The front squat is an exercise we like to incorporate into our programming at Forge-Rx for multiple different reasons. With the back squat being the most notorious of squat variations, I often get asked the questions; “Why are we doing a front squat instead of a back squat?” or “Which squat is better, the front squat or the back squat?” Not that there is anything wrong with the back squat, but there are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting which squat to perform. Back pain, poor upper back mobility, and the tendency for people to load too much weight on the barbell are all factors that increase the risk of injury when performing the back squat. Front squats are more core intensive and help train a more upright knee dominant pattern (because the torso must remain upright), which in turn is more back “friendly” than the traditional back squat.
The most important part of performing the front squat is being able to get in a good front rack position with the barbell. Maintaining a good front rack means keeping elbows up and in throughout full range of motion. Being able to perform a barbell front squat is a good indicator of core stability, body awareness, and overall mobility.
The two common limiting factors:
1. Lack of Wrist Extension
A common complaint is that the front rack position hurts the wrists. This either means that person is grabbing the barbell with a tight grip or that they lack the ability to extend their wrists. A good front rack has the hands outside of the shoulders with a loose grip on the barbell in order to drive the elbows up. If a loose grip is applied and there is still wrist pain there is an easy drill to perform in order to improve their position. Box wrist extensions will help wrist mobility and allow for a more comfortable front rack. To perform, get a box or bench to place your hands on and turn your fingers around so that they are facing towards you. From there try to get the heel of your hand flat to the box and slowly bend at the elbow. You should feel a good wrist and forearm stretch.
2. Lack of Thoracic Spine Extension and Tight Lats
A tight upper back will limit the ability to drive the elbows up while performing a front squat. In order to load the barbell and support heavy loads, the elbows must remain high throughout the lift or the torso will fall forward and form will break. Bench T-spine extensions will help loosen a tight upper back. You will need a bench and PVC pipe. To perform, get into a kneeling position and place elbows on the bench. The hands should be shoulder width apart with an underhand grip on the PVC. From there shift the hips back as you bring the PVC back behind your head. Try to get your butt all the way to your heels and hands to the upper back.
If you are a newbie to the front squat or someone who struggles with the front rack position give these tips a try and see if they don’t help. If you have any questions or need a more in-depth explanation for the two drills listed above, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or come find me somewhere around the gym! Happy Training ?
Becca Carley, B.S. ACSM – EP