Updated November 5, 2023
Unleash the full potential of your lower body with the front squat! This powerhouse exercise is a golden ticket to enviable leg strength and an impressive core.
However, mastering its form requires a sharp focus and a good dose of practice. But fret not, for this guide lays down actionable steps to refine your technique, break past plateaus, and skyrocket your front squat prowess.
Front Squat Form – Getting the Basics Right
- Positioning: Begin with the correct front rack position by resting the bar high on your shoulders. Ensure it’s supported by your shoulders and the upper chest area above the sternum, keeping a tall and upright posture. Have your elbows pointing forward and up while holding your core tight.
- Grip: Hold the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width. The grip is not to support the bar’s weight; that’s the role of your shoulders and upper chest. The bar should nestle on the muscular part of your front deltoids near your throat, not on your collarbone, to avoid any discomfort or injury.
- Wrist Position: Keep a full grip on the barbell, preventing your fingers and wrists from bending backward. If a full grip is challenging, consider using a cross-arm grip or straps as alternatives.
- Pelvis and Chest Positioning: As you lower yourself into the squat, maintain a neutral pelvis and an elevated chest. Avoid any forward lean to engage your quadriceps effectively.
- Sitting Down: The descent in a front squat should resemble sitting down rather than pushing the hips back. This cue helps keep an upright torso, essential for a successful front squat.
- Foot Pressure: As you rise from the squat, apply pressure through your entire foot, not just the heels or toes, to maintain balance and engage the correct muscle groups for the lift.
- Elbow and Chest Position: Retain a lifted chest and high elbows as you stand, resisting any inclination to lean forward. This aids in maintaining the bar position and an upright torso, which are crucial for the front squat technique.
- Knee Position: Ensure your knees are aligned over your toes and not caving inward. This alignment helps keep a vertical torso and effectively engages the quadriceps.
Mastering these basic steps will set a strong foundation for your front squat technique, aiding in proper execution and paving the way for progress in weight and complexity as you advance.
- Often known as the Rack Position, this grip is ideal for front squats. Hold the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width, resting on your front deltoids near your throat, with elbows held high.
- Cross your arms, placing each hand on the opposite shoulder. This grip eases the movement for those with limited wrist mobility but might restrict the weight you can squat.
- Utilize lifting straps or a towel to secure the bar by looping them around the bar and holding the ends. This grip caters to those with limited wrist mobility. It allows for lifting heavier weights, although it might feel less natural.
Whichever grip you begin with, the ultimate aim should be to transition towards mastering the clean grip, as it’s the most conducive for optimizing your front squat performance.
Limited mobility in your hips, ankles, and thoracic spine can impede achieving a perfect front squat. Here are targeted exercises to enhance mobility in these critical areas, improving your front squat form and comfort:
- Frog Pose, Pigeon Pose, and Couch Stretch: These stretches work wonders in improving hip flexion and external rotation, which is crucial for a deeper squat. Engage in each stretch for 2-3 minutes three times a week.
Ankle mobility is vital as it enables your knees to travel forward over your ankles while keeping a flat foot, a crucial aspect of the front squat. Here are some exercises and a test to evaluate and improve your ankle mobility:
- Knee to Wall Test: This test helps pinpoint any restriction in ankle mobility. Position your foot 10 cm from a wall and try to touch the wall with your knee without lifting your heel. If you’re unable to touch the wall, you may have a restriction.
- Banded Ankle Distraction: This exercise aims at creating space in the ankle joint. Loop a resistance band around your ankle, create tension by walking out, and then perform lunges, pushing your knee forward and back for 20 repetitions, holding for 5 seconds each.
- Eccentric Calf Drop: Stand on a plate or box with your toes on the surface and your heels over the edge. Allow your heels to drop down as low as possible. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds for 3-5 sets.
- Bottom of Squat Hold: Improve your ankle mobility by sitting in the bottom squat position. Lower yourself into a squat, keeping your heels on the ground. Shift your weight over one ankle and lean forward. Spend 2 minutes on each ankle. Some may prefer holding additional weight for an increased stretch.
Thoracic Spine Mobility:
- Cat/Cow Poses and Thread the Needle Stretches: These stretches help enhance thoracic spine mobility, which is vital for keeping your chest up during the front squat. Perform cat/cow for 2-3 minutes and hold the thread the needle stretch for 30-60 seconds per side, three times a week.
Alternative Front Squat Exercises for Mobility Improvement:
If you’re still working on improving your upper body mobility for a good front rack position, these exercises can be beneficial:
- Goblet Squat: Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your body to counterbalance and work on thoracic extension.
- Zombie Squat: Extending your arms straight out in front while the barbell sits across your front deltoids, working on thoracic extension, core, and quads.
- Cross-Arm Grip Front Squats and Strap-Assisted Front Squats: These variations help in performing the front squat movement without the need for extensive wrist or shoulder mobility, which is especially beneficial for those who are still working on their mobility.
Consistent mobility work will significantly enhance your front squat over time. Begin slowly, especially if you have limited mobility, and be patient. Even minor improvements in your range of motion can aid in lifting heavier weights with better form. Regularly performed mobility exercises provide short-term and long-term benefits for your front squat and overall fitness.
Position the Barbell Properly
How you position the barbell on your front deltoids is vital to a successful front squat. Follow these tips:
Rest the bar on your front deltoids, not your hands
Your hands are there only to keep the bar balanced on your shoulders. Do not support the weight of the bar with your hands and wrists. Rest the bar on your front deltoids – the meaty part of your shoulders in front of your collarbone.
Keep your elbows up and forward
Push your elbows forward and up to create a shelf for the bar to rest on. Your upper arms should remain parallel to the floor. Do not let your elbows drop.
Maintain a neutral spine and engaged core
Keep your back straight and avoid rounding your shoulders. Brace your core by contracting your abdominal muscles. An engaged core helps stabilize your torso to push through your legs during the squat.
If the bar does not feel secure or balanced on your shoulders, you may need to improve your front rack mobility and endurance.
Practice holding an empty bar or PVC pipe in the front rack position. Start with 30-60 seconds and build up as your comfort improves.
You can also do front rack stretches and exercises to increase your range of motion. A properly positioned barbell allows for the best front squat performance.
Continue refining your technique with regular practice. Film yourself front squatting to check that the bar is placed correctly on your front deltoids before adding more weight.
With time, the front rack position will feel more natural, allowing you to lift heavier loads with confidence.
Lead With Your Elbows
Your elbow positioning is critical to keeping the bar securely in place during the front squat. Focus on these tips:
Keep your elbows forward and up to support the bar
Push your elbows forward and up to create a shelf for the bar to rest on. Your upper arms should remain parallel to the floor. Do not let your elbows drop or point behind you.
Don’t let your elbows drop
Dropping your elbows causes the bar to roll forward onto your wrists, straining them. Keep tension in your upper back by pulling your shoulder blades back and together. Your elbows should point in the same direction as your torso throughout the squat.
Maintain tension in your upper back
Keeping your upper back engaged helps support the bar. Pull your shoulder blades back and pinch them together. Avoid rounding your shoulders or chest. Your upper back should remain straight but not arched.
Don’t Let Your Heels Raise
Allowing your heels to raise during the front squat places more stress on your knees and reduces your power. Focus on these tips to keep your heels down:
Keep your weight distributed evenly across your whole foot
Push through your entire foot – heels, midfoot, and toes. Do not rock forward onto your toes as you squat down. Your weight should remain balanced over the middle of your foot throughout the exercise.
Push through your heels and midfoot
As you descend into the squat, focus on driving through your heels and midfoot. This helps ensure your weight does not shift forward onto your toes. Push into the floor with your whole foot as you stand back up.
Squeeze your glutes and quadriceps
Engaging your glutes and quadriceps helps stabilize your legs and prevents your heels from rising. Squeeze your glutes and quadriceps tightly at the bottom of the squat before driving back up to the starting position.
If your heels frequently raise during the front squat, you may have tight calves, weak glutes, or lack proper ankle mobility. Stretch your calves, strengthen your glutes with exercises like bridges and hip thrusts, and work on improving your ankle dorsiflexion. You can also place small weight plates under your heels to help keep them down until your mobility and form improve.
Keeping your heels down during the front squat increases power, balance, and efficiency. Practice the tips provided and check your form in a mirror or video. Look for weight distributed evenly through your feet, heels and midfoot pushing into the floor, and glutes/quadriceps engaged to stabilize your legs. With consistency, keeping your heels down will become second nature.
Beware of Knee Caving
Allowing your knees to cave inward during the front squat places excess stress on your knees and hips. Focus on these tips to prevent knee caving:
Keep your knees in line with your ankles as you squat
Your knees should track over your ankles throughout the entire range of motion. Do not let your knees collapse inward or outward. Descend into the squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knees, keeping them aligned over your ankles.
Push your knees out as you descend into the squat
Actively push your knees out as you squat down. This helps ensure they remain over your ankles. Your knees should end up over the middle of your feet at the bottom of the squat.
Squeeze your glutes and inner thighs
Engaging your glutes and inner thighs helps stabilize your legs and prevents your knees from caving in. Squeeze your glutes and inner thighs tightly, especially at the bottom of the squat.
If your knees frequently cave inward during front squats, you may have weak glutes or tight inner thighs. Strengthen your glutes with exercises like bridges, hip thrusts, and clamshells. Stretch your inner thighs with straddle stretches and seated inner thigh stretches. You can also place a resistance band around your knees to provide feedback on keeping them pushed out.
Maintaining proper knee alignment during the front squat is essential for knee health and safety. Check your form in a mirror or video and look for knees that track over your ankles, knees pushed out, and glutes/inner thighs engaged. With regular practice and targeted exercises, you can correct knee caving and improve your front squat form.
The front squat is a challenging yet highly effective for building lower body strength. By following the tips in this guide, you can perfect your front squat form, improve your mobility, lift heavier weights, and avoid common mistakes. Focus on keeping the bar properly positioned, leading with your elbows, maintaining an engaged core, distributing your weight through your whole foot, and pushing your knees out.
Be patient and consistent with your practice. Even minor improvements in your technique and range of motion will pay off over time. Keep training hard and continue refining your form. With mastery of the front squat, you’ll build strong and powerful legs to help you achieve your fitness goals.