Have you ever tried to Front Squat heavy? If so, you know it’s difficult and you probably got stuck along the way. My athletes and I have found success by following the process and interventions outlined in this article.
The first step to front squatting heavy is to get an idea of what your Front Squat max is.
How To Calculate Your Front Squat Max
A very common dilemma when athletes include Front Squats in their training is the question ‘How much weight should I use for the Front Squat?’
To calculate your training weight, one of the most implementable methods for practical use is to calculate the training weight based on your 1 RM (1 repetition maximum) or the predicted 1 RM.
So, the question stands out, how to calculate the Front Squat max?
There are accurate and less accurate methods to calculate the Front Squat max and they all serve the purpose of allowing to choose the right training weight.
The most practical method to calculate your Front Squat max is to do a 1 RM test. Pretty straightforward, right? The 1 RM test is truly most accurate, but unfortunately, it’s not always practical.
For example, if you haven’t done Front Squat with higher intensities, above 90% 1 RM, you won’t be able to express the force needed to truly test the 1 RM.
Have you seen people in practice, that can use a certain weight for 3 repetitions and once they increase the weight just a little bit, they won’t be able to do it? This is exactly what I mean, they haven’t trained with intensities that are high enough to be able to do a single repetition with a weight they should.
In these cases, it’s more applicable to test for multiple RM and predict the 1RM from that.
You can test 3repetitions, 4 repetitions or 5 repetitions and then use a conversion chart or conversion formula to predict the 1 RM. I have added a few links below to some useful 1 RM calculators on the net or you can simply create your own spreadsheet, which is my preferred method.
1 RM calculators:
It’s worth noting, that the higher the number of repetitions you do, the less accurate the prediction of the 1 RM. So you don’t really want to predict your 1 RM from the 10 repetitions you performed.
In addition to that, the relation between repetitions performed and 1 RM can vary upon
- individual differences
- differences between different body parts
Let’s go through it.
If we ask 2 different athletes to perform the maximum amount of repetitions they can perform with 70% of their 1 RM, most likely they will not perform the equal amount of repetitions. One could probably do 9 repetitions, the other 11 repetitions. This is also influenced by their sport, endurance athletes are able to do more repetitions at a given percentage than strength and power athletes at the same percentage.
Differences between different body parts:
If we ask 1 athlete to perform the maximum amount of repetitions he or she can perform with 90% of their 1 RM in a lower body exercise and an upper body exercise, very likely we will get different results. Usually, more repetitions can be done with the lower body, than with the upper body (at the same percentage).
What’s the bottom line?
Predicted 1 RM’s are useful and easily implementable but have to be treated with care.
Another implementable method is to calculate your Front Squat max from your Back Squat max. Also here, this relation varies from athlete to athlete, but it is a possible option to get started. In my experience the Front Squat max equals 85 – 90% of the Back Squat max, thus a practical example if your Back Squat max is 140 kg your Front Squat max is between 120 kg and 125 kg (119 kg and 126 kg to be accurate). You can now calculate the given training percentage from this calculated 1 RM.
I have outlined this in more detail in the article
Again, this is not the most accurate, but it is a good indication of a starting point and doesn’t require to test, before getting started and you can easily adjust loads along the way.
One method that has gained popularity in recent years is to calculate the 1 RM based on measuring the velocity in the exercise/lift at submaximal sets and you will get a fairly accurate prediction of your 1 RM. With the advancements in technology over the last years, these devices have become more affordable and accessible to anyone. Most of these devices have the 1 RM prediction built in, otherwise, you can record the speed at a given load and then convert it into a spreadsheet.
I have outlined different options to calculate your Front Squat max in the article
‘Fixes’ How To Front Squat Heavy
If you want to Front Squat heavier, there are different ways to achieve that. From a coaching perspective there are some ‘immediate fixes’, some ‘quick fixes’ and some ‘fixes’ that take a little bit longer.
‘Immediate fixes’ To Front Squat Heavy
Obviously, everyone wants the ‘immediate fix’, the magic wand you wave and all is sorted out.
An often overlooked factor when lifting heavy loads is the mindset and preparation for a lift, how you approach the Front Squat (or whichever exercise you are about to do). In other sports it is quite common to have routines, for example, tennis players practice the routine(s) between points to be fully ready when the next point starts. The same concept can be applied to develop a routine on how to approach a maximal or near-maximal weight.
Have you seen people being in a conversation until the moment they grab the bar or in a squatting movement, they rack the bar and while walking out of the rack and adjusting they still talk until the moment they initiate the lift? I can imagine this is not the best preparation for a lift, to phrase it carefully.
This can be fixed immediately.
My recommendation, determine an area that is the area for serious business. If you do an Olympic Lift or variation of the Olympic Lift (Power Clean or Power Snatch), the moment you step on the platform is when you need to be ready. The same applies for squatting, the moment you step in the rack or better when you approach the rack is when you need to be ready.
Once you have mastered that it is time to look to take it a step further and develop your routine on how to prepare for a lift, which I will cover in a separate article.
‘Quick fixes’ To Front Squat Heavy
Quick fixes are technical key points that can be fixed quickly. When I say quick, it means within one session or a few sessions.
For the Front Squat quick fixes, most of the times are elbow position, breathing mechanics, stance or posture.
These technical flaws can be addressed with cues or corrective exercises. As an applied example, a very common problem in the Front Squat is maintaining the arm position and elbow throughout the Front Squat with a Clean grip. Assuming there are no mobility or flexibility issues with the wrist, a cue to fix the problem could be to imagine to balance a coin on the elbow without letting it drop or to imagine to have pointers in the elbow which point straight ahead and have to remain pointing straight-ahead throughout the lift.
A corrective exercise in this case could be the Handsfree Front Squat, which forces the athlete to keep the arms parallel with the ground.
Have a look at the following examples.
In this video, you can see Kevin van den Groenedaal performing regular Front Squat, with a Clean grip. If you look at his elbows in the bottom position, they tend to drop, which makes it much harder for him to balance the weight on his front shoulders and a lot of the weight he has to hold with the strength of his arms and hands (not ideal).
In this video you see, how we intervened and added the Handsfree Front Squat to force him to keep the arms parallel with the ground. You can also see, once athletes get used to the Handsfree Front Squat, there is not such a big difference in the weight they can use. But it does take time to get used to it.
You van see the same pattern here, Twan van Gendt got stuck in the Front Squat weight he could lift. he felt like he could do more weight with the strength of his legs, but felt it was difficult to hold the weight. Something that you can see, in the bottom position and once he starts the ascent, his elbows drop.
That gave me the opportunity to introduce the Handsfree Front Squat to fix that pattern. As you can see in the following video, he surpassed the weight he used to do in the regular Front Squat.
Other ‘fixes’ To Front Squat Heavy
This is what we have to deal with most of the time and the word fix isn’t really adequate.
While the root cause of some technical issues or mindset can be addressed and changed with ‘immediate fixes’ and the ‘quick fixes’, some root causes take a bit longer to fix.
For example, if you really need to get stronger to Front Squat heavier, you need to go through thorough programming and have to put the work in over weeks to see physical adaptations to allow you to Front Squat heavier.
With the example of the Front Squat and the goal being to ultimately Front Squat heavier, you need to prioritize the Front Squat in your training and have a program where you go through different phases, for example, start with a training phase of four weeks targeting functional hypertrophy, followed by a phase of four weeks targeting strength development and finish with a phase of four weeks working on maximum strength.
Benchmarking Front Squat standards
I have written on benchmarks for the Front Squat in the article How much should I Front Squat which are numbers I have found to be true from my experience and working with athletes, that use the Front Squat as a means to improve in their sport.
Benchmarking is a good thing and as much as I like the idea of having a benchmark, it should not detract from the fact that technical execution and mastering the Front Squat technique comes first.
The benchmarking process I use starts with mastering the Front Squat technique where the athletes have to check all the key points required to perform a Front Squat properly and then progress to a percentage of body weight.
As a rough outline, I start with 40% of body weight, followed by 60% of body weight, then 80% of body weight and once the athlete can Front Squat bodyweight I use the following benchmarks.
My last advice would be, don’t get married to certain numbers! Not everyone can achieve the same strength levels and your ability to achieve strength levels depend on a variety of factor, including gender, you as a person and the sport you are competing in.
Go to the process I have outlined, learn the Front Squat technique, maintain proper Front Squat technique with percentages of your body weight (40%, 60%, 80%) and then work your way up to Front Squat your bodyweight or more with appropriate Front Squat technique.
For more details about the appropriate Front Squat technique, check out the article
How To Front Squat Heavy Conclusions
If you want to Front Squat heavy or heavier, you need to calculate what your Front Squat max is, which can be done via direct or indirect methods.
Once you know your Front Squat max, you need to determine what keeps you away from Front Squatting heavier and then apply the appropriate ‘fixes’ I have outlined.
Set yourself a goal, using the benchmarks I have provided or customize the benchmarks to your needs. Work hard to achieve the goal, while emphasizing good Front Squat technique throughout the process.