CrossFit Quarterfinals Test 4 — The Benefits of Front Squats In Strength Sports

The front squat is a beneficial lift for strongmen, Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, and CrossFitters.

The benefits of the front squat are plentiful. They work the quads, upper back, spinal erectors, and abdominals. They offer more quad mass, greater knee-joint stability and can help improve other strength-sport-related movements. For Olympic weightlifters, the front squat can improve performance in the clean & jerk. For powerlifting, the added quad strength has direct crossover to heavier back squats. For strongmen, improving front-load performance can translate to better performance in loading medleys and the squat. And for CrossFit athletes, it can prepare them for the Quarterfinals.

The 2021 CrossFit Games Quarterfinals consisted of five tests. Test four tasked participants to hit a four-rep max (4RM) front squat. Below, we dive into the unique benefits that a front squat offers each strength sport in addition to CrossFit — weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, strongman — and highlight other heavy lifts by athletes in that sport.

CrossFit Quarterfinals Test Four Results

Note: These submissions are self-reported by athletes and then verified by CrossFit HQ. These results are subject to change.

Women’s Division

  • Lee Keyrouz, South Africa — 142.9 kilograms (315 pounds)
  • Ana C. Caldas, Portugal — 141.5 kilograms (312 pounds)
  • Morgan Reynolds, USA — 138.4 kilograms (305 pounds)

Men’s Division

  • Stephen Wallace, USA — 206.4 kilograms (455 pounds)
  • Sam Dancer, USA — 204.1 kilograms (450 pounds)
  • Brad Heimer, USA — 204.1 kilograms (450 pounds)

In the women’s division, Keyrouz, an IFBB pro bodybuilder, scored first in the world by three pounds. She came dangerously close to furthering her lead when she attempted 147.9 kilograms (326 pounds) but failed on the fourth and final rep. Check out the video of her performance below courtesy of her Instagram page:

Note: the video on Keyrouz’s Instagram page was originally posted on the CrossFit Games Instagram page: @crossfitgames

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Lee Keyrouz (@leekeyrouz_ifbbpro)

 

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CrossFit Quarterfinals Test Four

Forty-one athletes representing the USA hit 400-plus pounds in test four. Eleven athletes did the same in Europe, six in South America, five in Asia, three in Oceania, and none in Africa.

If 400-pounds was the benchmark for the men’s division’s top finishers, 300 pounds appeared to be the benchmark for the strongest performers in the women’s division. Keyrouz and Caldas were the only female athletes from Africa and Europe, respectively, to break through the 300-pound milestone. Reynolds and Callerina Key (300-pound 4RM) were the only two to do so from North America. Gabriella Moratti was the lone lifter from South America to score over 300 pounds (302-pound 4RM). Zero athletes in Asia and Oceania were able to score at or over 300 pounds.

Four-time Fittest Woman on Earth® Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr, who won the 2021 CrossFit Open, was Oceania’s first-place finisher in test four with a 127.9-kilogram (282-pound) 4RM.

[Related: Emma Cary: Can a 16-Year Old CrossFit Phenom Make This Year’s Podium?]

Front Squats For Strongman

Like Olympic weightlifting, the front squat is not an event in strongman competition, but you will likely see most strongmen performing front squats in training. 2021 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) competition Robert Oberst has said training the front squat is just as important as training the back squat. A major difference between the two movements is the loaded barbell sits in front of the lifter for the front squat, not on their back, so it’s a bit more spine-friendly. That’s important for athletes who are under heavy loads quite often.

Heavy Strongman Front Squats

To get an idea of the range of weight elite strongman front squat in training, Oberst went as high as 224.5 kilograms (495 pounds) on his high volume training day. Similarly, American log lift record holder Rob Kearney hits sets of 215 kilograms (474 pounds) on his high-volume days. When Larry Wheels went for a front squat PR in 2019, he hit a 4RM of 260 kilograms (573 pounds).

In 2019, Martins Licis won the WSM contest and front-squatted 230 kilograms (507.1 pounds) alongside Jujimufu. Licis takes his front squat training even further by utilizing a unique variation called the zombie squat — something he picked up in training with Squat University.

Since most strongman contests are not tests of maximal strength the way a powerlifting competition is, it is not often that you’ll see a strongman shoot for a 1RM on their front squat in training. Rather they will focus on volume since competitions, more often than not, care about max reps in the squat events.

[Related: How Strongman Oleksii Novikov Trains Before Competition]

Front Squats For Olympic Weightlifting

Olympic weightlifters perform just two movements in competition — the snatch and the clean & jerk. Once an athlete performs a successful clean, standing up from the bottom position is functionally a front squat before hitting the jerk. Heavy front squats are a mainstay of many weightlifters’ training programs.

At a baseline, strengthening the front squat strengthens the front rack position. This helps maintain a taught core and straight back when catching a clean and driving the bar up during a jerk. Building better endurance in the front rack position will offer the ability to perform higher volume with heavier loads without compromising proper technique.

Heavy Weightlifting Front Squats

Team USA member and 2018 Pan American Champion Wes Kitts, who competes in the 105-kilogram weight class, has hit a 255-kilogram (562.2-pound) front squat. Other members of Team USA also are quite impressive with a barbell on their collar bone. Harrison Maurus is on film at age 18, hitting a 240-kilogram (529.1-pound) front squat. CJ Cummings has hit a 222-kilogram (489.2-pound) double.

2016 Rio Olympic Games silver medalist in the 85-kilogram class, Tian Tao of China, trains with 280-kilogram (617.3-pound) front squats. Tao Wenli of China also trains super heavy front squats — like the time he hit one that was 3.6 times his body weight (197 kilograms (434.3 pounds) at 55 kilograms).

Even Olympic weightlifters on the younger side prove their strength via their prowess in the front squat. At 19 years of age, Keydomar Vallenilla of Venezuela front squatted 280 kilograms (617.3 pounds) — 3.1 times his competition bodyweight of 89 kilograms. Bulgaria’s Ivan Ivanov has hit a 210-kilogram (463-pound) double — an incredible feat considering it was within range of four times his body weight (he competed at 56 kilograms at the time).

[Related: Why Front Rack Split Squats Are The Best Unilateral Leg Exercise For Weightlifters]

Front Squats For Powerlifting

The front squat can improve quad development, anterior core strength, and overall leg development. Those traits all translate to performing heavier squats and potentially stronger deadlifts depending on the choice of stance — sumo or conventional. (Both stances put the bulk of the stress on the glutes, core, hamstrings, and back, but those who lift sumo put a much larger emphasis on the quads and adductors due to the wider stance.)

[Related: Chains and Bands Are the Secrets to Stronger Front Squats]

Heavy Powerlifting Front Squats 

Super heavyweight Jezze Uepa‘s 405-kilogram (892.9-pound) front squat the heaviest ever filmed (that we know of). He’s also made a 370-kilogram (815.7-pound) front squat double look casual. According to the intensity-effort table used to calculate 1RM, a max-effort 4RM is done with 90 percent of one’s 1RM. Considering Uepa weighs 420 pounds, his calculated 4RM front squat (804 pounds) would be 1.9 times his body weight. 

There is likely more footage of heavy front squats by powerlifters circulating the internet than any other strength sports. Six-time International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Championships medalist Mike Tuchscherer is on tape hitting a 256.3-kilogram (565-pound) front squat with a safety squat bar. Using that same equipment, Kevin Oak has smashed a 317-kilogram (698.9-pound) front squat. At the age of 17, super heavyweight Jackson Powell hit a 306.2-kilogram (675-pound) front squat.

[Related: Pros and Cons of the Safety Squat Bar for Front Squats]

Front Squats For Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders are focused on one thing — aesthetics. Front squats are more quad-dominant movement, so many bodybuilders will rep them out to pack on front-of-the-leg mass.

Heavy Bodybuilding Front Squats

It’s not common for bodybuilders to test their 1RM, though it does happen. Typically, these athletes stick for high-volume sets to elicit more mechanical tension for hypertrophy. Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman has hit a 500-pound front squat in training.

Front Squat Future

There is no doubt that strength sports athletes, whether they be powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, strongmen, or CrossFitters, should train the front squat. The strength gains it offers to the quads, core, and back are invaluable for improving the clean & jerk, the squat, or, apparently, one’s rank on the 2021 CrossFit leaderboard.

It’s safe to assume we’ll see strength-based events again during the 2021 CrossFit Games season and beyond. Those who front squat aggressively in the gym are likely to be the most prepared for whatever is thrown their way — whether it be a 4RM like Quarterfinals test four, a barbell complex like what we saw in Open workout 21.4, or an event like the CrossFit Total from the 2020 CrossFit Games.

Featured image: @leekeyrouz_ifbbpro