Front Squats: A New Exercise?
The front squat is one of the most popular exercises used in weight training programs today. With its wide range of uses, it’s easy to see why so many are familiar with it. However, there are some misconceptions about the exercise that need to be cleared up before we can move on to other topics.
First off, the front squat isn’t just a back extension exercise; it’s not even just a “squat” exercise. Rather, it’s a combination of both movements. You do one movement first, then perform the other movement after completing the prescribed number of repetitions.
For example, if you’re doing a set of five reps with your back squat, you’d complete three sets of four reps with your front squats (five total).
Another misconception is that the front squat is only good for building upper body strength; it doesn’t address lower body development at all. While this may be true for certain individuals, it’s simply not true for everyone. There are several reasons why this is the case.
For starters, the front squat is a compound movement. That means that it involves multiple muscle groups working together to produce greater results than would occur if each group worked separately. When performing compound exercises like the front squat, you’re using multiple muscles in different ways depending upon which side of your body you start from when performing the lift.
For example, when using a narrow grip (inside of your arms against your sides), you’re going to get more of a stretch on the outside of your thighs. This position also helps to stretch out the outside of your hips and your lower back if you have any issues in this area. If you have mobility issues with either, you may need to widen your grip.
The other side of the spectrum is using a wide grip. This will put more stretch on your chest and shoulders to get into position to perform the lift; this position also helps to stretch out your inside thighs, which can be useful for some people.
Now we come to one of the most important factors to consider when deciding if the front squat is right for you. The bar position. There are three different bar positions for the front squat; high bar, low bar and a hybrid position that’s halfway between the other two.
Each of these positions puts the bar in a different place on your back to allow you to perform the lift in a certain way. Not everyone can use the same bar position due to differences in body structure (especially those with long legs), so you’ll need to experiment a bit to find which position is best for you.
High Bar: This is the traditional position that most Olympic lifters use for the back squat, so it places more emphasis on your quadriceps.
Low Bar: This bar position shifts more of the load towards the middle of your body; this allows for a bit more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings.
Hybrid: This is a combination of the other two positions, so it borrows the best from both worlds.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s talk about the actual lifts you’re going to be performing. The first one is going to be a simple exercise to get you warmed up and ready to go.
The Dumbbell RDL
I like this movement for a few reasons. For starters, it helps warm up your hips and works on your squat form without the need for a mirror since you just watch yourself in the video. It’s also relatively easy to learn, so you can start it right away.
The only equipment you need for this exercise is a pair of dumbbells. Pick a weight that’s about half of what you’d use for a normal set of eight.
Stand with your feet just beyond shoulder width, toes pointing slightly out. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips and bend forward until you’re parallel to the floor. Be sure to keep your back flat and only go as low as you can while still maintaining the proper form.
Pause at the bottom for a second and squeeze your glutes before returning to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Perform 3 sets of 8 reps before moving on to the next exercise.
The Barbell Front Squat
This is the first movement you’re going to perform for the day, so you want to make sure you’ve warmed up properly. I’d recommend performing the dumbbell RDL for 5-6 reps for your first few sessions and only add more when you feel ready.
There’s not much to say about how to perform front squats; just make sure to keep your elbows high so the bar stays over your body. If you have a shoulder injury, you may want to wrap it for extra support.
Perform 3 sets of 5-7 reps with a weight that’s about half of what you’d use for traditional back squats.
The Barbell Step-Up
The step-up is a simple movement that’s great for developing your legs and core. You can perform this with two dumbbells or a barbell, whichever you prefer.
Begin by placing your left foot on a bench that’s about knee height, while holding a weight in your right hand. Without letting your left foot touch the ground, step up and forward with your right foot so you return to the starting position. Perform all your reps on one side and then switch legs.
Perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps on each leg before moving on to the next exercise.
The Barbell Lunge
Lunges are a great exercise for developing the muscles of your thighs and hips, while also improving your balance and coordination.
You’ll need a barbell for this exercise so pick a weight that’s a bit lighter than what you’d normally use for squats. You’ll also need a partner for this exercise.
Have your partner hold the bar in a squat rack at about hip height. Take a wide stance with your toes pointing out slightly and keep your back straight. Slowly drop down so your thighs are parallel to the floor and then push yourself back up to the starting position.
Your partner should then rack the bar and hand you a heavier weight, which you’ll do for another set before swapping.
Perform 4 sets of 6-8 reps on each leg before moving one.
The Barbell Deadlift
Like the squat, you want to warm up with a lighter weight before jumping right into the main exercise. Unlike the squat, however, you don’t necessarily need a partner to help you spot on this exercise.
Warming up is the same as your normal deadlift routine but for your working sets, use about half of what you normally do. When you feel comfortable with this weight, add some more over time.
Perform 3 sets of 5-7 reps.
Putting It All Together
After a few weeks, your deadlift should be feeling a lot stronger, so now it’s time to start pushing that weight up. Continue to perform the barbell deadlift for 3 sets of 5-7 reps and increase the weight when you can.
Continue to use half of your normal squat weight for the barbell front squat and start performing 4 sets of 6-8 reps. As always, add some more weight whenever you can handle it.
Finally, keep your lunge weight the same and perform 4 sets of 6-8 on each leg, aiming to go heavier with each set.
Here’s the entire program, including warm-up sets:
20 x deadlift (40 total)
5 x squat (15 total)
3 x bench press (9 total)
Barbell Deadlift: 4 sets of 5-7 reps (3 minutes rest between sets) Barbell Front Squat: 4 sets of 6-8 reps (2 minutes rest between sets) Barbell Step-Up: 3 sets of 6-8 reps (1 minute rest between sets) Barbell Lunge: 4 sets of 6-8 reps (90 seconds rest between sets)
The Next Step
Now that you’ve laid the foundation for a strong body, it’s time to build on that foundation with the Advanced Intermediate program.
If you haven’t done so already, I also strongly recommend picking up the ebook and joining the ExRx.net forums. The forums are full of experienced fitness enthusiasts that can help answer any questions you may have about proper form and how to increase load safely.
In addition, the ebook contains several programs you can cycle through including the three-day split you just completed. You could also cycle through the programs at a quicker pace since you’re at an intermediate level rather than beginner.
Whatever you do, keep pushing yourself and make 2015 your best year yet!
This is a sample routine of the many routines available in the book. The program name is Force. It’s an 8 week cycle that increases in weight each week for the first 4 weeks.
After that, you take a deload week which decreases the weight and ramps up volume. Finally, you increase the weight for the last 4 weeks. This program is best suited for a lifter that has several years of experience or a very confident beginner.
Sample Intermediate Program: Force
Exercise Week One Weight Week One Reps Week Two Weight Week Two Reps Week Three Weight Week Three Reps Week Four Weight Week Four Reps 1 45 20 40 10 35 5 32 8 2a 20 Bench Press Warm-Up 8 2b 20 Barbell Row Warm-Up 8 2c 20 Deadlift 62* 5 3a 13.5 Bench Press 52.5 6 3b 15 Barbell Row 43 5 3c 21 Deadlift 75 7 4a 20 Overhead Press Warm-Up 8 4b 20 Chin-Up Warm-Up 8 4c 20 Front Squat 47.5 5 5a 10 Overhead Press 35 5 5b 10 Chin-Up 7 5 5c 10 Front Squat 60 7 6a 15 Incline Bench 29.5 10 6b 15 Barbell Curl Warm-Up 10 6c 15 Tricep Extensions with EZ Bar 15
*Estimated Max. Record your actual max in the space provided
Overhead Presses are performed while standing and using a barbell. You start with the bar at shoulder height on your j-cups. Keeping your feet flat, bend over until your chest touches the bar and then press up.
This is one rep.
Chin-Ups are performed with a palms-forward grip while hanging from a chin-up bar. Your arms should be fully extended at the bottom of each rep.
Front Squats are performed in the classic squatting stance while holding the barbell with both hands and resting on the front of your shoulders. Descend until your elbows touch your knees.
Incline Presses are performed with a barbell while laying on an incline bench. The barbell is lowered until it touches your upper chest and then pushed back up.
Barbell Rows are performed with a barbell while bending over a barbell. This exercise is most easily performed with an underhand grip, with your palms facing you while bending over the barbell. Keep your back flat and row the bar until it touches your lower abdomen.
Deadlifts are performed with a barbell while standing or in a split stance. Keeping your back flat, bend over and grab the bar. Keeping the bar as close to your legs as possible, push your legs and lift the weight.
Sources & references used in this article:
Maximum strength-power-performance relationships in collegiate throwers by MH Stone, KIM Sanborn, HS O’BRYANT… – … Journal of Strength & …, 2003 – elitetrack.com
Effects of a six-week hip thrust vs. front squat resistance training program on performance in adolescent males: a randomized controlled trial by B Contreras, AD Vigotsky… – Journal of strength …, 2017 – ingentaconnect.com
The acute effects of heavy back and front squats on speed during forty-meter sprint trials by M Yetter, GL Moir – The Journal of Strength & Conditioning …, 2008 – journals.lww.com