- The front squat is one of the best exercises for developing almost every major muscle group in your body, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and calves.
- Learning proper front squat technique boils down to ingraining a few simple habits, and remembering a handful of effective cues (which you’ll learn below).
- The traditional barbell front squat is the most popular style, but the Zercher squat, front squat with straps, zombie squat, goblet squat, and single-leg front squat are workable alternatives.
Every day, more and more people are realizing the power of the barbell back squat.
It’s the ultimate lower body exercise, it strengthens your core and back, and it’s easy to learn and progressively overload.
That doesn’t mean you have to do it, though.
If you find the barbell back squat uncomfortable, if you can’t do it correctly due to an injury or lack of mobility, or you simply want to change it up and try something different, there a number of viable options.
And top on my list is the barbell front squat.
That surprises many casual gym goers, though, because to them, the front squat looks like a painfully awkward way to strangle yourself with a barbell.
That’s understandable. Here’s what it looks like:
And when you’re first learning to front squat, you might find the setup a little painful, you’re definitely going to feel awkward, and you’re likely to question the wisdom of holding a heavy barbell against your throat.
Fortunately, the exercise isn’t nearly as difficult or dangerous as it looks. If you know what you’re doing and put in enough reps, the bar, arm, and wrist positions become comfortable and the movement becomes simple and smooth.
This article is going to help get you there.
By the end, you’re going to know how to front squat with picture-perfect form, three worthwhile front squat variations, and how to do safe and effective front squat workouts that work.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
The front squat is unique in that it trains almost every major muscle group in your body.
Specifically, the front squat develops your . . .
It also works more or less all of the same muscles as the barbell back squat, despite feeling quite different.
One study that looked at why these two exercises seem to be distant cousins, not siblings, was conducted by scientists at the University of Florida.
They had 15 twenty-two year old men perform front and back squats with 70% of their one-rep max (1RM) while measuring muscle activation and pressure (and thus potential wear and tear) on the knee joint.
To record muscle activation, they used an electromyograph (EMG), which measures the electrical activity within a muscle. More electrical activity within a muscle indicates more muscle fibers contracting, which translates into a more powerful stimulus for muscle growth.
To estimate the amount of joint pressure, the researchers had everyone squat with one foot on a force plate (a type of scale that measures how much pressure is being applied) and took video of every set and rep.
After conducting the experiment, the researchers found that total muscle activation was more or less the same between the front and back squat. That is, both exercises showed about the same overall muscle-building potential.
The key difference between the exercises, however, was that the front squat placed slightly less pressure on the knee joint, leading the researchers to conclude that “. . . front squats may be advantageous compared with back squats for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health.”
They also found that the back squat produced just as much quadriceps activation as the front squat, which may sound odd to people familiar with both styles of squatting.
Anecdotally speaking, many people feel the front squat emphasizes the quadriceps more than the back squat. This may be true, regardless of the research we just discussed (EMG data from one study shouldn’t be considered conclusive).
You can see why if you look at the joint angles involved in both exercises:
On the left, you can see that the back squat involves a more bent-over posture, and on the right, you can see that the front squat keeps you more upright.
It would make sense for the lower hip position of the front squat to train the quads more as it extends the range of motion, forcing your quads to do more work. If, however, the hips were lowered to same depth in the back squat, the quads would probably have to work just as hard to stand you back up.
Regardless of exactly how quad-dominant the front squat really is versus the back squat, this much is clear: it should be recognized as equally effective for training the lower body.
The front squat also tends to be more comfortable for people with low-back pain because the spine doesn’t have to flex as much as with the back squat. This is why people often incorporate front squats into their routines when they want to give their low-backs some time to cool off.
Like the barbell back squat, the front squat also trains both the quads and the hamstrings at the same time.
As you’re probably aware, most of the muscles in the body have a counterpart that is opposite in function, and when you activate one, the other deactivates.
The quadriceps and hamstrings have a similar relationship, but thanks to an odd quirk of human anatomy called Lombard’s paradox, the front squat is able to engage both of these muscles simultaneously. This is one of the reasons it’s so effective (and challenging).
If you just want a quick summary of how to front squat, here’s what you need to get started:
- Position the bar in a squat rack at about shoulder height.
- Grab the bar with both hands facing toward the floor, about shoulder-width apart.
- Position your feet so that if you drew a line straight down from the bar, it would go through the middle of your foot.
- Bend your elbows downward, bring your upper chest to the bar so that it touches the base of your throat and rests atop your shoulders.
- Keeping your fingers on the bar, push your elbows toward the ceiling and your shoulders forward, so that the bar is pressing into them.
- Stare at a point directly in front of you, lift the bar off the rack, and take one step back with each foot, ending with both feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Take a deep breath, keep your elbows as high as you can, and drop your hips straight down between your feet.
- Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, reverse the motion until you’re in a standing position.
Here’s what the whole sequence looks like:
If you want to know more about each step, and how to improve your form to lift as much weight as possible, keep reading.
There are three steps to front squatting with proper form:
- The setup, where you position your body to front squat as much weight as possible.
- The descent, where you lower your body into a squatting position with the barbell resting on the front of your shoulders.
- The ascent, where you stand up with the weight in a way that prepares you for the next rep.
Every aspect of front squat technique—whether it’s grip, foot placement, back angle, or anything else—can be filed under one of these three categories.
Let’s go through each of them in detail, starting with the setup.
A proper front squat setup involves just five steps:
- Rack the bar.
- Position the bar.
- Grip the bar.
- Unrack the bar.
- Position your feet.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
1. Rack the bar.
First, make sure the rack isn’t too high or too low.
You should be able to unrack the bar without having to half-squat it off the rack and without having to get up on your tippy toes.
A good rule of thumb is racking the bar one to two inches below its position when you’re standing tall, or around the top of your breastbone.
Here’s the general idea:
2. Grip the bar.
There are several ways to grip the bar for the front squat:
- All four fingers on each hand wrapped around the bar (full grip).
- One, two, or three fingers wrapped around the bar (partial grip).
- Holding straps wrapped around the bar.
- Hands crossed and resting on top of the shoulders instead of the bar.
- Hands extended straight out in front of you (zombie squats).
We’ll cover some of these grip options in more detail in a moment since they also happen to be the main front squat variations worth knowing about.
It’s worth going over the first two options here, though, as the full and partial grips are the most common, reliable, and simplest grips to master.
In both cases, you’re going to first grip the bar with a pronated (palms facing down) grip, just as you would during a barbell back squat.
Then, instead of keeping your elbows slightly behind or under the bar, you push them up and out in front of the bar, like this:
Whether it’s a full or partial grip depends on how many fingers you wrap around the bar to keep it from sliding off of your shoulders.
The full grip involves wrapping all four fingers on each hand around the bar. Here’s what this looks like:
And the partial grip involves wrapping one, two, or three fingers on each hand around the bar. Here’s what this looks like:
If you have outstanding wrist, shoulder, and upper back flexibility, then you may be able to jump right into using a full grip during front squats.
Most people I’ve worked with over the years can’t do this, however. Hell, I like to think I have good upper body mobility and the full grip still feels about as comfortable as foot binding.
This is why I recommend starting with a partial grip.
Now, you may have heard people say that a partial grip is bad technique because it makes it easier to round your upper back during the ascent. This is particularly true, they say, once you start using heavier weights and have to work harder to keep the bar from rolling off your shoulders.
I haven’t found this to be true personally or in my interactions with tens of thousands of people who have followed me and my work. Most people have had no trouble keeping their back straight with a partial grip.
Some have preferred to switch to a full grip as the weights got heavier, but many haven’t, and you can find plenty of examples of accomplished weightlifters who front squat with a partial grip.
So, here’s my advice on the matter:
Get as many fingers on the bar as you can, but don’t worry if you can’t use a full grip from the get-go. Although you don’t have to, if you work on improving your shoulder and upper back flexibility and mobility, you may be able to do a full grip eventually.
3. Position the bar.
Pushing your elbows out in front of the bar and up toward the ceiling, allow the bar to rest on the tops of your deltoids.
For most people this will put the bar right at the base of the throat (it should almost feel like it’s choking you—almost).
Now, this is where the pain I spoke about earlier comes in—the bar pressing into your shoulders is probably going to hurt at first. The best way to minimize this when starting out is using lighter weights and doing fewer reps.
Most people find the pain goes away after their first three to five front squat workouts, and after a short while, the bar position begins to feel comfortable.
4. Unrack the bar.
Put your feet directly under the bar (not behind it), take a deep breath, raise your elbows and chest, and lift the bar off the rack.
Take one step back with each foot, making sure the first is firmly planted before moving the other.
Don’t take several baby steps backward. This wastes energy and forces you to move farther to re-rack the bar at the end of your set, which can be dangerous.
The rule of thumb is this: Move just enough to get clear of the rack, and no more.
Here’s a short video that breaks it down:
5. Position your feet.
Figuring out your ideal stance width will probably require some trial and error, but to start, position your feet just outside of shoulder-width, like this:
For most people, this will be about where you would position your feet for a regular barbell back squat.
If you want to emphasize your glutes in your front squats, then you can use a slightly wider stance, but don’t force it to the point of being distracting or uncomfortable. Remember, you can always target your glutes with other exercises.
If you have trouble squatting down without falling backward, try widening your stance an inch or two. If your hips feel pinched or tight at the bottom, try narrowing your stance an inch or two.
Here’s what we want to achieve on the descent:
And I want you to notice a few things in particular:
- The bar is moving straight up and down, not gliding forward or backward.
- The back stays in a neutral position throughout the movement (no rounding).
- The knees point at the toes the entire time.
- The elbows stay in place (no dropping at the bottom).
- The head stays more or less in line with the back.
That’s what a picture-perfect front squat looks like. Let’s now learn how to do it.
First, take a deep breath, trapping the air in your stomach. As you breath in, you should feel your stomach expanding, not your chest (like this).
Then, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, sealing your windpipe. Tighten your core muscles as if you were about to get punched in the gut.
Push your elbows up, lift your chest, and sit down, keeping your knees in line with your toes.
Some people say you should never let your knees extend past your toes when you squat, because it places slightly more stress on the knees.
This is silly.
While you shouldn’t force your toes past your knees, it will occur naturally in most people as they reach depth in their squat, and research shows the force this places on the knees is well within safe limits.
What you definitely don’t want, however, is your knees caving in toward each other, like this:
To avoid this, think about pushing the floor apart with your feet as you descend.
So, once you’ve hit the bottom of the front squat—the point where your hips are a little lower than your knees and you feel your lower back start to round—you’re ready to execute the final portion of the front squat: the ascent.
Before we cover that, though, let’s go over one of the most controversial questions about squatting . . .
How Deep Should You Squat?
The short answer to this question is this: deep enough that you get to “parallel” or slightly below it.
What this means is getting deep enough so the crease of your hips—where your femurs (thigh bones) join them—is below the tops of your knees, and your femurs are parallel to the ground or slightly lower, like this:
Now, if you’ve spent any time in a gym, you know that most people don’t get anywhere close to parallel in their squats. And they’re missing out on most of what the exercise has to offer.
This is because the deeper you go in the squat . . .
- The more size and strength you’ll gain (yeah, it’s really that simple).
- The more your glutes are activated.
- The more your hips take the load off your knees.
- The stronger your lower back gets.
- The more force you’ll be able to generate (which is particularly relevant to athletes).
So, it’s pretty clear that quarter- and half-rep squats are inferior in every meaningful way.
Does all this mean that you need to squat as deep as possible, though? Do you need to go “Ass-to-Grass” or “ATG,” as the cool kids say?
Full squatting requires more mobility than most people have, and it can be particularly hard for people with long femurs or torsos or people whose hip anatomy simply doesn’t allow full squatting.
If you can full squat comfortably, though, it might offer some additional strength- and muscle-building benefits.
And what if you can’t even manage the parallel squat?
Don’t sweat it. Do your best to reach parallel every time you squat, work on improving your mobility, and it’ll come in time.
You should keep one word in mind while ascending: tension.
One of the most common mistakes people make during the ascent is relaxing a part of their body, like their upper back, core, or shoulders.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and when one area of your body goes slack, it becomes much harder to complete the movement.
For example, if you relax your upper back and chest halfway through a heavy rep, then you’re going to lose bar speed and probably start tipping forward. Then, other muscles have to work even harder to compensate, and if they can’t, the rep grinds to a halt.
This is why most of the cues for helping you ascend aim at keeping everything tight.
For example, here are some popular cues that many people find helpful:
- Shoot out of the bottom the second you reach your desired depth.
- Push the bar up with your elbows (this helps keep your shoulders and arms tight).
- Push the ground apart with your feet and drive your hips under the bar.
You’ll also notice there’s a point in the ascent just above parallel where the weight suddenly feels a lot heavier and the bar begins to slow down. (If it makes you feel better, this even happens to high-level powerlifters).
The key to getting through this sticking point is in the cues:
Exploding out of the bottom of the squat, keeping the air in your lungs, and working to force your hips under your body.
Before we move on, let’s take a moment to address a common problem people run into on the ascent: the rounding back.
How Do You Keep Your Back Straight?
Here’s a common sight among front squatters when the weights are heavy and the reps get difficult:
One of the main reasons people struggle to keep their back straight during the front squat is that they let their butt rise faster than their chest, like this:
And why does that happen? The main culprit is simply too much weight on the bar.
When you try to front squat more weight than you can with proper form, the staggered rise is an effective way to get upright. It’s not desirable, though, because it forces your back into an unstable and possibly unsafe position, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise and increasing the risk of injury.
There are a few ways to fix this.
- Use a lighter weight until you can complete every rep without rounding your back at any point.
- Keep your back ridiculously tight. Many skilled lifters don’t think about their legs when front squatting. Instead, they focus on keeping their chest up and pushing the bar into the ceiling.
- Think of throwing the weight off your shoulders and forcing your hips under the bar. (This is a fantastic cue for front squatting heavy weights with good form.)
- Strengthen your quads with more squats and accessory exercises (more on this in a moment).
- Brace properly. Suck in enough air that your lungs feel 80% full, and keep it trapped there throughout the entire rep. Many people let the air out of their lungs as they ascend, and this makes it very difficult to maintain a straight, tight back. Read this article to learn how to breathe properly for heavy lifting.
The traditional front squat is done with two hands on a barbell that’s resting on your shoulders, with both feet about shoulder-width apart.
There are several variations worth knowing that can be used instead of or in addition to the traditional front squat, though:
- The Zercher squat
- The front squat with straps
- The zombie squat
- The goblet squat
- The single-leg front squat
Let’s look at each.
The Zercher squat is a strange looking variation of the front squat that involves holding the barbell in the crook of your elbows instead of on your shoulders, like this:
This was invented by a strongman and powerlifter from the 1930s named Ed Zercher, presumably for the same reason people use it today—to take the stress off of your wrists and shoulders when front squatting.
The main benefit of the Zercher squat is that it gives you most of the same benefits of the front squat without requiring as much wrist and upper back flexibility.
The downside is that it doesn’t train your upper back as effectively as the traditional front squat and also can be hard to do properly with heavy weights.
This is why if you can do the traditional front squat, then there’s little reason to try the Zercher squat.
If you have trouble doing the traditional front squat without wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain, however, you can start with the Zercher squat and work to address whatever’s holding you back from doing the traditional front squat.
Here’s how to do this exercise:
The front squat with straps involves attaching two lifting straps to the bar before you start your set, and using them as handles during each rep.
Here’s what this looks like:
Like the Zercher squat, the front squat with straps is designed to take stress off of your wrists. Unlike the Zercher squat, this variation still has the bar resting on your shoulders, which makes it quite similar to a traditional front squat.
The upside of this variation is that requires very little wrist flexibility. The downside is that it tends to be less stable, especially with heavier loads. It also takes longer to set up and requires you to remember one more piece of equipment (straps).
I recommend you start with Zercher or goblet squats (discussed below) if you can’t do traditional front squats, but using straps is a workable option.
Here’s how to do this exercise:
The zombie squat is a front squat variation that changes your hand position and grip to make the exercise more comfortable.
In this case you simply extend your arms straight out in front of you, allowing the bar to rest on the tops of your shoulders, like this:
I don’t think I need to explain why it’s called the zombie squat, and it’s utilized because it requires basically no wrist, shoulder, or upper back flexibility. That said, it also gets very unstable very fast once you start adding weight.
Here’s how to do this exercise:
The goblet squat is similar to a front squat, except you use a dumbbell instead of a barbell.
As the name suggests, you hold a dumbbell close to your chest (don’t let it drift forward!) as if it were a large goblet, and otherwise, it’s a just a squat.
The main benefit of the goblet squat is convenience—you don’t need a barbell—so if you’re traveling or can only go to a (crappy) gym that doesn’t have barbells, then the goblet squat is a workable alternative.
Here’s how to do this exercise:
The single leg front squat is similar to the traditional front squat, except it’s performed with most of your weight on one foot and the other foot resting on the floor behind you or on a bench.
The goal of the single-leg front squat is to address or prevent muscle imbalances that can develop from unintentionally favoring one leg while squatting.
While single-leg front squats can work for this purpose, I’m not a fan of the exercise myself.
It requires significantly more balance than other single-leg exercises like bulgarian split squats, dumbbell lunges, or single-leg back squats, and it doesn’t offer any special benefits you can’t get from those exercises.
The single-leg front squat isn’t fundamentally flawed, however, and some people enjoy it, so I’m including it here.
Here’s how to do this exercise:
You now know how to front squat.
You know the best variations.
Now it’s time to hike up your (knee) sleeves and get to work.
Here’s a simple and effective front squat workout that incorporates several of the variations you just learned as well as some additional exercises to target the hamstrings and calves.
This is more or less what I do when I’m incorporating the front squat into my workout routine.
Barbell Front Squat
Warm-up and . . .
Men/Experienced Squatter: 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80 to 85% one-rep max (1RM)
Women/New to Squatting: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 75% of 1RM
2 sets of 4 to 6 / 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM
3 sets of 4 to 6 / 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM
Standing Calf Raise
3 sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM
And a few odds and ends on how to do this workout:
Muscle failure is the point where you can no longer keep the weight moving and have to end the set.
We should take most of our sets to a point close to failure (one or two reps shy), and we should rarely take sets to the point of absolute failure.
Instead, I reserve my failure sets for isolation exercises like hamstring curls, leg extensions, calf raises and the like, and it’s usually a natural consequence of pushing for progressive overload as opposed to deliberate programming.
This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.
For instance, if you front squat 135 pounds for 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.
If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can front squat it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.
If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 reps or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase the weight on the bar.
I wish this weren’t the case, but it simply gets harder and harder to gain muscle and strength as you inch your way toward your genetic potential, and the closer you get, the more you’re going to have to break through plateaus.
That’s where these 12 strategies come in. They’ll not only help you break out of ruts when you fall into them, they’ll help you from getting stuck in the first place.
You really can’t overemphasize proper technique when it comes to front squatting.
It may look simple, but there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, which is why even the world’s best weightlifters are constantly playing with their grips, bar and foot positions, cues, and the rest of it to improve their performance.
This is also why many people who aren’t progressing on their squat can benefit from auditing their form.
Of course, step one would be going through the steps listed earlier in this article and making sure the fundamentals are in.
It’s also helpful to have a cheat sheet of sorts with cues that reinforce proper technique. Here’s mine:
- Keep your chest up.
- Throw the bar off your back.
- Grab the floor (with your feet).
- Force your hips under the bar.
- Push the floor apart.
- Lift the bar with your shoulders.
It also helps tremendously to have someone video you front squatting from several angles and then compare your reps to a model, like the video shared earlier in this article.
Look closely at how you’re moving in each phase of the front squat versus the model, make notes of what you see to be different, and work on improving them one at a time in the gym, on camera, until each becomes ingrained.
Some people think they “just aren’t built for front squatting” because they can’t get their form right.
This is nonsense. With the right know-how and instruction, everybody who’s generally healthy and functional can front squat to at least parallel with some weight on their shoulders.
The most common reason people believe otherwise is poor lower body mobility, and particularly ankle and hip mobility as well as hamstring flexibility.
If you want to learn how to improve your mobility for front squatting, check out this article:
“Bracing” refers to creating and maintaining tightness in your body while performing an exercise.
In weightlifting circles, this generally refers to how well you can trap air in your torso and hold it in under heavy loads.
This creates what’s known as intra-abdominal pressure, which helps stabilize your body, keep your torso rigid, and prevent the bar from moving while squatting.
The bottom line is you should be holding your breath during heavy squats, and if you aren’t, then you aren’t going to be able to lift as much weight.
So, how do you brace properly?
Every one to two reps, take in a breath that fills your lungs to about 80% of their maximum capacity, drawing the air deep into your stomach, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and don’t let that air out until you’re past the hardest part of the lift.
If you want to learn more about proper bracing and breathing while lifting, check this out:
Professor Ronnie Coleman said it best:
How heavy is “heavy,” though?
Well, the “strength” spectrum usually starts around 80 to 85% of your one-rep max (1RM), or the 4 to 6 rep range, and goes up and down, respectively, from there (up in weight, down in reps).
What this means is if you’re currently doing the majority of your front squatting with lighter weights—65 to 70% of 1RM for 10 to 12 reps, for example—you’re going to benefit greatly by emphasizing heavier lifting instead (80 to 85% of 1RM for 4 to 6 reps).
You don’t have to stop the 10- to 12-rep work, but don’t neglect the lower rep ranges that help you get stronger faster.
Want to learn more about the right rep range, intensity, and volume for strength training? Check out this article:
Aside from a barbell, you don’t need any special toys to front squat properly.
If you want to get the most out of your front squats, though, then there are a few pieces of equipment that can be extremely helpful.
What do most people front squat in?
Running shoes. Perhaps the worst choice for the exercise for three reasons:
- Their squishy soles allow your feet to wiggle and shift under heavy loads, forcing you to waste precious energy stabilizing yourself that could be spent on, you know, front squatting.
- Their fragile sidewalls also stretch (and sometimes tear) when you torque your feet against them.
- Their flimsy laces also don’t hold your feet in the proper position.
That’s why I highly recommend you pick up a pair of good weightlifting shoes.
They provide a snug fit that keeps your feet from wiggling around, which saves energy and even helps prevent injury, and allows you to safely “screw” your feet into the ground (a good cue to help keep your knees in line with your toes).
And they provide good traction so your feet don’t slip or shift during a lift.
The bottom line is the right weightlifting shoes not only improve your performance of important lifts like the front squat, but they reduce the risk of injury as well.
Check out this article to learn more about weightlifting shoes and my personal recommendations:
I’ve stayed away from knee wraps because research has shown they may increase wear and tear on your knee joints, but when I looked into knee sleeves, I was pleasantly surprised.
Unlike wraps, sleeves provide joint support and heat retention (warmer tendons and ligaments can stretch easier) without nearly as much compression.
While I don’t have any knee problems, I’ve definitely noticed that sleeves make my heavy squats and deadlifts more comfortable.
I currently use this pair:
I’ve spent long periods of time squatting with and without a belt and can vouch for the same. When used properly, you’re stronger with a belt. Period.
As whole-body strength is closely related with muscularity (the stronger you get, the bigger you get, generally speaking), a weightlifting belt can help you gain muscle faster over the long haul.
If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of lifting belts, then check out this article:
And here’s my favorite weightlifting belt:
Wrist wraps are thick strips of nylon or canvas cloth that wrap around the wrist.
Some people find that wrist wraps help stabilize their wrists when front squatting, but I’ve never found a need for them.
If you want to give them a shot, though, they might help take some of the stress off of your wrists when front squatting.
Here’s a good pair:
The right mental preparation can make a significant difference in all of your weightlifting.
Don’t approach a set lethargically. Get pumped up and excited (the right music can help a lot).
Research shows that doing this can increase force production, and the same study also found that distraction can significantly decrease force production.
So, before you start your set, put your headphones on, tune out your mind and the rest of the gym, and pump yourself up.
Another simple but effective mental “trick” for increasing strength is visualizing successfully performing your reps before you do them.
I know, I know—it sounds woo-woo but research shows it actually works. Check out this article to learn more:
Many trainers and coaches promote super-slow reps as best for building muscle and strength, but research shows the opposite is actually better.
- A study conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney found that subjects following traditional “fast” training on the bench press gained more strength than slow training.
- A study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that very-slow training resulted in lower levels of peak force and power when compared with a normal, self-regulated tempo.
- A study conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that even in untrained individuals a traditional training tempo resulted in greater strength in the squat and greater peak power in the countermovement jump.
- A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oklahoma found that four weeks of traditional resistance training was more effective for increasing strength than super-slow training.
Furthermore, research shows that, when bench pressing, lowering the bar quickly (1 second) and, without pause, then exploding it upward results in greater power gains than a slow descent followed by a pause and explosive ascent.
(FYI, most of this type of research has been done on the bench press because it’s easier to find study subjects who know how to bench properly. All of the same rules apply to squats.)
So, don’t sit down or rise slowly when you front squat. Descend and explode upward as quickly as you can while still safely controlling the bar.
The ideal training frequency for building muscle is a heated subject. What we can know for certain, though, is this:
If you want to get better at something, you want to do it more frequently.
This applies to pretty much everything, including front squatting. The more you front squat, the faster you’re going to improve your technique, which will translate into faster muscle and strength gain.
This is why every powerlifting program worth a hoot has you squatting, deadlifting, and/or bench pressing two to three times per week. Many bodybuilding/”aesthetic” programs, like my Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) and Thinner Leaner Stronger (women), do as well.
So, if you’re currently front squatting once per week and are stuck, increasing frequency to squatting twice or even three times per week can be enough to break you out of the rut.
Keep in mind, however, that the more frequently you do an exercise—and especially a whole-body exercise like the front squat—the easier it is to run into symptoms related to overtraining.
Check out this article for an effective workout routine that involves several squat sessions per week (just replace the back squats with front squats and you’re good to go):
Changing your exercises too frequently can hurt your progress because you’re having to constantly learn new and reacquaint yourself with movements.
Generally speaking, focusing most of your efforts on getting really good at fewer exercises is going to pay better dividends over time.
That said, pounding away at the exact same exercises for months or years on end can also be counterproductive.
As you learned earlier, different kinds of squats emphasize different muscle groups, and therefore rotating through them systematically can prevent slight muscle imbalances that can get in the way of progress.
For example, let’s say you’ve been front squatting for months and have hit a plateau.
Instead of continuing to grind away at it, you could switch to low-bar squats for 8 to 12 weeks to improve your quad and upper back strength, and then return to front squatting and find it stronger than before.
Personally, I like to change my main compound movements roughly every 8 to 12 weeks, depending on what I’m doing with my diet and how things are going.
Whenever someone complains about not gaining weight, size, or strength, my first suspicion is they’re not eating enough food. And I’m very often right.
Here’s a simple fact of muscle growth that many people don’t understand:
If you want to gain muscle and weight as quickly as possible, then you need to eat enough calories. If you don’t, you simply won’t gain much to speak of.
For example, I know that I need to eat somewhere between 3,300 and 3,600 calories per day to consistently gain weight. If that sounds like a lot of food to you, it is.
It only goes up from there, too. By the end of my lean bulks, I’m usually eating upward of 4,000 calories per day.
I can’t complain, though because I’ve seen much worse. I’ve worked with hundreds of “hardgainers” that couldn’t gain a single pound until their daily intake exceeded 4,000 to 4,500 calories per day, seven days per week (no missing meals on the weekends!).
So, the takeaway here is simple: increasing your calorie intake is an easy way to get your numbers, both weight and strength, moving up.
What you don’t want to do, however, is bludgeon yourself with a truckload of food every day. Get out of hand and you’re going to gain a lot of fat a lot faster than you’d like.
Here’s how to do it right:
As a natural weightlifter, your number one goal should be increasing your whole-body strength over time.
So long as you make that your primary focus in your training, you’ll have no trouble gaining the size you want.
The reason for this is while you can gain a fair amount of muscle in the beginning without gaining much strength, once you graduate to an intermediate lifter, strength and size become closely correlated.
In other words, once your “honeymoon phase” is over and your body is no longer hyper-responsive to resistance training, you’re going to have to get a lot stronger if you want to continue getting bigger.
This process is generally pretty straightforward:
You work in a given rep range until you hit the top for one, two, or three sets, and then you add weight to the bar, and usually 5 pounds to each side (or per dumbbell if it’s not a barbell exercise), and work with that until you can move up again, and so on.
Sometimes this doesn’t work, though, and you find yourself stuck at a given weight and rep count for several weeks. This is where “microloading” can help, which is a fancy term for adding less than 5 pounds to the bar.
For example, let’s say you’re following a strength training program that dictates 3 sets of 5 reps before adding weight to the bar, and you’ve been stuck at 5 x 5 x 4 for several weeks now. You’ve tried moving up 10 pounds anyway, but can only get 2 reps with good form.
In this case, you can use smaller (“fractional”) plates to increase the weight on the bar by just 5 or even 2.5 pounds, which may allow you to get the reps you need.
So, let’s say you increase the weight by just 2.5 pounds (227.5 total pounds) and get 4 reps. You can now work with this weight until you can squat it for three sets of 5 reps, and then add another 2.5 pounds to the bar (230 total pounds), work with it until you can move up, and so forth.
Here are some high-quality fractional plates I recommend:
Although front squats are one of the best exercises for strengthening your quads and back, you’ll probably reach a point where doing additional quad- and back-specific work will benefit your front squat numbers.
As far as the quads, my favorite accessories are:
- The leg press
- The leg extension
- The dumbbell lunge
And for the back, I like:
- Romanian deadlifts
- Barbell rows
- Weighted hyperextensions
The front squat is one of the single best exercises you can do for developing whole-body muscle and strength, and especially your quads and upper back.
It’s not an easy lift, though.
Learning proper form can take weeks, getting good at it can take months, and mastering it under heavy loads can take years.
The good news is the rewards are worth the work. Building a strong front squat will go far in building the lower body you really want.
If you don’t have the wrist, shoulder, and upper back flexibility to do a traditional front squat, then it’s worth experimenting with front squat variations such as the Zercher squat, front squat with straps, zombie squat, goblet squat, and single-leg front squat.
If you can do the regular front squat just fine, however, I recommend you just stick with it.
You’re going to hit sticking points along the way as well, even when you do everything right.
When this happens, work your way through the 12 tips shared earlier to break through those plateaus and keep building those gams:
- Keep Learning Proper Form (And Stick to it Ruthlessly)
- Improve Your Hip, Knee, and Ankle Mobility
- Learn to Brace Properly
- Lift Heavy Ass Weight
- Use the Right Equipment
- Get in the Right State of Mind
- Lift Explosively
- Front Squat More Frequently
- Try Different Kinds of Squats
- Make Sure You’re Eating Enough
- “Microload” Your Weights
- Strengthen Your Quads and Back
Happy front squatting!
P.S. Would you mind doing me a favor? I love researching and writing these articles, and the more they get shared around, the more I’m encouraged to write. 🙂
It really helps spread the word! Thanks!