the joy of strength training


October 5th, 2008 at 5:21 pm

How-to: Front squat

The front squat is a very useful exercise that is not often seen in the average gym. But it is unjustly neglected and some coaches even prefer it to the back squat.

What is a front squat?

front squatHolding the bar across the front of your shoulders, squat down until your hips are below parallel and up again. This exercise is known as a front squat to distinguish it from the more common back squat, where the bar is across the back of the shoulders.

Why is it such a great exercise?

The front squat is considered safer than the back squat because there is less load on the spine and it is also easier to dump the bar forwards if things go wrong.

Less weight can be moved in the front squat than the back squat, so there is less likelihood of someone trying to squat a weight that is too heavy for them.

The squat is probably the most important and effective move in weight training. Front squatting gives you many of the beneficial effects of the back squat, with some differences: less weight can be moved in the exercise, the quads tend to be worked more than the hamstrings and glutes and the torso is more upright.

The front squat is also a component of the Olympic lift, the clean. A good front squat will help to develop a good clean.

How to perform the front squat

The key to the front squat is to keep your elbows up and chest lifted. This holds the bar in position while you squat.

Step 1: Starting position

front squat starting position

Position the bar in a rack at shoulder height, or clean it from the floor. The bar should be resting across the front of the shoulders or top of the chest. To keep it in this position, raise your elbows as high as you can – think about pointing the tip of your elbows forward.

Don’t be tempted to hold the bar too close to your throat; this is uncomfortable and you might choke yourself! If your elbows are high enough, you won’t need to do this.

Your hands will be just outside your shoulders, bent back at the wrists with the bar resting on your fingers. There is no need to grip the bar, your hands are simply there to stabilise the position of the bar.

Some people cross their hands over the bar in front of their neck, because they don’t want to (or feel they can’t) bend their wrists sufficiently to hold the bar like this. However, if you ever want to attempt the clean – which you should as it is an excellent exercise! – you will need to adopt this position, so it is worth developing the necessary flexibility.

Legs will be slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with toes slightly flared. As with the back squat, you can experiment with leg and toe position depending upon your own build. You will often see back squats performed with a very wide stance, powerlifting style; the front squat stance tends to be narrower than this. Olympic weightlifters are able to perform front squats with a fairly narrow stance as their flexibility is so good. The narrower the stance, the more the quads come into play (olympic weightlifters have massive quads!). Ordinary trainees, myself included, can adopt a wider stance in order to reach the required depth without rounding the back.

Step 2: Squat down until your hips are below parallel

front squat halfway

Keeping your elbows pointing forward and chest raised, start to squat down by sitting back as if you were sitting on a chair. Try to lead with the hips, rather than just bending at the knees. Keep the back either flat or slightly hyper-extended to ensure that it doesn’t round as you descend.

Because the weight is in front of you, your torso will naturally have to stay much more upright than it would in a back squat. Some people may find this tricky at first; if you find that your torso is tilting too far forward, try putting a wedge or a weight plate under your heels or wear weightlifting shoes which have a block under the heel.

I wouldn’t train this way all the time, as ideally you want to correct the problem rather than eliminate it with a prop. But using a wedge is useful to know what you should be aiming for.

Step 3: Bottom position

front squat bottom position

In the bottom position your hips should be below parallel, back is flat, chest is lifted and elbows are still pointing forwards, keeping the bar balanced on the front of your shoulders.

Don’t worry too much if your knees are forward of your toes – this will tend to happen in a front squat. However, make sure that your knees do not come inwards; they should remain in line with the feet. Actively push your knees out if you need to by engaging your adductor muscles (inner thighs).

Step 4: Squat upwards and return to start position

As with the back squat, the bottom of the front squat can be a sticking point. In order to get upward momentum, activate your glutes and press through your feet as if you were trying to part the floor beneath you. At the same time, lead upwards with your chest and your elbows.

Try to avoid what many people do in the squat and lead upwards with your chin. This causes people to tip their head back and point their chin in the air, which is not a great position for your head to be in.

Instead, lift the chest but keep the angle between your chin and chest the same.

Return to your starting position, standing up straight and bar still across the front of the shoulders. Rack the bar.

How to use the front squat in your training

The front squat is a very useful exercise and has its place either alongside back squats or as an alternative.

Alternative to back squat: some people do not want to or cannot back squat. The front squat is an excellent alternative. As strength coach Mike Boyle explains:

“Back pain has three root causes as it relates to lifting. Torque (forward lean), compression (high spinal loads), and flexion are what cause back injuries. Front squats lessen torque, compression, and flexion, and are therefore inherently safer.”

Addition to back squat: if you are looking for a similar exercise to the back squat, say, to do on a medium weight day rather than a heavy day, the front squat is a great addition. It is much more functional than a leg press and takes a bit of pressure off the back while giving the legs an excellent workout.

Training for the clean: the front squat position is the same as the rack position of the clean. Training the front squat will develop the necessary flexibility and confidence to handle heavy weights in that position.

Warm up for Olympic weightlifting: the front squat is a useful inclusion in the warm up for a weightlifting workout.

Further information and related posts

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  • 1

    Nice entry, Gubes. I need to work on my wrist flexibility a little more. Anything more than 40kg and it starts to hurt!

    Matt M on October 5th, 2008
  • 2

    Thanks Matt! I am lucky in that my years of breakdancing gave me strong, flexible wrists. So if stretching doesn’t work, maybe consider taking up breaking! Plus you can be impressive at parties.

    gubernatrix on October 6th, 2008
  • 3

    My problem with the front squat always centered around lack of wrist flexibility also. The only way I’ve really been able to do front squats in the past has been to cross my arms. I haven’t done any heavy lifting for most of the past year, though, as I’ve stuck to bodyweight and dumbbell work.

    Blaine Moore on October 7th, 2008
  • 4

    Breakdance does sound like fun!

    My wrist flexibility is getting better. Just a case of plugging away really.

    Matt M on October 7th, 2008
  • 5

    Hi Gubi!
    Excellent article as usual! Let me add some points concerning the basic lifts. BOTH squat and deadlift are very useful exercises, but some bodytypes perform the one much better than the other (long torso versus long hands). They are different exercises, by which one can load heavy weights. The problem with front squat is, that although it is indispenseble for weightlifting, I do not think that one can use it for serious weights for several reps. Of course if someone enjoys doing it, then why not. Personally for diversity I prefer the one leg variations.
    Happy lifting!

    Demetre on October 8th, 2008
  • 6

    Good point Demetre; I probably wouldn’t replace the back squat with a front squat as you do lose out in terms of the amount of weight you can lift, but I like the front squat as training for the power clean.

    gubernatrix on October 8th, 2008
  • 7

    Hi Sally –

    I like your site. Full of information….
    Any chance you could contact me – I am new to this blog thing but interested in chatting with you.
    Drop me a line please. I have questions.

    RJ Berning on November 16th, 2008
  • 8

    You can email me at if you like.

    gubernatrix on November 17th, 2008
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  • 16

    I was wondering if anyone has any advice about bar positioning? I have quite a prominent collarbone and the bar seems catch it, and if i do too many it bruises it somewhat. I’m careful not to have the bar up against my throat but too far out and it doesn’t feel stable. I’d like to start doing more Olympic lifts so i really want to get this sorted. Thanks x

    Alice on April 25th, 2012
  • 17

    Bruised collarbones aren’t unusual, I’m afraid! I’ve got a perma-bruise on one side where the bar often hits. The only thing I can suggest personally is to keep your shoulders high so that the bar rests on them as much as possible. Depending on how heavy you are front squatting, you can try shrugging your shoulders up a bit. And of course, get your elbows up as far as possible.

    gubernatrix on April 25th, 2012
  • 18

    Thanks. I’m just starting this really. I’m trying to nail the technique before i load it up.

    Alice on April 30th, 2012
  • 19

    Front squats are soo superior to backs any logical comparison is pointless. Unless your a competitive pl’er there’s no legitimate reason to back squat. The FS mimics everyday activities whereas the back doesn’t since when in everyday life do you balance a heavy weight across your upper back & squat up/down? Never.

    Mark Winchester Sr. on May 13th, 2012
  • 20

    Front squats are my weakness, I’ll admit, so thanks Gubes for the tutorial. Due to my build, flexibility and strength profile I tend to prefer back squats as they give more stability, strength (since I can put on more kilos) and make good use of my flexibility. I normally use front squats as an addition since both squats focus on different areas (good point in your article, Gubes!) Back squats are more essential than front squats I thinkk for balanced overall lower body strength building, but fronts squats are often neglected during training and that’s a shame. Excellent article! PS. I’m 6 months pregnant again and I find wide-stance back squats infinitely easier to do than front squats, I wonder why…

    Lieke on May 23rd, 2012
  • 21

    Below parallel front squat – kudos, Sally!

    I like the fact that you encourage us to learn the clean grip – it’s not only more versatile than the cross-armed version but also helps you keep your elbows more upright. When I first started front squatting, though, my wrists hurt from the clean grip. Something that helped me was a tip I picked from Tony Gentilcore: Go up to the bar, grip it with only your index and middle finger just outside shoulder width, duck under and put elbows up until the bar slides over and settles onto the shelf created by your shoulders.

    Ellie on June 6th, 2013
  • 22

    Thanks Ellie. I must say, my front squat is a lot better now than when I wrote this post 5 years ago!

    Useful tip – thanks for sharing!

    gubernatrix on June 6th, 2013
  • 23

    Honestly, I much prefer the front squat to the back squat. I am honestly weak in the core area as evident when I perform the front squat. The amount of stability you need in order to descend is something I definitely need to work on.

    The Romanian deadlifter on April 10th, 2014
  • 24

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