2 Front Loaded Squat Variations Every Lifter Needs More Of

How often are you programming front loaded squat variations?

The back squat, a.k.a what many refer to as the king of all exercises, is often discussed as an exercise that everyone should be able to perform. For some, the ability to squat is viewed similarly to being able to crawl as a baby — who else has seen that meme of the baby sitting in the ass to grass to squat? 

For some lifters, the back squat comes easy, but for some of us we have to work at it constantly, and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. Sure, a lot of us can eventually work into positions and squat just fine, but how often do you have squat days that feel amazing across the board? You know, when nothing feels off whatsoever.

This quarantine, I vowed to improve a lot aspects of my fitness that had been neglected over the last few years of training — one of these areas was comfort in the squat. To remedy this I started only working front loaded squats and the changes have been amazing, so I wanted to share two variations that everyone should try to implement more!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Zercher Squat
Zercher Squat

Why Anteriorly Loaded?

Before we dive into the two squat variations below, let’s first cover why front loaded squats are so dang great. Since the load is placed on the front of the body, then three things will naturally happen as we squat:

  1. The torso will naturally fight to stay upright more, which in turn will help the core engage to a higher degree and the quads will be highly active.
  2. The hips will feel more balanced when breaking and achieving depth due to the lack of posterior load forcing a weight shift forward.
  3. Imbalances will be highlighted that may not have been present when frequently back squatting.

Look, there’s no denying that if you compete in strength sports, then you need the specificity of the back squat. However, including more anteriorly/front loaded squats are a great way to provide balance to training and to avoid building up imbalances.

On top of that, they’re challenging and can provide benefit to areas of the body and fitness that are not heavily focused on in the back squat.

1. Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is often seen as a “beginner” or a warm-up exercise, but it’s far from it. When performed with strategy it can be really useful for improving positioning in the squat, along with increasing hypertrophy, strength, and power.

Popular Variations

  • Kettlebell Goblet Squat
  • Dumbbell Goblet Squat
  • Sandbag Goblet Squat

Ways to Make Them Harder

Below are three ways to program goblet squats to facilitate particular adaptations 

  • Hypertrophy: Add a 1/2 rep. A great way to increase time under tension with this exercise is to perform a 1 1/2 rep variation.
  • Strength: Use tempo. Strength is control and by using a tempo and pauses in the goblet, you can improve both mechanical and positional strength.
    • Goblet Squat x 8 (4110 tempo)
  • Power: Try post-activation potentiation. The goblet squat could be used in a PAP training style by coupling a heavy goblet squat with something like a tuck jump.
    • A1. Heavy Goblet Squat x 3 reps
      • Rest: 60-90 seconds
    • A2. Tuck Jump x 5 reps

2. Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat can seem like an intimidating exercise at first. However, once the unique loading style is acclimated to, it can become an amazing exercise for strengthening the quads, glutes, core, and mechanics of the squat.

For Zercher newbies, I’d highly suggest rocking a long sleeve shirt for the first few training sessions to avoid the knurling digging into the arms.

Popular Variations

There are a lot of ways to program and modify this exercise. For example, you can modify the implement being held or the squat style being performed to cater to your goals or needs.

  • Zercher Split Squat
    • Front foot elevated
    • Back Foot elevated
  • Zercher Lunge
  • Sandbag Zercher Squat
  • Dumbbell Zercher Squat

Ways to Make Them Harder

Interested in making a tough exercise tougher? Try adding accommodating resistance to make this exercise even more brutal.

  • Strength/Power: Add accommodating resistance. By using chain and bands, your Zercher squat intensity will be taken to another level, but be forewarned — keep the accommodating resistance lighter!

Wrapping Up

If you are back squatting 24/7, then you could be leaving gains on the table. Try adding a block in the off-season to only pursue and improve on front loaded squats and watch your numbers and body thank you!

Feature image from Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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