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The Front Squat

Published: 2021-11-12
The Front Squat
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The front squat is a vital exercise for weightlifters that employ the squat style of cleaning (nearly 100% of today’s lifters). It’s very specific to the recovery stage of a squat clean, so it makes sense to regularly include this exercise.

All the finer points of this lift are well covered in the SportsEdTV weightlifting library.

Squatting and Gadgets: Will It Ever End?

The resistance training industry is nothing if not inventive. Many traditional movements that require nothing but a barbell and a human to lift it eventually evolve into another piece of equipment to be purchased with the goal of making the exercise more convenient. Marketing campaigns often provide interesting reading. And certainly, additional sales add to a company’s bottom line.

Regardless of its specific type, squatting is one of the most demanding exercises available. As a result, squatting always seems to fit into this “build a better mousetrap” mentality. In years past we have seen various devices introduced to make squatting more comfortable. Some of these include:

  • the Smith machine (actually not a good idea for squats)
  • several angled machines that do not depict normal squatting posture
  • machines with which to perform belt squats
  • manta ray pads, front or back, for comfort
  • cambered or “safety” squat bars
  • hack squat machines

Google squat machines to see the many varieties available. These devices may mimic the squat or make squatting more comfortable, and they probably do work the intended muscle groups, but a valid question may be, “Why?”

The Front Squat

Let’s consider the front squat, a movement that for one reason or another seems to challenge many. The front squat is often perceived by newcomers as being very uncomfortable. Some find it difficult to properly grasp the barbell in its intended position on slightly elevated deltoids (shoulder muscles) and the clavicles. This does require flexible wrists, elbows, shoulders, and numerous muscles of the upper back.


Bruce Klemens Photography        

USA’s Phil Grippaldi (90kg) and URS’s Vyacheslav Klokov (110kg) exhibit perfect front squat positions, including a full grip on the bar.

Many lifters move their elbows much higher than needed, essentially locating the upper arms parallel to, or nearly parallel to, the platform. Typically, newcomers also have their elbows facing inward, rather than straight ahead as seen in experienced weightlifters.

In years past we’ve seen variations in the front squat for those who cannot perform the exercise properly, meaning they cannot fully grasp the bar. Rather than address any apparent mobility/flexibility flaw(s), weight trainees often seek a work-around.

First, many lifters simply grasp the bar on fingertips. This can be a precarious position in which to attempt to rack the barbell and recover during a clean. Many do get away with this modification. But it’s not unknown to see the fingertips slip from the bar, often resulting in a missed lift.

Traditionally, this has been a violation of weightlifting’s technical rules, since the lift must be performed with two hands. In the recent past the rules were changed so if an athlete loses their grip while maintaining the bar on the shoulders, the lifter may recover and if possible, replace the hands on the barbell.

Years ago, bodybuilders, often not known for great flexibility in the upper body,  simply crossed their arms, while holding the barbell properly on the shoulders. This can work, but it eliminates any possibility of utilizing the arms to assist in rising from the bottom.

In more recent years we’ve seen variations in which weightlifting pulling straps encircle the bar, leaving the tail section available to grip. Again, this achieves a possible solution for those who cannot properly grasp the barbell, but the upper extremities remain inactive during recovery. For lifters, this is not sport-specific training.

Recently, a new device called  a front squat harness has been introduced. It’s a  relatively odd-looking contraption that holds the barbell on pegs close to a front squat position. The user holds onto another set of pegs, once again eliminating the possibility of upper body activation.

What’s Your Solution for Front Squats?

All of these modifications to front squat performance allow for those with poor mobility (or injury) to perform the exercise. As with many of the squat machine options, one of these in every gym may be practical.

But one must again wonder, why not improve that part of the body that keeps proper performance from occurring? Unless the individual has a serious injury or is of an age where flexibility improvements are unlikely, simply taking the time to increase mobility in those areas of the body that prohibit a good rack position in front squats seems the best solution.