Another exercise that I really like is the front squat. While you can’t really replace the back squat as an overall strength-building, the front squat can be a superior exercise in many regards. For olympic lifters it’s an obvious must since it is part of the clean. But for bodybuilders, especially those with longer limbs, it can be a better exercise than the regular squat to build the quadriceps. With IFBB pro Patrick Bernard I use the front squat for half of the workouts. 1/4 of the workouts use the regular back squat and 1/4 use the safety bar squat.
MORE ABOUT THE FRONT SQUAT
There is no doubt that properly done squats will jack up your lower body like no other exercise. If you would have asked me 10 years ago which lift did I see as the « king of lifts » I would have answered the squat (back then I was squatting 6 days a week as an Olympic lifter and it was my better lift). Today I »d have to say the deadlift or clean & press mostly because of the lack of upper body involvement in the squat compared to the other two movements. Regardless there is no doubt that squatting is a key component to any program aimed at maximizing physical development.
Here are several reasons I often prefer the front squat:
a) The front squat is superior to the back squat when it comes to building the quadriceps. And from my experience, guys with bad squatting leverages (long limbs, shorter torso) get a lot more out of front squats than back squats. The later leading to more glutes and lower development and very little quads building.
b) While the back squat is superior to the front squat to build the lower back, hamstrings and glutes, these muscles groups are more effectively developed with deadlifting. One of the key thing in selecting the main strength movements is to have as little crossover as possible. Since we have the deadlift to take care of the glutes, hamstrings and lower back it is smarter to invest our time with the front squat rather than back squat.
c) The front squat has the added benefit of being a great exercise to strengthen the mid upper back and also stresses/stimulates the trunk (core) more so than back squats.
d) The front squat is safer. First, since you cannot use as much weight because of the leverage you have, the joints (especially knee joint) are under less pressure than with the back squat. Also, if you miss a rep it »s much easier to drop a front squat than to drop a back squat safely.
e) It »s easier to achieve a deep squat position without bending forward in the front squat than in the back squat.
For these reasons, the front squat will be our main squat variation.
Front squat grip: The ideal front squat grip is the « front rack », also called the « clean rack, which is similar to the ideal position when catching a power clean on your shoulders. In that position the hands are on the bar (either with the hands closed or open), the bar is resting on the deltoids and is touching the throat and the elbows are held high.
This is the position that allows for the back upper back position. It also has the greatest transfer to other lifts such as cleans, power cleans, push presses and jerks.
If you are not flexible enough yet to use a proper front rack I recommend using straps to help you hold on to the bar. I also recommend working on improving your mobility since getting into the front rack position will be very important for any type of cleans as well as push presses and jerks. The proper way to solve that mobility issue is included later in the book.
The front squat grip I would not recommend is the traditional cross-armed/bodybuilding grip where you put the bar on the shoulders and hold it with crossed-arms. First of all you have very little control over the barbell this way but more importantly such a grip puts you more easily in a rounded upper back position which is something we want to avoid when doing front squats.
Now, the front squat isn’t simply a « back squat with the bar held in front ». A lot of people squat (especially if they learned from powerlifters) by breaking at the hips first (sitting back) then bending at the knees. You don’t do this with a proper front squat: it will make you bend forward and make the lift more complicated.
You initiate the front squat by breaking at the knees first, then you sit straight down (try to being your butt between your heels). This will allow you to stay upright more easily. However it requires ample ankle and hip mobility. In that regard the front squat can even become a diagnostic tool: clueing you on areas that needs more mobility work.