What does the Front Squat do

What do Front Squats do for your squatting technique?

The Front Squat is one of the best exercises to enforce proper squatting technique and squatting mechanics because you are forced to have a more upright body posture due to having the bar in front of your shoulders.

Having the bar in front of your shoulders gives you fewer abilities to compensate and you are not able to lean forward as you could in the Back Squat.

One variation we use all the time with our development athletes, as well as with our Olympians is the handsfree Front Squat. This Front Squat variation forces you, even more, to stay upright and balance the bar on the front of your shoulders. Check out double Olympian Twan van Gendt doing the Handsfree Front Squat

In addition to that having the bar in front of your shoulders also it allows descending deeper into the squat.

What does the Front Squat do for your strength development?

The Front Squat is one of the best strength builders for the lower body.

Because of the bar position on the front of your shoulders, the Front Squat is not made for a lot of repetitions. The Front Squat works well for 1 to 5 repetitions and this is exactly the repetition range for strength development and maximum strength development and you can load, and you should load the Front Squat quite heavy to target more the lower repetition range. This makes the Front Squat a very good strength builder for your lower body.

Check out the table describing the number of repetitions based on the training intensity and the total number of repetitions for each intensity zone from the article The Holy Grail of Strength Training – Sets and Reps

workout sets and reps chart: the relation between training intensity, number of repetitions and training volume in a strength training

The relation between strength training intensity, repetition ranges and total training volume of a strength training program

A training focussed on strength development could look like

Exercise

Intensity

Sets

Reps

Total reps

Front Squat 90% 1RM 6 2 12
Bulgarian Split Squat 90% 1RM 3 2 6
RDL 90% 1 RM 4 3 12

This equals 30 total reps (12 reps + 6 reps + 12 reps)

What does the Front Squat do for your core?

The trunk, which is in my opinion a better expression than the core, is important to effectively transfer the forces from the ground to the upper body, which is quite important for a lot of sporting movements.

The front rack position and being able to maintain an upright posture during the Front Squat forces you to brace hard, which trains the trunk directly.

In addition to that EMG studies have shown to activate the intrinsic muscles of the trunk, like  the TA (the transversus abdominis) and the multifidus to a greater degree than the usually performed prone or supine bodyweight exercises.

What does the Front Squat do for your sports performance?

The Front Squat has a high transfer to sprint performance and jump performance.

A study from Schmidtbleicher and colleagues looked at the Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance.

The research question of this study was to look at the influence of squat depth on jump performance, however, one finding was that the full Front Squat has a higher transfer to jump performance, followed by the Back Squat, followed by the Quarter Back Squat.

Is it the full truth?

Probably not, as a complete answer needs a more nuanced discussion, however, it indicates that the Front Squat is a valuable exercise to include into your training program, if you want to jump higher or run faster.

What does the Front Squats do for your Olympic lifts?

There is a high correlation between the Olympic lifts and success in the Olympic lift, the Clean (and Power Clean) and Front Squat strengths, because the catch and the recovery phase of the Clean is essentially a Front Squat.

Check out the phases of the Clean and Power Clean

There is a bit of a debate on the relative importance of the squat strength and the success in the Clean and some coaches and athletes use different benchmarks.

The general consensus seems to be that you need to be able to Front Squat 105% – 120% of your Clean PR, so that the recovery phase is not the limiting factor.

That means, if you can Clean 100 kg, you need to be able to Front Squat 105 kg to 120 kg.

Check out the discussion with Aleksey Torokhtiy and Sergei Putsov from minute 17:00 on squat strength for the Olympic Lift.

However, it is worth noting that Olympic Weightlifters can have a lower percentage, because their technical proficiency in the lift is higher and they are much more able to use and modulate their forces effectively, whilst athletes from other sport have a lesser technical proficiency and might need higher strength levels for the catch and recovery phase not to be the limiting factor.

What does the Front Squat do for your quad development?

It is not a coincidence that there is this term out there, the ‘Front Squat Quad’, which means that Front Squats can develop your quads, the quadriceps to a greater degree than Back Squats.

Well, is that true?

I don’t know, the EMG results from different studies indicate different results.

I think from a planning perspective you should have both exercises in your program, if you want to focus on maximizing muscle growth.

However, the position of the bar in front of your shoulders and the resulting upright body posture, focuses more on the anterior side and the muscular activation of the anterior side, especially the quads, which in return leads to greater stimulus for muscle growth in the quads.

As a coach, you are also familiar with the fact, that once weights gets heavy in the Back Squat, athletes tend to lean further forward during the ascent, which takes emphasis away from the anterior side and places more emphasis on the posterior side. And as I have discussed in the section above on improving squat technique, this forward lean is just not possible in the Front Squat.

How could a training session look like that focuses on muscular growth?

Following up on the training program example from above, a training focussed on functional hypertrophy could look like

Exercise

Intensity

Sets

Reps

Total reps

Front Squat 85% 1RM 5 4 20
Bulgarian Split Squat 85% 1RM 3 5 15
RDL 85% 1 RM 3 5 15

This equals 50 total reps (20 reps + 15 reps + 15 reps)

Concluding what does the Front Squat do for you?

The Front Squat benefits are manifold.

The Front Squat improves squatting mechanics, is a great strength builder for the lower body and strengthens your trunk.

If you are an athlete, the Front Squat can help you to run faster and jump higher, and help you to improve your Olympic Lifts, especially the Clean.

And if you are interested in muscle growth in your legs, the Front Squat can help you to develop the Front Squat quad.

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