How to Front Squat
Our complete guide to front squats! Learn how to front squat with proper technique including grip variations for mobility issues such as the California grip and using straps.
All About the Front Squat
The front squat is a great supplemental lift. It can fit into a program as a light day squat option, or as hypertrophy volume work after heavy deadlifts, for instance. Front squats rely more on the quadriceps and glutes, and much less on hamstrings than a low bar squat. This lift can be instructive for lifters who struggle with upper back tightness, and is foundational to mastering the clean.
In the front squat, the bar sits across your anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders), as opposed to behind your body in the low bar squat. If you’re flexible enough, take a grip just outside of shoulder width, with thumbs wrapped around the bar.
In this front rack position, your hands do not support the weight of the bar. Similar to a back squat, your hands are simply helping to hold the bar in place—so it’s fine for the bar to be held loosely in the fingers. All of the weight of the bar should be supported by the deltoids. To achieve this, push your elbows forward and up until your upper arms are nearly parallel to the floor. The higher your elbows are, the more easily your deltoids can support the bar.
If you can’t wrap all fingers around the bar, you can drop the pinky and/or ring finger off the bar. You can also simply take a wider grip on the bar, especially if you have a shorter humerus (upper arm) and longer forearm.
Another grip variation is called the California grip or “crossed grip.” Cross your wrists in front of your body, which will allow the bar to sit in the webbing of your thumbs.
Lastly, also for those who have short upper arms and long forearms, you can use straps wrapped around the bar. Grab the straps a couple inches down from where they’re attached to the bar, and push your elbows forward and up, just like you would with a normal grip. With any grip variations, the bar should still be completely supported by the deltoids in proper front squat form.
How to Set Up
Once you have found a sustainable front rack position, take a stance a little narrower than your normal back squat stance. You should be looking straight ahead the entire movement, and aim to go a few inches deeper than parallel.
Don’t bend over at all! Your back will be much more vertical when performing a front squat compared to back squats. Since the bar is in front of you, heavy front squats will tend to pull you off balance forward. Counteract this by keeping your hips under your shoulders as much as possible—allowing the knees to travel forward—and focus on driving your elbows up to stay balanced.
Cues for Fixing Form Errors
We’ve found that one of the best cues for the front squat is simply “elbows up” or “lead with the elbows.” The key to front squats is maintaining a relatively vertical torso throughout the movement. Lifters will usually attempt to do this by “leading with the chest,” but there are drawbacks to this approach.
Excessive “chest drive” can overextend the thoracic spine, which lengthens the abdominal muscles. This destabilizes the torso—the opposite of our goal. A cue that can help here is “rib flare:” instead of lifting the chest excessively, focus on flaring your ribcage out to the sides and up. This keeps your torso muscles braced firmly, maintaining a static rigidity.
Programming Front Squats
The front squat becomes useful in the intermediate stage of programming, as:
- a lower-intensity alternative to standard back squats
- practice for the clean
- a lower-body lift alternative when dealing with injuries.
When programming the front squat, stay in the lower rep ranges—preferably triples or less. If you want more volume, add more sets rather than increasing the rep range.
Fighting Back Against Back Pain?
Learning how to train for strength, safely and effectively, can help you fight back against back pain. The formula is simple: find out what you can do today and do a little bit more tomorrow. The key ingredients are learning how to move correctly and a plan for progress. Below is a short guide to help you get started with strength training for a stronger, healthier back:
- Strength is the foundation of health, function, and fitness.
- A simple, hard, and effective approach. (Easy doesn’t work!)
- Video tutorials and a sample program to help you get started.