Before becoming a competitive strongman and mainstay of the elite tier of strongmen in the world, Robert Oberst played football. When a career in the National Football League (NFL) was not to be, the six-foot, seven-inch tall, 400-plus pound athlete took immediately to strongman and saw success in the gym despite never having trained for it.
In an interview with BarBend, he shared that on his first day training strongman, he hit a 159-kilogram (350-pound) lift log press — nine kilograms more than the amateur record at the time. He would eventually claim the American log lift record and hold it for four years until it was claimed by Rob Kearney.
Nowadays, Oberst is one of the most recognizable strongmen in the sport, and his competitive strongman career speaks for itself. He has qualified for the World’s Strongest Man competition every year since 2013 — the only outlier being 2017 due to a biceps injury. Part of his success comes from having great form on foundational movements in the gym, such as the front squat.
Oberst took to his YouTube channel to share with his 263,000 subscribers how to properly perform the movement and discuss why, for him, it is more important than the back squat.
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Oberst starts by pointing out how many people compromise their form just from the placement of the barbell on their shoulders. He demonstrates that most people will hold the barbell with their hands and flare their elbows in front of them to maintain balance. However, without very impressive mobility, “it starts to jam up their wrists.”
For Oberst, the best way to prepare the barbell is to tuck it right up against his collarbone, cross his arms, and place his thumbs against the barbell. From there, keeping his elbows high and tight and “pushing the barbell in” with his thumbs allows him to maintain an upright position, balance the weight, and keep his wrists safe.
You’re going to have to teach yourself that it’s okay to be uncomfortable.
Most often with exercises in the gym, if there is discomfort, it is a sign something is wrong. In this case, that is something that will go away after the first four to five sessions, according to Oberst.
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Oberst highlights the flexibility benefits offered by the front squat that is not offered by the back squat. He offers some advice to the athletes who have to lean far forward when performing their back squat: “A lot of those guys could benefit from putting the bar on their collarbone rather than on their back.”
When the weight is heavy enough, it has a tendency to balance itself assuming there is proper mobility in the hips to stay upright. There will be a lot of pressure on the upper back, but it should be manageable if the barbell is placed tight enough against the collarbone with high and tight elbows.
The more it weighs, the more it holds itself in place.
Oberst finishes out his training session with walking lunges — an important accessory exercise for improving his flexibility and ultimately improve his squat.
Feature image from Robert Oberst’s Instagram page: @robertoberst