works very well because it keeps the bar off of your chest and you can actually take deep breaths between reps unlike with back squats where the bar presses down and severely restricts breathing.

My front squat 1RM is now within 90 lbs. or so of my back squat 1RM and I too prefer the front squat over the back squat as my main leg movement.

The barbell front squat is a phenomenal, yet seldom performed version of the regular barbell squat. This exercise directs a great deal of focus onto the front part of the thigh, especially the vastus medalis, which is the part of the lower thigh above the knee that looks like a teardrop, the rectus femoris, or center thigh, and the hamstrings. There is also an effect on the hips, lower back and to some extent, the abdominal wall. The front squat is not a replacement for the back squat, but if done effectively, can be a tremendous boost to overall lower body strength, development and flexibility.

Front squats are tricky to get used to-but its important that you develop the technical skills needed to become comfortable with this movement. In the majority of cases, people feel awkward when first attempting this exercise, which often results in them failing to include it in their routine.

This movement takes a certain amount of practice and there is a certain level of initial pain and discomfort which the body will adapt to over a period of time-just like when you first begin deadlifting-it takes time for the calluses to develop, but once they are there, you never think about it again-the same is true when you first begin performing the front squat.

The benefits of including the front squat in a training routine can be tremendous if performed correctly. However, many people have difficulty with its performance because of the stress that it can put on the wrists-Fortunately there are several ways to facilitate and work around this. Begin by approaching the barbell in the squat racks and get underneath the bar and place it across your clavicles, as close to the base of the neck as possible. You can use some padding across the upper chest or what seems to give some added cushioning and traction is to simply wear an extra heavy sweat shirt when doing front squats. Raise your arms up until the bar is resting on the groove between the front and middle deltoid. You now have several options for hand placement and support.

You can take a slightly wider than shoulder grip on the bar with the exact same position as if you were cleaning the weight from the floor. This is the best and most stable position, but it is difficult for those with very large arms, those with short arms, those who lack sufficient wrist flexibility, or those with a history of wrist and hand trauma. You will find that increased practice will increase the flexibility of your wrists and hands.

You may also want to practice actually cleaning the weight from the floor and then performing the front squat-doing this seems to set the bar into a natural position for most people. If you still lack wrist flexibility you can still support and balance the bar by keeping an open hand and just using the fingertips to steady the bar across the shoulders. Remember that you only need to support the bar with the tips of your fingers.

I use the three middle fingers of my hands to steady the bar and the top part of the phalanges only come in contact with the bar. If you will take a couple of weeks to practice the clean grip front squat, I promise that the movement will eventually feel completely natural to you.

Another trick is to take a pair of wrist straps and loop them tightly around the bar where your hands would normally be placed. Tie a knot in the end of the straps and then grab the base of each strap with the fists facing each other. This will put you into the same position as if you were using the normal front squat position. Keep your elbows high and parallel to the floor and you are ready to squat. The last method is to cross the arms across the chest, which is a popular method that bodybuilders use when doing front squats-this works especially well for those with thick development in the upper chest and shoulder region, but it is not as stable as the previous methods.

You will want to begin this exercise with relatively light poundage-You will not be able to handle as much weight in the front squat as you can with a regular squat. It will take some time and practice to get used to the balance and the feel of the exercise bar. Take a stance that is about shoulder width with the toes pointed either straight ahead or slightly out. Looking straight ahead, take a breath and tighten your back muscles.

When going down, you need to keep your knees lined up over the tops of your feet. Descend slowly all the way to the bottom position and without bouncing, start to release your breath and drive the bar back up. Keep your back muscles contracted and your elbows up during the entire movement. The real key is to hit rock bottom depth without any kind of bouncing or other ballistic activity. I realize that many fitness experts caution against full squat movements, but I feel that as long as the technique is correct, and there is no bouncing at the bottom, squatting rock bottom is the way to go.

If you are sick and demented individual (which narrows it down to the entire membership of this board) then consider doing a set of front squats-say for 8-10 reps, rack the bar and immediately put the bar on your back and do back squats with the same weight for the same number of reps!!!

Front squats will produce lower body strength, quad roundness and sweeps like no other exercise. The reason they are seldom performed is because they are so darn tough and demanding-but the results will be worth it!

Hope that Helps


P.S. The guy in the pic has TERRIBLE FORM, but I love his training atmosphere!

Everybody go a’ front squattin’ in the woods…yeah, yeah, yeah…

Sorry. Maybe a little too much coffee today.

Great post Keith. So, hum, I assume you like front squats? J/K

Very instructive, but why does it target the vastus medialis, precisely? I thought this was more an effect of the (usually) close stance user in front squat.

[quote]Minotaur wrote:
Something I’ve been wondering about Front squats lately, too: Is there such thing as a wide stance front squat? Meaning, doesn’t the nature of their leverage rely on a fairly close stance?[/quote]

I’ve found that I seem to front squat more weight when I using a shoulder width or narrower stance. When I front squat wider than that, I have trouble staying ‘tight’ and I just don’t feel as stable.

Probably because the weight is in front of your body creating more of a forward stress on the legs, as opposed to a conventional squat, which tends to hit more of the rearward portion of the legs. Also, I think it has something to do with the fact you have to keep an upright stance when front squatting. People that tend to squat in a very upright/Olympic style manner tend to have good lower quad development as well.

[quote]Zen warrior wrote:
Great post Keith. So, hum, I assume you like front squats? J/K

Very instructive, but why does it target the vastus medialis, precisely? I thought this was more an effect of the (usually) close stance user in front squat.[/quote]

It’s because of the forward motion of the knee and the degree of flexion - you get the same effect doing close stance back squats or really deep lunges, for example. The VM is responsible for both knee extension (in part, obviously) and patellar tracking stabilization - when there’s more motion about the knee, it has to do these things to a greater extent. I guess if you flexibility was freakin’ nuts you could get the same thing with a wide stance, but less forward motion is usually possible with a wider stance.