Quads, ham hawks, meat sticks, flanks whatever you want to call them, we all want bigger quads and magnificent glutes. The classic back squat is a remarkable movement, but sometimes you need to throw in a different variation to build more muscle mass. That variation is the front squat. The front squat is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a squat, with the barbell sitting at the top of your chest in the front rack position, instead of behind your neck resting on your traps. So let’s get to it, and learn how to front squat to build those quads.
What Are Front Squats
Front squats are a type of squat variation, however instead of having the barbell placed on your back behind your head, the barbell is placed in front rack position, with the load anteriorly loaded. Front squats are a compound functional strength movement, simulating multiple joints, muscle groups, and stabilizing muscles all in one motion.
Front Squat Muscles Worked
Both forms of squats, back and front recruit the major muscles involved in lower body strength; quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and the gluteus maximus. Squats are one of the few compound movements that recruit multiple muscle groups and joints in one single movement and are considered as one of the most effective and efficient functional movements. But, when it comes to squats, back squats get all the glory. While both front squats and back squats are similar, there are slight variations in technique and the muscular movement. The load (amount of weight) you're able to lift will also dramatically differ between front and back squats.
5 Benefits Of Front Squat
Before we get into how to build bigger quads with front squats, let’s talk about the benefits. The benefits of front squats are very similar to those of a back squat; however, the load is moved to the ventral (front) of your thighs as opposed to the dorsal (back) aspect of your thighs. This naturally recruits more of your core muscles to help manage and move the load, as opposed to a back squat and is substantially less stressful on your lower back.
1. Increases Leg Strength & Muscle Mass
Front Squats will increase strength and muscle mass in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core. Front squats may also isolate the distal aspect of your quadriceps more than back squats [R]
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2. Builds A Stronger Core
Front squats naturally recruit and activate your abdominal muscles and core for better stabilization. Since front squats are anteriorly loaded, the weight is controlled by bracing your abdominals building and strengthening your core.
3. Relives Stress On Your Lower Back
Front squats are naturally easier on your lower back as opposed to back squat, due to poor form. Often times, you can subconsciously use your lower back to power through your squat, instead of activating and recruiting your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. In a small study conducted at the University of Maryland, front and back squat exercises were compared to assess low back injury. The study found that both movements presented low back injury risk, but the sheer force on trunk inclination and lumbar compression had more risk with back squat [R]. Therefore, Front squats are said to be safer than back squats, due to lower chances of recruiting your lower back, to power through the movement.
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4. Relieves Knee Stress & Load
One of the great benefits of front squat, is that it places more emphasis on the core, upper back, and quads as opposed to the traditional back squat, which can provide a difference in force and impact.
In a study published in The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 15 healthy participants were assessed to compare the effects and differences between front squat vs back squat. The results indicated statistically significant differences between compressive knee force, with the back squat resulting in higher average maximum compressive forces on the knee than front squat [R]. Keep in mind, knee stress was also reduced to a lighter load and less sheer force than back squats.
5. Improves Mobility
Front squats can greatly benefit and improve mobility in your hips, ankles, wrists, upper back and shoulders. Mobility is crucial in high-intensity functional training modalities such as CrossFit, to hep build a better foundation to build more strength, mass, and athleticism. This type of programming methodology typically includes several olympic and resistance training movements, which incude the same movement pattern as the front squat, such as the snatch, or squat clean. Adding front squats to your training program can greatly improve your mobility, building better functional strength and mobility to perform more complex movements.
How To Front Squat
- To start, set up a barbell on the uprights of a squat rack. You’ll want this right around mid-chest.
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip just beyond shoulder width.
- As you lift the barbell off of the rack, lift your elbows in front of your torso to form a 90-degree angle at your shoulders, with your upper arms perpendicular to your torso. This is called the front rack position, and the barbell should sit nicely in the groove of your deltoid muscles.
- Loosen your grip and allow the bar to roll from your palms to your fingers. If this is difficult, you want might want to read how to improve your wrist mobility. It may seem awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.
- Step back from the rack as you would for a conventional back squat, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and toes pointed forward. Make sure your elbows are high.
- Your hips will descend back and down, until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Keep your torso as upright as possible, with your lumbar curve maintained.
- Keep your heels down and the weight balanced, with your knees in line with your toes.
- Push back up to the starting position
- Push your weight into your heels, and keep your back straight
Why Are Front Squats Harder Than Back Squats?
One of the major differences you’ll notice between the front squat and back squat is how much weight you can lift. The front squat is naturally harder than back squats for two reasons. One, you’re not using your lower back during a front squat. Two, your body demands increased ankle mobility, wrist mobility, and core strength than a back squat.
How To Front Squat: Takeaway
If your goal is to build bigger quads, and increase your muscle mass and leg strength, front squats are a great addition to your training regimen. Incorporating additional leg movement variations can help muscle plasticity and increase muscle mass, especially when you perform the same boring leg routine twice a week. Back squats are a must but don’t forget to throw in some front squats to get those quads popping.
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Hasan Ulas Yavuz, Deniz Erdağ, Arif Mithat Amca, Serdar Aritan. (2015) Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. Journal of Sports Sciences 33:10, pages 1058-1066.
Garhammer, J. Sports Illustrated Strength Training New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986. pp. 114-177.
Hatfield, FC. Power: A Scientific Approach Chicago: Contemporary Books Inc., 1989. pp. 155-170
Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology. “A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in... : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2009/01000/A_Biomechanical_Comparison_of_Back_and_Front.41.aspx.