Pick Up the Bar! Front Squats

I know, I know…you’ve probably had enough of squatting for a while now. I mean, we covered it all, didn’t we? We took a look at safety, technique, form, and routines. But there’s one other aspect, or type of squat that we need to cover today…and you may like me even less than you already do after we’re done.

Let’s take a look at…the dreaded, I mean beloved front squat.

Pick up the Bar - Front Squats

photo courtesy of derekfaymedia.com

Why do we need to front squat? Front squats are a linking movement…they are one link in the overall chain of events that take place in many other movements. For example, think of your front squat as the essential link in your chain of movements for the Clean & Jerk. After you clean the bar, how do you get it up to that standing rack position and in place to jerk? That’s right, baby…you front squat like a beast. Want a faster Fran time (who doesn’t? Right?!)? Well, that front squat links right into the overhead movement of your thruster. The stronger you are in front squatting the less muscle fatigue you’ll have overall when you are flying through your next Fran in search of PR glory!

Have I made a case for front squats, yet? I hope so…they’re important. So let’s take a look at them.

Front squats are a bit different than back squats. The weight distribution of the bar to your body will cause you to emphasize a few more things while front squatting. What? Like there’s not enough for us to keep in mind when we back squat, now you’re telling me I have to think even more when I front squat? That’s right, buttercup. You do.

So here’s what you need to keep in mind: front rack position, hand position on the bar, and the final element: “chest up/knees out/sit back/break parallel/drive through the heels/core tight/core tight/tight/tight-tight-tight” (yup…that’s all; see what I mean? Simple)!! Let’s break it down.

1.) Front Rack Position

This is one of the most crucial elements to the front squat. In order to distribute and balance the weight of the bar properly over your shoulders and torso, you must be able to bring your elbows out and forward to the front rack position. Essentially, your elbows and forearms should come forward and look as if they are a shelf that the bar is sitting on top of (now, please be aware that the bar does not actually rest on the arms, but rather across the shoulders). Let that sink in. Your elbows cannot be pointing down at the ground. They must be pointing straight ahead at the wall in front of you. This is going to hurt at first (for those of us not blessed with bend-y, mobile bodies like some of you out there!), but thankfully we have a few mobility stretches we can do to get ourselves warm and loose to form those shelves.

Mobility for the front rack position…

– Banded Overhead Tricep Stretch:

This is one of the best stretches to get ready for that forearm shelf position in the front squat. Grab a red or blue band, loop it over and around the pull up bar. Now, face the pull up rig and slide your hand through the free end of the band so that the band loop is wresting on the back of your wrist. Grab both sides of the band in your hand so that you are essentially cinching the band around around your wrist. Now, turn your palm up so it’s facing the ceiling (and remember, at this point there is only slack on the band, so this should be easy-peesy…don’t worry, things are about to get torturous) and turn around so that your back is now facing the rig. This should force you to bring the banded wrist up into the front rack position, wrist facing the ceiling and now near your ear. Lean forward and let the band do the rest! It should feel glorious in a not so wonderful way. But trust me, this will really stretch out the triceps so you can get those forearms back into the necessary position for the front rack. Now, let that burn settle in for a good minute; “rinse” and repeat with the other arm. Yup! You’re welcome!

– Tricep Roll on the Barbell Sleeve/Collar:

Place a barbell in the rack at shoulder height (or just below). Go to one end of the barbell and roll your triceps back and forth over the sleeve/collar (you know…the “roll-y part” where you slide the plates on). As you do this, just be aware that if you put extreme pressure on the bar at one end that the other end may flip out of the “J” hook and cause you to whack your face…so, this is a good stretch to do with a partner, one on either end so that you can balance out the pressure and pin that bar down. If you don’t have a partner, no big deal…just place one hand on the middle section of the bar to keep it in place. Do both arms and now you should be ready to “roll” into that front rack position!

And if you are wondering, I would do both of these stretches, one after the other. This is not necessarily an either/or sort of situation. Start with the band, end with the sleeve. It will do wonders for you.

Why is it so important to have the proper, front rack (shelf) position? If you are not able to get your elbows out in front of you, then the weight of the bar (as it increases) is going to force your chest down and forward, and you will end up dumping the bar. You need that front rack to keep the bar up so you can reach the heights of glory, or shall we say…simply stand up.

Front Squats

photo courtesy of derekfaymedia.com

2.) Hand Position

Unlike a back squat, where our hand position tends to be a bit wide for the sake of perceived balance, hand position for front squats is actually a bit more narrow. Think of it this way, place your hands in your power clean position on the bar. If front squat is a link movement in the chain of sequences leading up to a Clean & Jerk, thruster, or any other ground to overhead movement, then you are going to want those hands placed closer together on the bar. In addition, if you go too wide, you won’t be able to get that stable front rack position; your elbows will be straining outward rather than forward. So as you approach the bar, think about where you want to get to from this movement. That will help you remember where to place those hands. If you want a further idea of how to do this, for me I’ve always used the smooth middle portion of the bar to guide my hand placement. I place my thumbs on either end of the ring right on the other side of that smooth section and I space out one thumbs-width from there. This is a very simplistic guide that has worked for me. Everyone is different…however, do note that your hand placement won’t be too different from that (essentially, what I’m saying is that you don’t want to have a snatch grip on the bar when you go to front squat).

3.) Put it all together

We learned with back squats how to keep the knees out, the core tight, break parallel, while keeping that chest up. Same goes for here. Now, you do need to be aware…that weight distribution on your body is going to be a lot different. With a back squat, you are really pushing with your glutes. But once you move that bar around to the front rack position and descend, wooo wheee, you are about to feel a new sort of pain centered in your quads! Yes, folks…front squats are going to work those quads like no other. If you felt that your knees were caving in a lot on the back squat, well, you haven’t experienced caving yet until you do a front squat. So, that being said, you really want to pay attention to that form we have emphasized so much to this point. Keep that core tight and that chest up, because once you let those elbows drop and that chest slump forward, that weight is going to come crashing down to the ground. So put it all together and drive up through those heels. And…there’s one more thing you need to do:

Drive up with your elbows. Yes, that’s right. Another way of saying it is to lead with your elbows. Keep forcing them up in that shelf position as you come out of the hole. A tendency we all have as we come up is to let our elbows gradually fall down. Don’t, don’t, DON’T DO THIS! Lead with those elbows and maintain that front rack position all the way through the lift, even at the end when you are in the standing position. The only time those elbows will come down is after you have re-racked the weight.

Well, there you have it…a few tips on front squatting. Do you need to do it? Well, do you want to Clean & Jerk and Fran like no other at your Box? If you silently whispered yes in your heart of hearts right now, well…

3…2…1…Front Squat!

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