Front Squats: A Love Story

My relationship with squats is a bit of a love/hate.

In fact, it's a lot like my feelings towards Don Draper on Mad Men.  On the one hand, you realize that Don is an absolute slimeball who has conned together a large majority of his professional and personal life.  On the other hand, it can be just so dang hard not to like him!  You can't imagine Mad Men ever being a hit without the intricacies of his character, or his drunken antics.

(And as someone who once had a three martini lunch in my old cubicle days, how did those ad men ever get any work done!?)

My Valentine's Day present from Lindsay.  She gets it.

My Valentine's Day present from Lindsay.  She gets it.

Enter: The Front Squat.  

Put bluntly, front squats are the one exercise that will make you hate life, while simultaneously giving your body some of the best bang for its buck. I also credit heavy front squats as my weekly "ego check," as what makes me great at deadlifting makes me hate squatting (long arms, long legs).

In fact, it's not out of the ordinary for some of the following thoughts to enter my mind early on a squat day:

  • "Well, I deadlifted heavy a few days ago, my body needs a rest"
  • "I think my hamstring hurts, but maybe it doesn't. I should take a day off just in case."
  • "I didn't get much sleep last night, this workout will be a waste anyway."

Of course, none of these thoughts ever enter my mind when it's a deadlift day.  Plus, I haven't missed a workout in over 2 years and if I've learned anything from baseball, it's this: you don't mess with a streak!

Front Squats vs. Back Squats

Traditionally, when you think of someone squatting with a bar, it's usually a back squat.  It's popular, it's what powerlifters compete with, and you're going to be able to back squat much more weight than a front squat.  And, of course, what's the point of lifting heavy things if you can't brag about your numbers?????

Even Ahhhhnold front squatted.  Now, all I need is a leopard print man thong..

Even Ahhhhnold front squatted.  Now, all I need is a leopard print man thong..

Kidding aside, I like the front squat more than the back squat for several reasons.  First, it's a safer alternative to back squatting.  If you miss a rep, you don't have to worry about getting the bar off your back without falling over/tearing your shoulders.  Worst case?  You drop it.

Front squats also play a great role as a precursor for back squats for a few reasons.  First, because of the placement of the weight, it's going to help someone groove and perfect their squatting pattern before they pound it into the ground with heavier and heavier weights.  Second, front squats are great for overall athletic development.  While you'll still get plenty of bang for your buck on back squats, front squats place a lot more emphasis on your quads and it's going to translate better to an athletic position.  And, thigh gap be damned, nothing says I'm healthy like a set of muscular quads!

Lastly, front squats help teach core stability and what it really means to get tight.  Far too often on the back squat, people don't set up with enough tension, and rely on the stability in their spine rather than creating their own.  It's happened to me, and the effects are not pleasant.

The Power of, Front Squats

Another reason I love front squats is that we're getting a ton of benefit from them - ankle mobility, leg strength, hip mobility, core stability, and thoracic mobility.  In a sense, we're getting everything that sitting all day is taking away from us.

So, how do you do a front squat?  As Dan John once said, "If you can scratch the back of your head, you can front squat." And, while not everyone is ready for front squatting on day one, it can also be replaced by it's younger brother: the goblet squat.  In either case, my cues are the following:

  • Get as long as you can from head to butt
  • Ribs down and brace as hard as you can (just like a dead bug)
  • Keep your elbows up
  • Sit back and drive your knees out

From there, you have a ton of wiggle room.  You can use straps to hold the weight, hold it bodybuilder style like Arnold above, or weightlifter style like I am in the video below.  You can also think about inserting pauses at the bottom of a squat if your goal is pure strength, building muscle, etc.  The front squat is simply a phenomenal tool. (<-------Duh, I'm writing a whole damn blog post about it!)

While I don't always love front squatting, I will say that my gainz on the front squat have been some of the most rewarding I've seen.  While my best ever front squat was a not-so-great looking 285, here I am doing 270 with a bit of a pause at the bottom as I hone in on my goal of 300:

As long as you're medically cleared, squatting is going to help you become stronger, look better, and in some cases, help get people out of pain.  And, there's a universal truth I'd like to share: strong upper body means strong upper body. But a strong lower body?  That means strong everything.