how to do front squats

How to Do Front Squats

by Evelyn Valdez

The front squat, or barbell front squat, is a staple compound movement in the routine of countless advanced lifters who are looking to build bigger and stronger lower-body muscles – and for a good reason! This exercise uses the weight of the barbell to make your legs work harder during the squat, pushing your muscles to the limit.

If you’re looking to get better muscle gains, this is definitely an exercise that you should try! In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to perform the front squat effectively, as well as a few alternatives so you can build your way up to this amazing strength training exercise.

Basics of the barbell front squat

In theory, front squats are a fairly straightforward exercise, but in practice, they can be quite challenging. This is because the weight of the barbell will not only challenge your strength but also your balance as you move up and down during the squat.

Because of this added weight, it’s important to master proper form before trying heavier weights. Just because you know how to perform the standard bodyweight squat perfectly doesn’t mean you can add a bunch of weight right away to it.

Here are the things to keep in mind when performing a barbell front squat:

Gym station

The best place to perform a barbell front squat is a squat rack. You could do it on a Smith machine for a guided path at first, but if you’re ready to learn the proper technique it’s better to have a free range of motion.

During barbell front squats you’re dealing with a heavy weight, and a squat rack supports you and makes getting in position a lot easier. Adjust the height of the bar so that it’s about chest level so you can grab it comfortably, and load it with the appropriate weight. This takes us to the next point…

Barbell weight

When dealing with weights, particularly barbells, you need to be careful not to go over what you can actually lift. You don’t want to go too heavy at first and risk an accident or an injury, so it’s always best to keep it lighter at the beginning and then adjust it as you go. Remember, it’s always better to underestimate yourself than to do the opposite!

Barbell grip

Even if everything else is set up perfectly, the way you grab the barbell can do more harm than good. For this particular exercise, the best way to grab the bar is with a full overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart. But, while this offers the best control, placing all four fingers on the bar might be difficult at first due to a lack of wrist flexibility.

If you find this position difficult, try grabbing the bar with just two fingers – your index and middle finger, or your index and thumb, however, you feel more comfortable. This is a partial overhand grip, and it will help you ease into the exercise and get used to the weight and hand position before being able to place all four fingers.

If your wrist flexibility is truly limited, you could try the cross grip or cross-arm grip, which requires more upper back strength but doesn’t involve flexing your wrists backward. To use this grip, place the bar on your deltoids and cross your arms over it so that your hands touch the opposite shoulder while grabbing the bar. And be careful not to arch your back during the movement!

Barbell placement

As for the placement of the bar, it should be above your chest and just over your clavicles so that it rests on your anterior deltoids (shoulder muscles), almost touching your neck. Keep in mind that your deltoids are the ones in charge of carrying most of the weight during this movement, so if you feel a lot of strain on your fingers it’s probably because the bar isn’t positioned correctly!

How to perform a barbell front squat

Now that you’re aware of the basics, let’s go over the barbell front squat step by step so that you can do it safely and effectively:

  1. First, make sure the station is set up correctly, with the bar at chest height and properly loaded.
  2. Stand in front of the bar and grab it with your hands shoulder-width apart in a full overhand grip (or the grip of your choice).
  3. Keep your back straight and unrack the bar, driving it to your shoulders so that it rests on your deltoids, almost touching your neck.
  4. Take a step back from the squat rack and straighten your body, making sure you have a neutral spine and your chin up. Your arms should be parallel to the floor with your elbows completely bent and pointing forward. This will be your starting position.
  5. Engage your core and begin the movement by bending your hips and knees, lowering yourself without moving your upper body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  6. Pause for a moment in this lower position, then slowly go back up while squeezing your working muscles. Be careful not to let the bar tilt to the sides to avoid losing balance.
  7. Repeat for the desired amount of times, then carefully return the bar to the rack and step out of the station.

Once you’ve finished your reps, you’ll have successfully completed a barbell front squat set. It’ll be challenging at first, but if you keep the basics in mind, you’ll be able to work your way up in no time!

Front squats vs. back squats

When talking about weighted squats, the front squat and the back squat are usually the first two to come to mind. And while they might look similar, they are quite different!

The main difference between front and back squats is how your body lowers to the ground. With front squats, your torso stays straight during the movement and your elbows point forward for better balance, while during back squats your torso leans forward throughout the movement with your elbows pointing down.

Even though they both target pretty much the same muscle groups, the different barbell position results in different muscle activation, with the front squat mainly activating your anterior chain (quads, abs) and the back squat mainly activating your posterior chain (glutes, lower back). 

That said, barbell front squats can be a better option for you if you’re a beginner or have knee or lower back pain since it puts less stress on those areas than the barbell back squat.

Barbell front squat alternatives

Since the barbell front squat is considered an intermediate to advanced exercise, it might be difficult to get the hang of it at first. Luckily, there are a few alternatives that you can try first to get used to the weighted squat, so you can work on your form before you try the heavier weights.

Bar front squat

This variation of the front squat uses only the bar without it being loaded with weight. It’s a good way to practice your barbell form and your preferred grip while squatting.

How to do it:

  1. Place the unloaded bar on the rack and stand in front of it, grabbing it with an overhand grip with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Unrack the bar and rest it on your deltoids, just above your clavicles, making sure your elbows are pointing forward.
  3. Step back and begin the movement by bending your hips and knees, lowering yourself with a straight back until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Pause for a moment while squeezing your muscles, then slowly go back up and repeat.

Dumbbell front squat

Dumbbells are the perfect alternative to help you make progress toward the barbell front squat when you’re just starting by giving you a safe weight to handle.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand, then drive them up to your shoulders. You can use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) for the standard dumbbell squat, or an overhand grip (palms facing forward) to practice your barbell front squat grip.
  2. Keep your back straight and begin the movement by bending your hips and knees, lowering yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Pause for a moment, squeeze your muscles, then go back up to the start position and repeat.

Goblet squat

When it comes to kettlebell exercises, the goblet squat is one of the best, and it’s great to work your way up to the barbell front squat because it helps you get used to the challenge of the weight.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell in your hands, right in front of you.
  2. Keeping your back straight, begin the movement by bending your hips and knees, lowering yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Pause for a moment while squeezing your muscles, making sure you’re not losing balance, then go back up and repeat.

Double kettlebell front squat

Another kettlebell squat, this time resembling the barbell front squat slightly more by using two kettlebells over your chest where the bar would be.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab a kettlebell by the handle in each hand.
  2. Drive your hands up to the center of your chest and place the balls of the weights on top of your forearms while your elbows are pointing down.
  3. Begin the movement by bending your hips and knees, lowering yourself with a straight back until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Pause for a moment while squeezing your muscles, then slowly go back up and repeat.

Make your strength training time at the gym worth it

Follow the steps, keep in mind the basics, and you’ll find yourself getting closer to your muscle-building goals in no time! Remember, all barbell exercises can be challenging when you’re still a beginner, so make sure to take the time to adjust yourself and build your way up for a safe but effective fitness journey. Slow and steady is the way to go!

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