The front squat is arguably a superior variation to its more popular big brother the back squat. This variation of the squat is an unforgiving exercise that demands that we observe strict form.
Because the bar is supported across the anterior deltoids, as opposed to the trapezius for the back squat, you are forced to maintain near-perfect postural alignment. Any excessive hinging at the hips or rounding of the back could result in the bar tipping forward which will inevitably pull you off balance or force you to have to drop the bar.
However, though the front squat is a technical taskmaster, the extra effort and time required to perfect the movement is more than paid off with strength gains. Front squatting engages a wide range of muscle groups.
Benefits of the front squat
In his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold Schwarzenegger tells us that, if we want to engage all the muscles of the legs we have to vary the types of squats that we perform. Different squat variations activate and stimulate the muscles of the legs in different ways.
In fact, Arnold recognises this as a mistake he made in his formative years as a bodybuilder. ‘For many years,’ he tells us, ‘I did only [back] Squats . . . [and] I did not include Front Squats. . . . Once I realized my mistakes and corrected them, my thighs began to grow thick and massive,’ (Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding – p482).
By repositioning the bar from the back to the front, more of the load is shifted to the quadriceps. In addition, to keep the bar in the ‘front rack’ position, the core and muscles of the upper body must be constantly engaged.
More benefits of the squat
Helps develop impressive quadriceps strength and size – as Mr. Schwarzenegger attests.
Can promote core and upper-body strength.
Improves technical application of the squat and brings attention to technique mistakes made when executing a back squat.
Augments pushing power in the legs.
Shifts emphasis to the thighs.
Enhances physical robustness.
Can translate to improved physical performance in sport while also making everyday tasks easier.
Muscles targeted by the front squat
Front squatting is a superlative quadriceps developer. As well primarily targeting the four muscles of the thighs, the front squat also engages the gluteus maximus, lower back (erector spinae), transverse abdominus, upper chest and shoulders.
Related: Best Olympic Barbell for the Home Gym
How to perform the front squat
Prior to front squatting, you ought to consider making your training area safe. Remove any protruding objects that may collide with the bar.
Also, use bumper plates or drop mats so that you can ‘ditch’ the bar if you lose balance. However, beginners should always practice with an unloaded bar or, better still, broomstick.
With an Olympic barbell placed on a squat rack just under shoulder height, firstly manoeuvre yourself under the bar. Ensure that you are positioned dead centre. If the bar is off-centre, not only will one leg be overloaded, but you could be pulled off balance. Seemingly self-explanatory advice, many trainers make this mistake.
Fold your arms over the bar and raise your elbows so that the undersides of your arms are parallel to the floor. The arms raised like this help fix the bar in position as it creates a shelf on which the bar rests.
Decouple the bar from the squat rack and step back. You don’t want the bar to collide with the rack as you squat.
Before executing the movement, organise your feet so that they are a little over shoulder-width.
Under control and ensuring to keep your eyes fixed forward, execute a squat.
When a 90-degree angle forms behind the knee stand back up out of the squat.
Front squat dos and don’ts
Do keep your elbows raised high.
Don’t round your back or hinge at the hips – front squatting is all knee flexion and extension.
Do maintain control of the load throughout the exercise.
Don’t ‘bounce’ out of the bottom position – this is a gross adulteration of the technique and places intolerable stress on the knees.
Do enlist the services of a spotter to assist you through the movement.
Don’t overload the bar – remain well within your strength limits.
Key barbell squatting technique points
Position the bar across the deltoids.
Space the feet slightly over shoulder-width.
Look forward throughout the movement.
Squat down until a 90-degree angle forms behind the knee.
Ensure to breathe naturally.
Barbell front squat video demonstration
When you've mastered the front squat, try this Whole Body Barbell Complex.
For more training tutorials, see our Exercise Archive Page.