When it comes to powerlifting, the squat, bench, and deadlift are king — but if that’s all you do in the gym, there’s a good chance you’ll end up either burnt out or just straight-up bored. I’ve written before about different variations on the competition lifts, and why they’re beneficial, check out the articles below in case you need a refresher.
Now, when you’re choosing variations, you have to pick the movements that have the most carryover — that is, they benefit your competition lifts the most. Those “magic movements” will be different for everyone, but there are a few variations that benefit nearly everyone. And of those, my personal favorite is the front squat.
The front squat can strengthen your core, quads, and upper back more than nearly every other movement you could perform in the gym. It also doesn’t require a whole lot of weight to be effective, making it an excellent movement to include on your lighter training days — you can get stronger without beating yourself into the ground.
But it has some drawbacks, too. First, the front squat requires a pretty fair amount of mobility (more than the back squat does, at least for most people). Second, it can be really difficult to support the bar on your chest, especially when you’re working up into heavier weights or performing multiple reps.
Fortunately, there are some ways you can make it easier. Here are three tips for improving your front squat — and while there’s no guarantee they’ll work for you, I strongly encourage you to give them a try and see if they help!
Front Squat Tips
Tip 1: Try Different Ways of Holding the Bar
Holding the bar is perhaps the most challenging part of a heavy front squat. You definitely don’t want to end up like this:
Now, if you watch a lot of Olympic weightlifters, you’re probably familiar with the classic rack position, but there are other methods you can choose, especially if you don’t possess the wrist or shoulder mobility of an Olympic lifter. The crossed-arm style that Dan Green uses is one of the most popular:
But you can also use the “Superman” or “Zombie” style, too, with your arms straight out in front of you. This one isn’t my go-to, but it’s worth a shot if you’re struggling. No matter what style you choose, the most important thing is that you keep your elbows higher than your shoulders. When your elbows drop, you’re likely to lean forward, shift the emphasis from your quads and core to your lower back, and miss the lift.
Really struggling? Try using straps to hold the bar in the classic position. This will allow you to keep your elbows up without quite so much flexibility.
Tip 2: Wear a Pair of Weightlifting Shoes (or Improve Your Mobility)
Another major issue with front squats: they require significantly more ankle mobility than back squats do, because your knees must travel forward more in the front squat than the back. (This is because holding the bar on your chest shifts your center of gravity forward, and you must push your knees forward more and keep your hips closer to the bar to compensate and avoid falling over.)
A quick solution? Use weightlifting shoes. For most people, the elevated heel on weightlifting shoes will reduce the need for ankle flexibility, help shift emphasis to the quads, and — perhaps most importantly — give you a stable base for your feet. The foot is incredibly important for all squats, like the Kabuki Strength team explains here:
Tip 3: Be Safe
The last big problem with the front squat: it’s not possible to get a spot on this movement (and please, please don’t try). Most Olympic weightlifters just bail when they can’t complete a lift, and that’s a perfectly fine way to miss — if you have access to bumper plates and a safe platform, and if your gym is okay with it.
If not, please, please, please squat in a power rack with the safety pins set to a height that allows you to set the bar down under control if you’re not able to complete a lift. Powerlifting can be dangerous. Don’t make it even more dangerous by failing to take time to set up with the proper equipment.
Got front squat tips of your own? Share them in the comments!
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.
Feature image from baranq/Shutterstock.