What is the Front Squat exercise?
The word ‘front’ in the Front Squat refers to the barbell position, which is on the Front of your shoulders.
But there is more to know than just the bar position.
This article and video discusses
- What is a Front Squat?
- What is the characteristic of a Front Squat?
- What are different variations of the Front Squat?
- What most people struggle with, how to hold the bar in the Front Squat, the Front Squat grip
Basically, during the Front Squat, you have the bar in front of your body, balanced on the front of your shoulders or as Wikipedia specifies it in their Squat exercises article ‘held in front of the body across the clavicles and deltoids’.
The Squat Basics
There are different squat variations, such as
- the Overhead Squat, check out What Is An Overhead Squat
- the Back Squat, check out What is a Back Squat
- and the Front Squat, which is the subject of this article.
The Back Squat can be further distinguished into
- a High Bar Back Squat, check out What is a High Bar Back Squat
- and a Low Bar Back Squat, check out What is a Low Bar Back Squat
What are different Front Squat variations?
The Front Squat can be executed on two legs (bilaterally) or on one leg (unilaterally).
Consequently, you can perform different single-legged squat variations with the barbell on the Front of your shoulders.
- a Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, also called Bulgarian Split Squat, check out Track Cyclist and World Champion Runner-Up Track Cycling Sprint 2017 Harrie Lavreysen performing a Front Bulgarian Split Squat
- a Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
- a regular Split Squat
- a Pistol Squat, if your mobility allows
- the list could go on and on…
Check out this example of one of my former athletes and double Olympian Raymon van der Biezen, performing a Single-Legged Front Squat on a box
Or even more exotic, a Kettlebell Single-Legged Front Squat on a box
What is a good Front Squat depth? How deep does the Front Squat have to be?
As the ‘front’ in the word Front Squat is only the descriptor for the bar position, the Front Squat depth is variable, depending on your training goal.
You can do
- a Full Front Squat, with a knee angle of 60 degrees
- a Half Front Squat, with a knee angle of 90 degrees
- or a Quarter Front Squat, with a knee angle of 120 degrees
What is a Front Squat grip? How to hold the bar during the Front Squat?
In order to execute the Front Squat, you need to hold the bar on your shoulders and balance the bar on your shoulders during the Front Squat movement.
How do you do that?
Holding and balancing the barbell on your shoulders is challenging and once you start doing Front Squats the first few times it leads to a lot of discomforts.
There are different Front Squat grip variations, in my opinion, some are better than others.
The Clean Grip
I advise using the Front Squat Clean grip, where the bar is positioned and balanced on the front of your shoulders and the hands are supporting the barbell to stay in position.
Why do I advise the Clean grip?
First and foremost it’s supposed to be like this, but that not always the best reason.
The Clean grip gives you more options.
What does that mean?
The Clean grip will allow you to do combinations of different lifts, such as Power Clean & Front Squat, Front Squat & Push Press, Power Clean & Front Squat & Push Press, Thrusters, there are much more combinations, I guess you can see my point.
If you are not able to use the Clean grip, I advise you work on the technique of holding the bar and if mobility and flexibility are holding you back, make sure you work on achieving sufficient mobility and flexibility to perform a Front Squat with a Clean grip.
What do you do in the meantime, while you are working on your mobility and flexibility?
There are different options you can use.
The Cross Grip
The cross grip is very popular in the Bodybuilding community, as it is easier to hold the barbell in the right position if you have limited wrist flexibility. Which most Bodybuilders happen to have.
Personally, I am not a big fan of the cross grip.
Why is that?
There are two main reasons, because of the hand position, you always end up having one side higher than the other side and the bar tilts to one side.
Or how Stronglits.com explains in their Front Squat Guide, it is less stable and harder to control.
The second reason is, that if you use the cross grip, you won’t be able to do the combinations I have outlined above.
Most Bodybuilders won’t do any of the combinations anyway, so for them, it’s not a big deal.
But if you use the Front Squat to improve your athletic performance, you need to consider these lifting combinations.
And for that, you need the Clean grip.
What is a better Front Squat grip alternative, if you are not able to do the Clean grip yet?
Front Squat Grip with straps
If you wrap straps around the bar you can essentially get into the same position with your arms as in the Clean grip and it still offers the same benefits.
You can bring your arms up so that the bar can rest on your shoulders.
In order to prepare yourself for the Clean grip, make sure you reduce the distance between the hands and the shoulders over time, so you grab the straps closer and closer.
These are the most common Front Squat grip variations, however, there is a variation, that is not so common, but I use it extensively.
The handsfree Front Squat grip.
The Handsfree Front Squat grip
The handsfree Front Squat grip, isn’t really a grip because you are not holding the bar, however, it offers a few benefits.
The handsfree Front Squat is a really good Front Squat variation to teach you how to hold the bar on your shoulders.
What does that mean?
You need to place the bar in the position, where it needs to be, right on the front of your deltoids.
If you don’t place the bar in the right position, it either becomes so painful, that you can’t execute the Handsfree Front Squat or the bar will just roll down.
Another benefit is that it teaches you to maintain the arms parallel with the ground, if you drop the arms, the bar will roll forward. If you have the arms too high, it will choke you.
Why do you need to have the arms parallel with the ground?
In the Front Squat with the Clean grip, the ideal position is, that you have the bottom of the upper arm parallel with the ground and the elbows pointing straight forward.
If you drop the elbows, you need to support the bar too much with your hands and the strength of your arms and wrists.
Once you get to a decent strength level, your arms and wrist won’t simply be strong enough to hold the bar anymore.
Believe me, I have come across that problem multiple times. And it is literally a one-way street, you either change course or you will get stuck.
Check out how much you should be able to Front Squat and then you can decide for yourself, whether you are confident in holding it with your hands and arms or not.
Apart from the grip, the biggest benefit is that it teaches proper squatting mechanics.
The bar is balanced on the front of your shoulder and you need to maintain a perfect upper body posture. If you can’t do it, you will lose the bar. No compensations allowed.
Essentially, the handsfree Front Squat is a perfect corrective exercise for the squat, if you are struggling with posture and alignment.
And don’t believe, the handsfree Front Squat can only be done with light weights. Check out the impressions below
BMX rider and double Olympian Twan van Gendt performing a handsfree Front Squat with 140 kg, which is more than 75% of his Front Squat max / Front Squat 1RM
Oh, wait there is one more bonus Front Squat grip, that is quite common because it is the easiest way to hold the bar.
Bonus Front Squat grip – hold it with your hands
Check out the first exercise from the video in the article The Kayla Itsines 28-Minute Total-Body Strength Training Workout from second 00:08 – 00:16 and you know what I mean.
But wait, Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide is very successful, right?
True, it’s still a crappy Front Squat and won’t get you anywhere, if you have the ambition to lift serious loads or want to use the Front Squat as a tool to improve your athletic performance.
Nothing against Kayla Itsines, you see a lot of people doing this variation, however, I have outlined in the section of the handsfree Front Squat grip, that your wrist and arms will just not be strong enough to support the load you can Front Squat.
Concluding What is a Front Squat
The ‘front’ in the Front Squat is the descriptor for the bar position, which is placed on the Front of your shoulders.
It doesn’t explain the depth of the squat or whether it’s a bilateral or unilateral squat variation. Multiple variations of the Front Squat are possible, as outlined and showcased in this article.
In order to hold and balance the bar on the Front of your shoulders, you need to master the Front Squat grip.
There are different Front Squat grip variations, where some of them are better than others, especially if your goal is to become stronger, faster and more explosive.