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June 03, 2020 10 min read

The squat is an exercise with many variations, including the simple wall squat, the explosive squat clean, and the amazing front squat. If you don’t already include the front squat in your weekly training program, you need to consider this fantastic muscle-building exercise. The barbell front squat has immense potential for strength training and fitness and is very effective in muscle activation. It’s an advanced workout challenge and does require a good level of strength and mobility. However, it could be just what you need to boost your usual workout routine. 

The front squat activates multiple huge muscle groups, primarily across the lower body. This is part of what makes this squat variation such a great exercise, but it doesn’t stop there. Other benefits of the front squat include better posture, decreased lower back pain, and even healthier joints. We’ll go into more detail about every muscle the front squat works, as well as how to complete every step of this exercise like a pro. Read on to discover how to keep good form and avoid common mistakes while doing front squats! 

What is the Front Squat?

Most people know what a back squat is; a squat with a barbell placed across your upper back. The front squat differs in that the weight or barbell is held across the front side of the shoulders. This shifts your center of gravity forward, meaning a more upright posture is required to complete the move. Keeping a straight back during squats makes them more friendly on your spine, which is better for people suffering from lower back pain. 

The front squat is a lower-body exercise that hits several major muscle groups. It has the potential to be a fantastic muscle building and strengthening exercise, and is highly effective at increasing bulk. Front squats are significantly more difficult than back squats, as they force the lifter to maintain much better posture and a stricter vertical movement. They’re a challenging and advanced exercise, but if you can perfect them then the results will be worth it. 

Which Muscles Does the Front Squat Work?

Let’s dive deeper into the anatomy of a front squat, and explore in detail all the huge muscles which benefit from this weightlifting exercise. When completing front squats, the muscles powering your movement include the quadriceps, glutes, adductor magnus (inner thigh) hamstrings, abdominals, erectors, calves, and upper back and lats. That’s basically all of the largest muscles throughout your body excluding the arms, chest, and shoulders. Note that you will need to use your arms to hold and stabilize the barbell, but all the power in the front squat comes from the lower body. All good dose of some solid fat burner supplements will also help keep you lean and strong.

Note that as an advanced exercise, the front squat requires that your existing muscles be built to a certain degree. This is in no way a beginner’s challenge, as you’ll struggle to lift a barbell with perfect form if you can’t already complete easier squat variations. The goblet squat is a good place to start, where you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest through the movement. Once you’re successful in the prerequisite exercises for a front squat, you can move on to this more challenging movement. 

Despite using many of the same muscles as other squat variations, the way in which the front squat activates them is quite different. This is due to the changed load location, as with a barbell across your shoulders you use different muscles to maintain proper posture. To keep your torso in that important upright position, you’ll need stronger upper back and abdominal muscles. If you’re unable to maintain a straight back, the barbell will fall forward and ruin the movement. However, this improved activation of upper body muscles in the front squat will eventually lead to a stronger back and better posture. 

The front squat also requires a sharper angle in your knee than other squat variations. Usually, lifters lean forward when squatting, increasing movement from the hip and therefore requiring less of a bend in the knee. However, when squatting with upright posture, the bend needed in the knee is greater, so this does require a better range of movement in this joint. Although the front squat needs more flexibility in the knee, it actually takes some pressure away from the joint. This could make front squats a better choice for those with knee problems, and mean that they’re more healthy overall for your knee joints in the long term. 

This change in knee angle also means your quads work harder to extend your knee back to a standing position. This is what makes the front squat one of the most effective exercises for building up your quadriceps. The pure power from your thigh muscles when ascending during a front squat is extremely important when rising from a full squat to about half-way. After that, your glutes and adductor magnus take over to extend the hips back to standing. 

A woman doing front squats in a gym.

How to Front Squat with Proper Form

Now you know exactly what the front squat is, and all the muscles this powerful move will work out, it’s time to learn how to complete this move with perfect form. It’s vital that your posture and positioning is just right during this challenging exercise. If you make mistakes, you don’t only lose some of the many benefits of the front squat; you’ll also risk serious injury to your back and joints. Always make sure you have a reliable gym partner to spot you during advanced exercises like the front squat and to encourage you to push for that final repetition! 

Step 1: If you’re using a squat rack to hold the barbell for your front squats, make sure it’s set at the correct level. Set the rack position so that the barbell rests on your shoulders when you have a slight bend in your knees. You’ll need to test that when you extend your knees, the barbell clears the rack and doesn’t need to be lifted further to detach. 

Step 2: Hold your arms straight in front of you, underneath the racked barbell. The barbel should touch your front deltoid, close to the base of your neck but not touching. The weight bar should essentially run across your collarbones. If you rest the weight on your bicep, you risk the barbell sliding forward off your shoulders during a squat. Make sure that the barbel’s position is secure across your chest before lifting it off the rack. Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart. 

Step 3: When it comes to your grip on the barbell for a front squat, it’s about finding the option that feels right for you. The standard grip used places both hands just outside the shoulders, with the barbell positioned between your first and second knuckle. There’s no need to grip the bar; simply rest it on your fingers and apply pressure with your fingertips. Alternatively, you could modify this grip so your hands are up to several inches wider than shoulder-width. Use whatever position feels most comfortable and stable for you, so long as the barbell sits correctly. 

At the same time as setting your grip, lock your elbows into position. They should point up and forward, with your triceps parallel to the ground. You should maintain this elbow position throughout your squat for proper form. 

Step 4: Before you lift the bar from the squat rack, inhale deeply into your belly and engage your core. Imagine you’re bracing your stomach for an impact, engaging every different muscle. This preparation will help you keep your torso upright during the squat, as failing to brace will make the weight feel heavier and damage your form. 

Step 5: With your grip correctly positioned and your core braced, extend your knees and lift the barbell from the squat rack. Take a small step by dragging one foot backward across the floor. You only need to move enough to clear the rack; any further is just wasted energy. Pull the second foot in line and take a moment to ensure your feet are both positioned correctly. They should be approximately shoulder-width, but in any comfortable position where you can squat and maintain proper form. You can point your toes slightly outward, but too wide and it will be uncomfortable when you reach the bottom of the squat. 

Step 6: Repeat the deep breath and core brace from Step 4 to prepare for your squat. Ensure you breathe in before starting to bend down, or you’ll lose some of the core strength you need to remain upright. After that, you’re ready to initiate the squat movement and start working your muscles. 

Step 7: Flex your hips and knees simultaneously, and begin lowering your body towards the floor. Your hips should drop toward your ankles while your knees push forwards. The speed at which you squat towards the ground should be slow, to begin with. It’s vital to maintain your muscular tightness (in your core and spine) and control of the barbel throughout the movement, so only set your tempo at a rate that allows this. As you become more proficient at the front squat, you can speed up the movement, but always focus on maintaining proper form.

A note on barbell control: Throughout your squat, you should be able to keep the barbell in a straight line positioned over the middle of your foot. If you cannot fully control the weight through the whole range of motion, you may need to consider using a lighter weight, completing squats at a slower tempo, or altering your grip on the bar. 

Step 8: As you sink lower into the squat, pay attention to the direction of your knees. Ensure they push over your toes, which should be an outward angle. Avoid letting your knees bend inwards at all, as this puts far too much force on the joint and can lead to pain and injury. You can also think about pushing your chest and elbows up to help maintain proper form; a vertical torso with a straight back. 

Step 9: Squat down as deeply as you can. For the full range of motion in a front squat, your hips need to drop below the parallel of your knees. This requires great flexibility in your ankles, hips, and shoulders, so don’t worry if you can’t achieve it straight away. If you can’t reach the lowest point of the movement, just squat to where it is comfortable. Over time, you’ll need to work on your mobility to get the full benefits of the front squat. 

Step 10: When you reach the deepest part of your squat, your knees should be pushed fairly far forward, with your feet still flat on the ground. Now, drive your feet through the floor, concentrating on that point of contact rather than the weight on your shoulders. Engage your quads to extend the knee out of its bottom position. 

Step 11: Drive upward and forward with your elbows, leading the movement and securing the barbell in its position. This will stop the weight from slipping forwards and falling to the floor. Don’t be tempted to slow down through the mid-range of this movement; you should apply maximum force at all times. Accelerate throughout the entire upward motion of the front squat, even when working with a lighter weight. You’ve finished the squat when you’re back in a standing position, where you can either re-set the bar on the squat rack or prepare for your next repetition. As a strength-building exercise, you only need to perform 1-5 reps of the front squat for maximum effectiveness. 

A man doing front squats in a gym.

Tips to Improve your Front Squat Results

The front squat is a complex exercise, so most lifters will have plenty of room for improvement. If you want to increase your front squat performance, there are several different methods you can use to get more out of this exercise. We’ll share some of our top tips to front squat better, and get even more muscle-building results. From differences in technique to using the front squat in your routine, here’s how you can get even better. 

To get the full range of motion in a front squat, there are a few things you can do to prepare. Firstly, make sure you complete an effective warm-up before lifting and squats, including a general warm-up to increase your heart rate. You can also complete some mobility drills and dynamic stretching to activate your muscles and get as much flexibility as possible. Over time, you can use yoga and flexibility training to improve mobility in your hip, knee, and ankle joints, which will have a huge effect on your squat form. 

When you achieve adequate levels of flexibility, you’ll be able to squat to full depth. Your knees, hips, and ankles will be more mobile, allowing you to achieve the deepest possible squat, meaning full activation of the quadriceps muscles. The front squat is an especially effective exercise for building your quads, so simply making sure you reach the furthest reaches of the movement will vastly enhance your results. 

Your grip is important in the front squat to secure the heavyweight used, and you can improve your technique by optimizing your grip on the barbell. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different grips when strength training as it’s important to find a comfortable position. When you achieve the optimal grip style for the front squat, it should be easier to keep your chest and elbows raised and forward, securing the weight. 

If you let your elbows point downwards during a front squat, you risk the barbell slipping from your shoulders to the floor. This could lead to a painful injury, as well as ruining your exercise. When you maintain the proper elbow position throughout the whole range of motion, you’re exercising in a safe way and with proper form. You’ll also benefit from a straighter back during the exercise which is better for building muscle and improving your posture. 

Why You Need Front Squats in Your Workout

Like other weight room classics such as the deadlift, we believe everyone needs front squats, or another variation of the squat exercise, in their routine. You can build strength in your legs, core, and back simultaneously while lowering risks of injury and joint pain. Hip, knee, and ankle mobility also all benefit from front squatting, and by employing the proper technique fitness fans can lift heavier weights in no time.  

Once you’ve mastered the proper technique and can maintain an upright torso with the barbell secure in front of your shoulders, you’ll realize the potential of this exercise. When it comes to lower body exercises, which others could build strength, improve flexibility and posture, and ease joint and back pain all at the same time? For mind-blowing results, start working on your front squat technique and you’ll be lifting like a pro in no time.