I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.
I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.
This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.
That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.
Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.
So, here’s what I’m doing:
Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .
- Why Do Front Squats?
Lastly, if you want to support the show, please drop a quick review of it over on iTunes. It really helps!
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello, and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. Now, I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based stuff over the years on just about everything you can imagine relating to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy. I’ve also worked with thousands and thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their life.
But that does not mean you should just blindly swallow everything I say because let’s face it, nobody is always right about everything, and especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are always evolving. Thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders, and that’s why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t quite get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate. The discussion and that gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes, which I call says You, where I publicly address things that people disagree with me on, and I share my perspective.
It’s kind of like a spicier. Q and A. So what I do is every couple of weeks I ask people who follow me on Instagram at Muscle Life Fitness, please follow me what they disagree with me on, and then I pick a few of the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast. So if there’s something that you disagree with me on, and it can be related to diet, exercise.
Supplementation business, lifestyle. I don’t care anything. Go follow me on Instagram at Muscle for Life Fitness and look for my saysyou story that I put up every couple of weeks where I solicit content for these episodes. Or just shoot me an email, [email protected]. And in this episode, I will be tackling, why should you do front squats instead of other quad dominant exercises?
Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading. Flexible Dieting Cookbook, the Shredded Chef.
Now these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best body ever, and you can find them on all major online retailers like Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select Barnes and Noble stores. And I should also mention that you can get any of the audiobooks 100%.
Free when you sign up for an Audible account. And this is a great way to make those pockets of downtime like commuting, meal prepping, and cleaning more interesting, entertaining, and productive. And so if you want to take Audible up on this offer, and if you want to get one of my audiobooks for free, just go to www.buy Legion, that’s b u y legion.com/audible and sign up for your account.
So again, if you appreciate my work and if you wanna see more of it and if you wanna learn time proven. And evidence-based strategies for losing fat, building muscle, and getting healthy, and strategies that work for anyone and everyone, regardless of age or circumstances, please do consider picking up one of my best selling books, bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women, and the Shredded Chef for my favorite fitness friendly recipes.
All right, so why do front squats instead of other quad dominant exercises? Somebody asked me that on Instagram. Give me a follow and ask me questions if you want. At Muscle for Life Fitness. And the reason why somebody asked me this or challenged me on this point is a lot of my programming. Includes the front squat.
Not so much for people who are brand new to this stuff because they can do just fine with the back squat, which is a bit easier to learn, and it is less uncomfortable if you have front squatted a lot. Maybe you don’t remember what it was like when you first had to get the barbell up against your throat and you had to get it on your shoulders and not on your.
Collarbone. But even when you do it right, of course it places a lot of the load on your collarbone. It’s just uncomfortable at first and you get used to it. For those of you who have not front squatted or who maybe are just beginning to front squat and are concerned that it is very uncomfortable, and if it were to stay that way, it is not an exercise that you want to continue doing.
You do just get used to it. Eventually you become completely desensitized to it. Actually. You just have to stick it out in the beginning. So anyway, you have somebody who’s new and they do just back squatting for probably at least their first six months, maybe their first 12 months, and progress comes easy.
They’re adding weight to the bar every week in the beginning and then every other week, and then maybe once a month toward the end of that. First year, but that’s still great progress and they probably haven’t developed any repetitive stress injuries yet, because again, if they’re new, they’re gonna be starting off with lower weights.
And with lower weights of course, comes less stress on the joints. But then they. Graduate from their novice phase to their intermediate phase. The weights start getting relatively heavy relative to body weight, and depending on what program they’re following, they’re probably also working in lower rep ranges.
Maybe they started working in the eight to 10 or maybe 10 to 12 or maybe even higher rep. Range. And now as they have gotten stronger, they are working in the four to six or six to eight. Of course, if they were following me in my work, they would’ve been doing a lot of the heavier stuff right away, at least the men in my thinner, leaner, stronger program for women.
I recommend that they start in the eight to 10 rep range, and then after their first six to eight months or so, Start incorporating heavier training into their programming. And the reason for that is your average woman starts out with a lot less strength than your average dude. And your average dude can start squatting in the four to six rep range on day one and do quite well with it.
He might put 1 35 on the bar, for example, and go. But your average woman is going to have to use a lot less weight because again, she is not nearly as strong even relative to her body weight. And when that is the case and you have a woman who is struggling to get sets of, let’s say eight to 10, with just the bar, it’s not very practical to tell her to go even heavier to work in the four to six rep range.
And it also is, Daunting and it’s unnecessarily difficult. So again, what I recommend is that women, when they’re new to strength training, start out with lighter, not light, but just lighter. We’re talking about 70 to 75% of one rep max. Doing eights, doing tens. Could also do 10 to 12, that’s fine, but eight to 10 is a good place to start for women to then build that foundation of muscle and strength that will allow them to smoothly transition into the heavier stuff.
And so then once the weights start getting heavy, and again, relative to body weight is the key there because weights that are very heavy for a hundred pound woman are going to be very different than weights that are very heavy, uh, for a 200 pound man. But once the weights start getting heavy, once you are squatting, for example, your body weight for sets of six to eight to 10, you are now.
No longer a novice and you can now benefit more from changing exercises every so often. My general rule of thumb is every eight to 10 weeks or so, and in the case of the squat, I like to alternate between the barbell back squat and the barbell front squat. That’s what I’ve been doing for many years now.
That’s what I’ve been telling many people to do for many years now. It works. And I just recently tried out the safety bar squat for the first time because I’ve never worked out in a gym that had a safety bar. But the gym I go to now has all kinds of fun stuff, and I think that’s also a very viable squat alternative.
So I’m gonna be doing that for the next four months because I’m following beyond bigger, leaner, stronger, and in beyond Bigger. Leaner, stronger. You’re doing the same exercises for four months at a time, not. Two months at a time, like bigger, leaner, stronger. And so I would throw the safety bar squat in there as well as a worthwhile alternative to the plain Jane, the vanilla barbell back squat.
Now, why not just do the barbell back squat? Indefinitely. Well, a couple of reasons. One, I mentioned repetitive stress injuries, RSIs, and this is usually not an issue when you’re new, but once you are a more experienced weightlifter and the weights start getting heavy, the risk of developing these nagging issues.
Rises markedly, and especially if you keep doing the same exercises for long periods of time. If you keep putting your body through the exact same movements again and again week after week, maybe even multiple times per week, eventually something is probably going to start hurting for me, for example, with the barbell back squat, if I do just that for months on end, I will either start to get patellar tendon pain in my right knee.
Or I will get SI joint pain on the left side of my hips and those are pretty common occurrences. Knee issues si joint issues. Low back issues are pretty common with the barb back squat with people who lift heavy weights and are squatting at least once a week, who are doing a fair amount of volume every week one way or another.
And who just do it week after week after week, month after month after month. Now if lifting is part of your lifestyle and if it is going to be part of your lifestyle for the rest of your life, which it absolutely should be, I would love to say that you will never experience a repetitive stress injury or that you could take simple, or maybe even not so simple actions to never experience an rsi, but chances are you’re gonna.
Run into these things now and then even if you do everything right, sometimes it just takes one bad set on an exercise. Your last rep, your form is a little bit off. You tweak something a little bit. Other times, certain muscle groups just get agitated. Sometimes you develop trigger points that you can’t find or you don’t even know about, so you’re not working them out.
These points of muscular tension and pain and sensitivity that refer pain elsewhere. And that can then manifest eventually as an rsi, not necessarily where the trigger points are, which is a funny thing about trigger points. For example, a couple of years ago, I had some biceps tendonitis on my right side in the bici groove in my right arm.
That’s where I felt the pain, and I had to stop bench pressing because it wasn’t getting better. It was just slowly getting worse, and I finally had to throw in the towel and regroup and come up with a plan for getting rid of it so I could train. Pain free. And the thing that made the biggest difference was finding a couple trigger points in.
One was in my subscapularis muscle on the right side, and another was in the, it’s hard to say exactly which muscle, I’m guessing it was the infraspinatus muscle up against the scapula, up against the shoulder blade, and that had to get work. And you just work trigger points by basically beating the shit out of them and desensitizing them gradually.
So it starts out kind of painful when you first find a trigger point and you know it’s a trigger point again when that pain refers elsewhere. So when the PT I was working with found the subscap point, I found that referring up into my triceps when we found the infraspinatus. What. We guess as infraspinatus.
I found that referring directly into the bici groove, like that was probably the key trigger point that we worked out. And then also my longissimus muscles on the right side of my spine were also just not happy. And so what, by working that out, um, and that also referred right into the bici groove By working those three things out, we went from a lot of sensitivity in those areas.
Bici groove, biceps tendons, problems to. More or less, no more pain or sensitivity in those trigger point areas. And also the resolution of the biceps tendonitis. And I did still have to lay off of it a little bit after, but that was a market improvement and icing also helped. I was icing, uh, that bicycle of groove every day and just working through these trigger points, and that made a tremendous difference.
So anyway, if you are experiencing N R s, I just know that it happens to all of us. Inevitably, we don’t have to be plagued by these things. We don’t have to always be dealing with some major repetitive stress injury, but it is inevitable if you train frequently enough and intensely enough that things will just start hurting now and then for no good reason.
Often, and you are going to have to stop doing whatever it is that is aggravating the issue. And often that’s actually all it takes. It’s just rest. But sometimes you do need to go a bit further and look for trigger points, for example, or see a good PT to help you figure out what’s going on if you can’t resolve it yourself.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world, bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef.
And to give you another example, a personal example, right now my left forearm is just achy. It’s kind of whiny. It hasn’t turned into a full-blown rsi, but it is threatening, it is presenting with RSI symptoms. And the reason is I started to put time into golf again. So I am getting, uh, one lesson a week, and then I’m hitting some balls on the week.
Again, and I’m like doing some practice swings in my basement during the week, and the practice swings aren’t an issue, but the lesson, like when I’m hitting actual balls, it is putting new stress and strain on my left forearm in particular. And ironically as. Unathletic as many golfers look and as unathletic as many people think the sport is.
The golf swing is not only very technically demanding. According to some research, I saw one paper that ranked it in, I believe it was the top three most difficult athletic movements to learn. If I remember correctly, the first was hitting a fast ball and the second was either the golf swing or pole vaulting, and the third was the other.
Anyone who plays golf and has just heard that for the first time is not surprised because as simple as good golfers make it look and as smooth and graceful and elegant as they make it look, it is very hard to get right and it’s also hard on the body because it’s very asymmetrical. It stresses everything on the left.
Side of the body very differently than the right side of the body. And it involves a lot of twisting, a lot of rotational force. And in the case of my poor little forearm, that’s my leading arm, my left, because I’m a righty, right? So my leading arm is, is what’s coming into impact and that force. Again, and again and again is a new strain that my forearm has to deal with.
And when you put that on top of all of the stresses and strains of training, it’s a bit too much right now. And so, practically speaking, what’s happening is when I pull with, uh, a normal double overhand, you know, palms down, think of a barbell row for example, when I pull with that grip, And I feel it a bit in my, in my forum.
My forum is not liking that. But if I pull with a neutral grip that produces more or less no pain, a little bit of discomfort, but I don’t feel it nearly as much. And so what I’m doing right now is I’m only doing neutral grip pulling in addition to deadlifting. Which I can fortunately do without pain because the part of the form that is agitated is the brachial radialis, the chunk of muscle on the top that is close to your bicep and deadlifting doesn’t strain that muscle in the same way as pulling does because of course, while the deadlift.
Is a pole, you’re not pulling weight into your torso like you are with a barbell row, for example. And so anyway, I’m gonna continue this way. I’ll do my dead lifting because that doesn’t bother it at all. And I’m gonna do my neutral grip pulling, which bothers it a little, and I’m gonna see how it goes if it doesn’t get.
Better, and it’s kind of a new thing, so it’s hard to say if it’s getting better, getting worse, but if it doesn’t get better over the next month or so, then I’m gonna have to figure something else out. Then neutral grip pulling is out and I’m gonna have to find maybe some machines, maybe I can do some underhand, like some palms up pulling.
Uh, maybe that is gonna work. Or something else. I mean, the worst case scenario is I have to stop pulling for a little bit, and that’s what I will do if I have to, because I’ve learned my lesson with RSIs. You do not want them to get worse and worse because then it just takes longer and longer for them to get better and go away.
So coming all the way back now to the front squat, I do recommend that if you are fairly strong and you’re doing a fair amount of squat volume every week, if you’re doing at least six sets of squatting per week, but certainly if you’re doing nine or 12 or more than that, that you don’t do just. The back squat for months and months and months.
I recommend a couple of months, two to maybe four months of back squatting and then try the front squat because it is just as effective at training your lower body like on the hole as the back squat. But research shows that it is particularly good for training your quads, so it’ll allow you to emphasize your quads for a training cycle, and it’s also easier on your knees and on your back.
Which do take a bit of a beating with the back squat. The back squat is not bad for your knees or back, of course, but it places a lot of strain on them. And if you have only been back squatting and you have never front squatted, once you get used to the position of the bar, which again is a bit awkward at first, I think that you are going to really enjoy it.
I think you are going to at least enjoy the lower amount of stress on your back and your knees. Now, as far as why the front squat over other. Quad dominant exercises. Well, the front squat is one of the only bilateral barbell exercises that you can do aside from the barbell back squat. If you want to really focus on training your lower body, if you want to challenge your lower body as much as possible.
Again, the safety bar squat is another one, but most gyms don’t have a safety bar and you can’t replace squatting with. Deadlifting, right? Those are fundamentally different exercises, and so you could go to a unilateral exercise, you could go to a lunge or a Bulgarian split squat, but those are not as effective for building muscle and strength.
As the front squat is, and if we’re talking machines, you could go to the leg press instead of a squat. It’s obviously a similar movement and the leg press is a great exercise, but generally speaking, free weight exercises are superior to machines for gaining muscle and strength. So unless you need to go to the leg press, because you are dealing with, let’s say, an R S I that’s preventing you from doing any sort of barbell squat, if you can do the leg press, uh, pain free, for example, that’s a great alternative.
But if you can do a barbell squat, I would recommend doing a barbell squat and maybe doing a leg press as well. That’s what I did today. I started with four sets of safety bar squats and uh, sets of 10, by the way, which are basically cardio. Those are so hard. They’re so much harder than they look like if you see somebody doing sets of 10, especially cuz the weight doesn’t look all that heavy, but, Oh boy.
Oh boy. They are challenging and sets of 10 on the deadlift, which I did on Tuesday, are just diabolical. They are so exhausting. I, I feel like I could just call the workout after set four. I mean, of course I finish. I still have actually eight more sets of pulling to go, but I am drained. All day from just those deadlifts anyway, so the front squat, great alternative to the back squat, and a more effective exercise for training your lower body than lunges or split squats or other common lower body exercises, uh, any machine, leg curls, leg extensions, leg press, and so forth.
Now all of that doesn’t mean that you have to front squat, though. Sometimes when people ask me questions like these, I wonder if they want me to try to convince them to start front squatting if they don’t like it, for example. Or they would rather do something else. And if you don’t like front squatting, simply because it’s hard, I would say.
Suck it up, but if you don’t like it because it just doesn’t play well with your body, with your anatomy, or maybe it’s just actually a little bit painful or something just feels off when you do, not just the front squat, but any exercise, there’s nothing wrong with. Finding something else you can do that is also effective.
Maybe it’s not as effective as the front squat, but if it means that you are not going to be concerned about getting hurt, for example, or if it just means you’re gonna enjoy your workouts more, there are some exercises that I don’t like, not because I don’t want to do them, because I’m afraid to work hard in the gym, but.
I just don’t really feel them in the target muscle groups as much as other exercises. And so if that’s the case with, let’s say, the front squat for you, then do something else. Do the leg press instead of the front squat, even if that means that you stop barbell squatting for, let’s say eight weeks, just because you want to give your knees, you want to give your back a break and you just.
Do leg pressing instead, and then you get back to barbell back squatting. That’s totally fine. Or I suppose if you’re not as gung-ho about all of this stuff as us meatheads and it is more just about enjoying your training and you don’t enjoy front squatting because maybe. You haven’t been able to get comfortable with the position of the bar.
Maybe you feel like you are almost getting choked when you do it. Some people have that issue and you would just rather do something else because it’s more enjoyable, like the leg press, for example. Again, totally fine because if you try to force yourself to continue doing the front squat when you really don’t like it, and when it maybe even freaks you out a little bit, that’ll probably hurt your progress because when you.
Or front squatting, you are not going to be able to do it with as much focus and intentionality and intensity as you’re back squatting, and you may end up skipping it sometimes, or skipping your lower body workouts altogether because you really don’t want to do it. And so just remember that finding things that work for you is a very important part of fitness that applies to nutrition, that applies to training supplementation, even if you know.
What works for you and what you enjoy the most is not scientifically optimal. There are certain things that I would say, let’s probably not do that. Like let’s probably not eat a low protein diet. Let’s figure out how to get to at least moderate protein if high protein doesn’t work for you. But there are many things that, again, may not be scientifically the best way to go about eating, training, or supplementing, but if you enjoy.
Them a lot more than the best way. I recommend your way every time. All right. Well, that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or. Wherever you’re listening to me from, in whichever app you’re listening to me in, because that not only convinces people that they should check out the show, it also increases search visibility, and thus, it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well.
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I read everything myself, and I’m always looking for constructive feedback, even if it is criticism. I’m open to it and of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well, or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with, definitely send me an email.
That is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at multiple life.com. And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.