There will always be a debate over what kind of squat is best. Here’s what front squats can do for athletes and why you should add them to your training routine.
When it comes to developing lower body power and explosiveness the squat will always reign supreme.
Besides being an incredibly functional exercise (being able to stand up and sit down is always helpful!), logging reps and sets in the squat rack does a huge number of things for athletes including increasing vertical jump, boosting sprinting speed, and developing overall lower body power.
But, as we discussed in a recent post on how quarter squats can actually better promote jump height and improve 40-yard dash times, not all squats are the same.
A lot of factors come into play when deciding what form of squat you want to roll with, from what you want to accomplish from doing squats (speed? power? softer skin?) to where you stand with mobility.
Here’s a few benefits of front squats specifically for athletes.
1. Front squat opens up your hips.
Most athletes I have worked with over the years have brutal hip mobility.
Not terribly surprising, when you consider how often we sit and how little attention is paid to keeping our hips loosey goosey. I’m not an exception to this rule.
Even as an athlete I still need to spend additional time reopening my hips after sitting for long bouts of time writing articles about how crappy my hip flexion is…sorry, where was I?
Hip flexibility! Front squats! It’s opens things up. Next!
2. Lighter weight, same amount of muscle recruitment.
Athletes get injured. All the time. It’s just part of the deal when you train your ass off for 20 hours a week.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that with a group of 15 trained individuals the front squat, even though it was performed with lower weight, was as effective in muscle recruitment as our heavier back barbell squat.
The best news? You get the same muscle-building and stimulating effects without the higher compressive forces that come with the back barbell squat.
3. The front squat keeps your back straight.
This goes beyond being just beneficial for athletes—the front squat forces you to keep your chest puffed up, and your back straight through the course of the lift. Otherwise, the bar will either roll forward off your shoulders, or you will fall back onto your butt.
See also: Want to level up your squat game at home? Check out this breakdown of the best power racks for your home gym.
At the bottom of the lift when doing back squats you will often see athletes start to bend over under the weight of the bar, and end up compensating with their lower back, using a modified “good morning” to cheat through the movement.
Front squats help to keep you a little more honest, and your back a little straighter.
4. Front squats target the quads.
While most trainers and coaches will talk about the importance of the posterior chain (deservedly so, in most cases), most athletic activity requires a high degree of quad involvement.
Think of it as the ability to have the weight on your toes and to be able to explode at any given notice—front squats more closely mimic having your weight centered slightly forward, like you would be when you are about to drive through an opponent on the field.
In almost all cases, the resistance you will experience in the course of your sport will be in front of you, and as a result the mechanism of the front squat is more relevant.
5. Front squats will show you how strong your mid to low back is.
To be able to keep your chest up, and the bar on your shoulders requires thoracic extension and enough strength in your mid back to stay upright over the course of the movement.
Most athletes are really well built in the front, never missing a bench press day, combined with spending half their lives leaning forward staring into their cell phones and slouching on their desks have produced a series of hunched over, rolled in shoulders. With the front squat you might have to go drastically lighter in weight than you are used to, but it will help you clean up your thoracic extension and develop mid-back strength.
6. More akin to explosive movements.
The front squat more closely imitates how we actually jump and run. In others words, it encourages better movements patterns.
7. Safety first.
Hey, safety never takes a holiday, right? Front squats allow you to go heavy without worrying about having to shrug off a loaded barbell off your back. Just lean forward and kablam—dealt with. Front squats also produce less pressure on the spine and as a result can be a good go-to for athletes with back problems.
8. It’s a different kind of challenge.
How so? Because they cannot lift as much weight compared to when the barbell is loaded on their back.
This isn’t a strength issue, but a mechanical issue as it is more challenging to hold the weight on the front of the body compared to lugging it on our back. I’ve yet to encounter an athlete who can match their front and back squats.
9. Front squats will help power up your cleans.
Most athletes use some form of Olympic lifting in the gym. Getting used to having the weight on your front, mounted on your shoulder girdle will better prepare you for transitioning into cleans.
There is no “best” squat. Whneever I work with young athletes in the gym the overriding concern is having the best and most effective series of exercises. The reality is that there is no template answer–there is only the “best” squat for you.
For athletes the front squat can provide a good alternative to the traditional barbell back squat, and can be done at light weight (in the form of goblet squats with a kettlebell or dumbbell), as well as heavier weights.
While the back squat will always be the cornerstone of any lifter’s program, the front squat can and should be used in order to achieve specific aims in the gym, whether it’s teaching better squat technique, improving thoracic function, or more closely simulating the movement you are trying to replicate on the field.
Want to get some more squat knowledge dropped on ya?
I’ve got some pretty cool resources on squat technique and more in the articles below…
- What’s the Best Stance Width for Squats? The squat will always be king. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Here’s what you need to know about your squat stance width.
- Go Ballistic: Why You Should Add Jump Squats to Your Training.Want to improve your squat? Increase the speed and power in your legs? Become a better athlete? Then you my friend should cozy up to your new best-buddy-old-pal, the jump squat. Here is why and how to add it to your program.
- Sprint Athletes: Do Quarter Squats for Speed and Power.Want to improve your vertical jump and 40-yard dash? New research shows that when it comes to developing speed and power the quarter squat is the way to go.
- 3 Tips for Troubleshooting the Squat.Guest contributor David Larson, CSCS, stops by to share his three best tips for cleaning up and improving your squatting technique and form.
- Squat Pyramid: How to Crank Up Your Squat.Not for beginners, this squat pyramid from powerlifter and strength coach Will Ruth will leave your legs quivering. Best of luck!