Front Squat Guide

Front Squats: The Complete Guide

Front squats are a variation of the squat exercise, and they are very good for the lower body, mostly working the quads, which are your front thighs and your glutes as you thrust forward. But they’re also a solid upper body lift as it hits your upper back a bit.

Why are front squats superior to back squats?

  • Front squats are easier on your back because you use a lighter weight, meaning that your spine will be less compressed by the weight.
  • Because the weight is out in front of you, you can sink down deeper because you have a counterbalance. When you sink down deeper, you can get more range of motion (more space between the femur and hips) leading to more muscle growth and more 3D muscles—even when using a lighter weight.
  • Front squats are just a lot easier on the knees. (And I’ve got bad news from skateboarding back in the day.)
  • Front squats might be safer than a back squat because if the weight is too heavy, you can just dump it. Where with a back squat, you need to make sure you’re squatting in a cage/rack with safety pins to catch the weight if you can’t stand back up.
  • It’s a good variation of the squat, and if you’re going to be lifting weights for many years, you’re going to have to change things up to avoid injuries and tissue overuse. And the front squat is just another great option to throw into your workouts as a squat variation.
  • Front squats are more of a full-body lift because you have to stabilize your upper back and your shoulders. I don’t really have an interest in making my legs overly big, and the front squat teaches my legs to get as big as the weight my upper body can handle.

How do you do the front squat position

First, you need to decide which type of grip you’re going to do. There are many different types of grips, such as the classic two-finger clean grip, the cross-grip, and some people even use straps to hold the bar up if they don’t have good wrist mobility. I personally use the two-finger clean grip as demonstrated here by Eric Cressey:

Front Squat Form Set-Up

  • Make sure your safety pins are set-up to the right height
  • You’re going to step in to the barbell
  • You’re going to set up your grip
  • Make sure that the bar is sitting right on top of the little notches of where your arm meets your shoulders and just going to sit there like a shelf
  • Then you’re going to stand up and lift the weight 
  • Then you’re going to step back—one step, two steps
  • Then you’re going to take a deep breath in and brace and sink deep down like you’re just going to sit 
  • When you reach your natural spot where you can’t go any deeper, you going to push off from the ground, stand up, and thrust your glutes at the same time 
  • And that’s one rep, so you’re going to do that for a few reps
  • And then at the end, you’re going to walk forward and push the barbell into the rack until it hits hard and makes a clanking noise and then you know that when you drop it and when you sit down a bit more than the barbell will be caught by the j-cups.

If you want to see how a front squat looks like in the video, my business partner Marco has this great little video here:

How do I keep my front squat upright?

Sometimes when you’re learning this lift, it will feel like the weight is falling forward, and that’s normal, and through more practice, you’ll get better at this and eventually, it won’t be a problem anymore.

So just keep that in mind that practice will solve this issue is not something that you need to think too much about but rather just something you need to show up try your best to go to sleep, and your body will fix it.

But there are a few things you can try. The first thing is that if the weight is too heavy for your upper body, then your upper back will naturally round, and the weight will start rolling off your shoulders, so the key is to keep your upper back up your chest up and making a stable shelf for that week to sit on your shoulders. So a big part of that is just developing your upper back strength, which is why the front squat is great. And so, choosing a lighter weight will allow you to develop that strength. That said, choosing a lighter weight will also mean that your legs may not get full stimulus to grow. So for a few weeks, the front squat may be mainly in the upper back lift until your upper back strengthens.

Another reason that your front squat is having a hard time keeping upright is because you’re a little bit tight in your lats. A lot of desk workers have this issue because they sit with poor posture all day because of their chairs. You could do some foam rolling before you lift to increase mobility in your back. That way, you can get your arms more overhead. A good test that I like to do is the overhead test here (Back to Wall Shoulder Extension) that Eric Cressey demonstrates because if you can’t do this exercise well, you may not be able to do the front squat well. 

Now, this isn’t a discouragement for desk workers because I am a desk worker, and I would highly recommend doing a front squat because it will help your posture in your upper back. But it’ll take some work.

Now some people have very tight wrists, and they can’t bend their wrists back very well, and so the weight is always kind of pulling forward on their wrists, making the weight roll forward. If that sounds like you and you don’t want to put the work in to develop your wrist mobility, as demonstrated in Marcos’s front squat video above, then you could always try the cross grip, which would remove that as an issue and see if your front squat gets better.

How can I make my front squat more comfortable?

I’m guessing that this question means that you find the barbell painful on your shoulders and your neck. If that’s the case, then practice will solve it. I remember feeling like it kind of hurt to have a lot of weight just sitting on an area without a lot of muscle. But eventually, that pain just went away. The other thing that was kind of annoying is kind of his choking feeling of the barbell pressing up against your throat, but if you try and make a double chin and get tall and you do your proper bracing, were you taking a deep breath of air for your chest then that issue should go away as well. This comes back to the idea of practice makes perfect, and every exercise that you attempt for the first time will be a little uncomfortable. So don’t let that discourage you. You can master the front squat, and it’s a really good lift to try and master—it’s worth it.

Why are front squats so hard?

After mastering both the front squat and back squat, I actually prefer the front squat because it actually works my body in the way I want it to be worked. I want to be able to use my legs in their full range of motion I want to use my upper back. I want to use my anterior core—my front core. And so I find that the front squat is a better lift. But for somebody who is less athletic and less mobile, the exercise might feel a lot harder. 

With a back squat, the hardest part is the amount of weight that you will use. With a front squat, the hardest part will be the overall athleticism that you will need to do it. So why does it feel hard for you? That would depend on the weak spots in your body. 

  • Do you have a weak upper back?
  • Are your wrists not flexible?
  • Do you have weak legs when you get below parallel when squatting because you’ve never squatted this deep before?

These are questions that are unique to you, but I am confident that if you work on your front squat, your overall athleticism will improve.

Can I replace back squats with front squats?

It depends on your goals. If you were trying to become a powerlifter and you need to do the back squat in your competition, then obviously you’ll want to you practicing your back squat. You can still use the front squat as an accessory exercise for overall growth, but if you want to get good at the back squat, you need to do the back squat.

But if you’re just trying to become bigger, stronger, more athletic, faster, or jump higher? Then, of course, you could add in the front squat for the back squat. In fact, I would say that it would probably be the better option because of the things that we cover before with the greater range of motion, it being more natural, it being more athletic, and it being full body, etc.

Are front squats dangerous?

Well, I would ask—are they dangerous compared to what? As far as lifting weights goes, there are many more dangerous types of exercise in terms of injuries like running or playing sports. Lifting weights—the biggest danger is either getting pinned under a barbell or dropping a weight on your foot. 

With the front squat, what’s nice is that the weight is in front of you and not stacked on your back, and so you can dump the weight—you can throw the weight off your body. You won’t get pinned under it like you might with a barbell back squat without a cage. So I find the front squat safer than the back squat. 

Especially since with the front squat, you need less weight compared to the back squat to stimulate your legs because of the greater range of motion. And so that’s another reason why it’s safer—you’re putting less weight on your back and less weight on your knees, etc.

Are front squats bad for knees?

No, they are better on your knees, and I think that’s one reason why I like them better compared to the back squat. I had really bad knees growing up. I skateboarded a lot, and I played a lot of sports to the point where I had to get knee surgery. When your front squat, you use less weight, and that means that there is less weight on your knee joint—that’s good. And when you front squat because you have the weight as a counterbalance, your upper body has to stay more upright and more like a straight line. And so what that does is it stops your knee from going too far over your toes, and that reduces a lot of stress on the knee joint. Obviously, we’re all a little bit different, so the front squat might hit your knees in a bad way, but I find it much easier for my knees and with my clients I never really hear them complaining about knee pain when doing front squats. (Usually only when doing back squats.)

Do front squats build abs?

Front squats have the weight in front of you, which automatically turns on your front core or which is called your anterior core. When that anterior core is working, then you will build muscle there. The question is, will that amount of work be enough to cause your abs to need to gain muscle?

I’m not so sure about that, but I’m certain it wouldn’t hurt, and it will help teach you how to use your core better especially compared to a back squat. 

But if your goal is to get big 3D looking abs and obliques, I definitely would do some big compound movements like a front squat, but I would also add in some isolation exercises for the abs. Make sure to try and hit your upper and lower abs so that would include movements where you bring your head down to your abs for your upper abs and then bringing your legs up to your abs for your lower abs. So you can be doing some things like a myotatic crunch for your upper abs and a hanging leg raise for your lower abs.

How do I make my front squat stronger?

Like all muscle building, the best way to make your muscles stronger is by using progressive overload. That means that you will try and add more weight. When you can’t add more weight, you will need to find another way to do overload, and the most popular way would be to add more sets. Another way is just to try and help balance the body out, and that means getting good at doing an exercise in a wide variety of rep ranges. 

For example, you should try and get good at front squatting with a 5-rep max to develop your strength, but you should also try and get good at doing a 15-rep max front squat, which will also help your 5-rep max. 

Frequency is also a very potent way of adding more volume across the week. So let’s say that you can only realistically do five sets of front squats in one exercise session before you’re toast. Then the next thing would be to add another exercise session with five sets of squats. So you could do front squats on Monday with 5 reps, and then you can do front squats again on Friday with 15 reps. You would now be hitting your legs two times a week with a wide variety of rep ranges that are all pushing you to grow.

Keep in mind that there are other factors outside of lifting that will lead to muscle growth, such as making sure that your calories are on point and that you’re getting enough protein, and that you’re getting enough sleep. So it helps to look at how your other lifts are doing and see if it’s a problem with your front squat specifically. If all your lifts are doing badly, then you should probably be looking at factors outside of lifting, such as your diet and sleep. If only your front squat is lagging, you can give it more attention. Move it earlier in your training session, do it more often, do more volume, etc.

What’s a good front squat weight?

This is a super non-objective question, so it’s really just up for anyone’s opinion. But I would say that to be considered as a strong dude, I’d guess that most guys say that you should be able to squat a couple of plates, which is 225 lb for a few reps. Now, if you were going to switch that into a front squat, that might be something like 185 pounds for five reps. That would make you stronger than pretty much any guy that you would come across in the modern population and make you look stronger than—pretty much any guy in the modern population. But like all things, we get compared using relativity, and so if you want to judge yourself against an athlete or a bodybuilder, you’re going to have to get your numbers up a lot higher to compete with them. So it really depends on which gym you’re going to, where you live, what your age is, etc. So just pay attention and see what else other people are from squatting and use that as motivation to get your front squat better.

If you want to know how to build muscle and aesthetic way, get bigger and stronger and leaner all at the same time, we can teach you how to do that in our True Gains program. We include front squats in them because we think that they are the best variation of squats—hands down. 

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