The Front squat offers a few unique benefits that you won’t get from the other common squat variations such as Back Squat or Overhead Squat. Especially for strength development, power development, building solid leg muscles (for those that are interested in size), as well as technical development and motor learning.
What Does the Front Squat Work
The Front Squat works in a unique way on
- learning and re-learning the proper squatting pattern
- activating and isolating the muscles of the anterior thigh
- building leg strength
- improving the Power Clean, especially the catch phase and the recovery phase of the Power Clean
How the Front Squat improves the Squatting Technique
Squatting is one of the fundamental movement patterns and the Front Squat helps to develop this movement pattern. By having the bar on the front of your shoulders, it forces the body to stay upright throughout the entire movement. If the body leans too far forward, which can happen in a regular Back Squat and you can get away with it, in the Front Squat it will result in losing the bar or holding the bar with your hands, which you will only be able until a certain weight (at some point you will be able to squat much more than you could possibly support with your hands).
We use the Front Squat and the Overhead Squat for our young developmental athletes once they join our program to learn and train the squatting movement. In fact they are not allowed to do Back Squats in the first year, especially for the reason I have just outlined. I want to be on the safer side, when it comes to learning and acquiring the squatting pattern and once the squatting movement is consolidated we introduce the Back Squat.
Have a look at this video and how the Handfree Front Squat helps the athlete to maintain a good upright posture, despite the heavy load.
What muscles do Front Squats work
Due to the more upright posture, the Front Squat focusses strongly on the anterior side of the thighs, the quads or quadriceps (the quadriceps consists of a group of four muscles, the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis, the vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris) and the main responsibility of the quads is to extend the knee and the hip.
Once the weight gets heavy in the Back Squat, which can be towards the end of the set, when exhaustion increases or when approaching maximum weights (1RM, 2RM or 3RM) you can see the athlete leaning forward and allowing the posterior side of the thigh to assist in the movement and consequently taking a bit of load from the anterior side of the thighs. Since the Front Squat doesn’t allow a forward lean, it forces the anterior side of your thigh to work harder.
How the Front Squat builds Leg Strength
Once you dominate the Front Squat technique, you will quickly be able to lift some serious weight in the Front Squat.
And due to the fact that the upper body has to maintain and upright position the front side of your legs have to do the heavy lifting and over time you will see, that the Front Squat will also help to improve your Back Squat strength and Back Squat technique.
How the Front Squat helps the Power Clean
The Front Squat is an important exercise when you want to be able to Power Clean more weight. The Front Squat is important in the Catch phase to decelerate and control the weight and in the Recovery Phase to be able to get back up (more about the phases in the article).
As a rule of thumb, you should be able to do 3 reps Front Squats 105% of your Power Clean max or 1 rep Front Squat with 120% of your Power Clean max.
I have actually one of my athletes in mind who can Power Clean more weight than he can Front Squat. So we are actually working hard on getting him stronger in the Front Squat, which will then lead to a much higher Power Clean number.
Have a look at this video and you can see that her sticking point in the Power Clean / Clean is during the recovery phase (while standing up). Working on your Front Squat strength will help to overcome this issue.
How many reps for Front Squats
Depending on your training goal you chose the repetition and loading scheme. I have written about a basic loading and repetition scheme for different training goals here .
There is an inverse relation between the amount of repetitions you can do and the intensity, the lower the intensity, the more repetitions you can do. That sounds a bit ordinary and elementary, but a word of caution here, the higher the repetitions in the Front Squat, the more difficult it get to maintain a solid bar position on the front of your shoulders. The bar position makes it difficult to breathe, the elbows will drop slightly, the bar will roll a bit forward and it simply becomes difficult to maintain a good bar position and execute the Front Squat properly.
Even though we have periods in our training where we do 8 to 10 repetitions per set, these sessions are limited to 2 – 3 weeks in the year and the athletes are complaining that they feel they can lift they weight with the lower body, but have difficulties maintaining the bar on the shoulders.
How to do more reps in the Front Squat
As I just outlined, the Front Squat is not a good exercise for multiple repetitions, more than 5 – 6 repetitions will become increasingly difficult. A possible solution we use for this dilemma is to do more sets with lesser repetitions or performing cluster sets.
Lesser repetitions and more sets? What’s that good for?
If you think you would like to do 3 sets of 8 reps, you can as well do 8 sets of 3 reps, the total amount of repetition is 24 in both variations. There might be slightly different adaptations to both variations, in the grand scheme of things it has been proven as a valid and useful alternative. Believe me, in the early days of my career I have broken my head over that question “How can 3 sets of 8 be the same as 8 sets of 3?!?” and had a few sleepless nights, over the years I have come to the realization from practical experience that it is very similar… I will write about that in more detail in a following post.
Cluster sets are a valid and useful alternative and have been very helpful. I strongly believe it’s a method that should mainly be used with more advanced and experienced athletes. Cluster sets work by breaking the intended repetitions up into equal parts and allow a short break in between the parts. Let’s say you want to do 6 reps, you can do
- 3 times 2 reps with 15 – 20 seconds in between rep 2 & 3 and 4 & 5
- 2 times 3 reps with 15 – 20 seconds in between rep 3 & 4
We have actually done an in-house research where we looked at different loading schemes and cluster set variations and compared it to traditional sets (in the Back Squat) and we found that the cluster sets enabled the athletes to maintain a higher strength and power output throughout the set.
How many sets of Front Squats
Leaving aside the last paragraph about the difficulty of performing higher repetitions in a set of Front Squats and working around that dilemma by doing more sets of lesser repetitions, there is no magical formula or special consideration about the amount of sets to choose for a Front Squat as to any other exercise.
It is difficult to prescribe an exact number of sets, since there are many variables to consider. Amongst them, the training goal, where in the season you are (you do less sets in the competitive season, than in the off-season), the training experience in years and ability to tolerate training.
A special consideration should always be, whether you are choosing to work with RM loads? Then the total amount of sets should be lower, because you simply won’t be able to maintain the same amount of repetitions throughout the sets and you will notice a drop in repetitions from one set to the next.
How much (weight) should I Front Squat
A very common question athletes have, is ‘How much should I be able to Front Squat?’ and the answer in my opinion is ‘As much as possible as you can with proper technical execution.’
As I discussed in the article about the Power Clean and benefits of the Power Clean, very seldom (actually never) we do an exercise for the sake of doing the exercise. The exercise always serves a purpose. This purpose could be training a movement pattern, training an energy system or training muscular activation.
Unfortunately I have seen it too often, that training with a flawed movement pattern will result in consolidating a flawed movement pattern. Therefor constantly evaluating technique and striving towards technical mastery is important.
How much should I be able to Front Squat for my bodyweight
As always, there is no one size fits all answer to that question, since strength levels and strength gains are very individual. It is a sad truth, that not everyone can progress at the same rate and some athletes are made for gaining strength and becoming stronger and others aren’t.
The table shows a general guideline of strength standards in the Front Squat.
|Achievable||0.9 – 1 times bodyweight||1.2 – 1.4 time bodyweight|
|Good||1 – 1.2 time bodyweight||1.4 – 1.8 times bodyweight|
|Very good||1.2 – 1.4 times bodyweight||1.8 – 2 times bodyweight|
|Excellent||More than 1.4 times bodyweight||More than 2 times bodyweight|
Treat these numbers with care, they are not written in stone and depend on various factors, such as training age, training status, individual differences.
How much Front Squat compared to Back Squat
It is possible to calculate or predict your Front Squat max from your Back Squat max or Front Squat training weight from your Back Squat training weight.
As a rule of thumb, you are able to do 80 – 90% of your Back Squat in the Front Squat. That means, if you are able to do a 100 kg in the Back Squat for 5 reps, you will be able to do 5 reps in the Front Squat with a weight between 80 kg and 90 kg.
It’s a rule of thumb and has been very useful as a guideline for a lot of my athletes. Important to note, that it is very individual, some athletes are stronger in the Front Squat compared to the Back Squat and have a ratio closer to 90%, others are stronger in the Back Squat compared to the Front Squat and have a ratio closer to 80%, in some cases even below 80%.
To be really sure, what that ratio is, you need to test it out.
Front Squat Conclusions
In my opinion, the Front Squat should be a cornerstone in every strength training program. The Front Squats offer unique benefits, that other exercises can’t offer.
- The Front Squat can be used to learn and re-learn proper squatting movements.
- The Front Squat activates and isolates the muscles of the anterior thigh due to the upright upper body posture.
- The Front Squat builds leg strength for the same reason, the upper body is more upright than in the Back Squat and therefore more contribution of the anterior thigh is required to master the lift.
- The Front Squat is important in the catch phase of the Power Clean and the recovery phase of the Power Clean and can help to improve the Power Clean max.
If you haven’t included Front Squats in your program yet, I would advise you to do so. And don’t get stressed out, if you don’t master the technique from day one. Put time and effort into it and you will reap the fruit of your labor.
More information on the Front Squat
More Front Squat impressions in the Front Squat video library