We're all guilty of avoiding front squats, opting for the back squat or leg press in the hope of growing bigger legs.
But, lifting with your ego and just loading as many plates on the bar or machine as psosiblemay be holding you back...
The front squat is one of the best exercises for growing bigger, stronger legs, along with a few unique advantages over the traditional back squat exercise that may make you question your previous leg day decisions...
The front squat should be a welcomed addition to any training program, and in this article, we'll discuss the muscles worked, the benefits, and how to do a front squat properly – so you can take your leg training to the next level.
What Is A Front Squat?
The front squat is a lower-body exercise used to improve the strength, size, and performance of the lower body.
Typically performed with a barbell, the front squat requires the bar to be placed across the front of the shoulders, kept in position with your torso and elbow position, with a little help from your fingertips.
What Muscles Does The Front Squat Work?
With the front squat being a compound exercise, multiple muscles are involved in performing the exercise. However, the front squat is used specifically to target, and improve strength in the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.
Due to the bar position, the erector spinae is also heavily involved in keeping the torso upright throughout the movement.
Front Squat Vs. Back Squat - What's The Difference?
The main difference between the front squat and the back squat is the bar position.
The front squat is performed with the barbell resting on the front of the shoulders, whereas the back squat requires the bar to rest on the traps, behind the neck.
A study comparing the front and back squat found similar muscle activations between the two exercises, even though the participants performing the front squat used half the weight of the back squat participants.
This indicates the same benefits can be achieved from the front squat, whilst also reducing the compressive load on the spine and joints – potentially preserving joint health.
This variation in barbell positioning brings the weight forward for the front squat, placing slightly more emphasis on the quadriceps.
What Are The Benefits Of The Front Squat?
Like the back squat, the front squat's main benefits are developing strength and size within the leg muscles, specifically within the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
The front squat also reduces the load on the spine thanks to the bar position o the front of the shoulders. This means that individuals with reduced back mobility may also favor the front squat as a more comfortable compound leg exercise.
The Front Squat has also been found to apply less compression to joints and the spine, due to both the bar position and increased difficulty, meaning less weight lifted can help achieve similar results from that of other exercises.
This is especially useful if you are prone to injuries or pains, such as knee pain.
As always, be sure to consult a doctor or a relevant qualified professional if you suffer from any pain, discomfort or injuries, before making changes to your training.
How To Do A Front Squat
The front squat, in practice, is very similar to performing a back squat – so if you've squatted before, you're already halfway there!
As mentioned above, the key difference is in the bar position, and, therefore how you hold the bar.
Typically, there are two ways to secure the bar on the front of your shoulders; this is done by either crossing your arms (cross-grip), or the most popular front rack position (also used by Olympic lifters).
If wrist or shoulder mobility is limiting, the cross-grip arm position may be more suitable – however, it may be a good opportunity to start improving your front rack mobility.
In this example, we'll be talking you through the full front rack position. Remember to start with just the bar to get used to the movement, before adding additional weight.
Here's how to do a front squat;
Set the squat rack to an appropriate height, and loosely grip the bar with an overhand position, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Step forward under the bar, driving your elbows underneath and up, resting the bar on your shoulders, and providing support with your fingertips.
Lift the bar and slowly step back away from the rack, positioning your feet in a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance, with your toes pointing slightly out.
Keeping your elbows high and torso upright, bend your knees, lowering your hips to below parallel.
Drive back up to the top of the movement, making sure your knees don't come inwards (try and keep them in line with your little toes).
Alternatives To The Barbell Front Squat
If you don't have a barbell or aren't yet comfortable with attempting the front squat with a barbell – here are some alternatives still allow you to benefit from the front squat exercise.
Single Dumbbell Front Squat
The dumbbell front squat is a great exercise to practice and build strength in the front squat without loading the shoulder with a barbell or weight.
Hold the dumbbell securely with your elbows tucked in and thumbs pointing towards your shoulders.
It's easy to round your back on this exercise, so keep a proud chest and retracted shoulders for a neutral torso position throughout your reps and sets.
Double Dumbbell Front Squat
If one dumbbell isn't heavy enough, we've got just the exercise...
The dumbbell front squat can be done with a dumbbell in each hand. However, you'll find it hard to balance them with just your hands – so rest the ends of each dumbbell on the front portion of your shoulders to help take some of the weight off your arms.
This exercise is great for progressing from bodyweight or single dumbbell front squats, continuing to develop strength in the lower body with reduced load on the shoulders and spine.
We've given you the benefits of adding front squats to your training and how to do them – and If you're not comfortable with barbell front squats, start with the front squat alternatives outlined in the article to build a strong foundation for front squats.
Remember to start light with low moderate reps and sets when trying new exercises, perfecting the full movement before progressing with volume and weight.
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WRITTEN BY: CHRIS BECK
Chris Beck is Senior Editor at Gymshark, with a passion for curating informative conditioning and health content. Chris is an experienced Personal Trainer, with qualifications in Nutrition, Sports Performance, and is a certified Crossfit Level 1 Trainer.