October 13, 2021 10 min read
When it comes to the multitude of squat variations, front squats are some of the most popular. Placing more emphasis on the quads and being easier on the knees, it’s no surprise that this lift has been a mainstay in gyms.
An important lift in bodybuilding, strength training, and CrossFit, the front squat is a great exercise to include in your routine. Nevertheless, its popularity comes with a serious setback: how uncomfortable front squats can be for many people.
Due to the mechanics of the movement, the wrists, hands, and elbows are all bent at unnatural angles. At best this is simply uncomfortable, and at worst, it ruins form and prevents people from performing front squats. That’s why straps are the perfect solution to barbell front squats.
Being one of the big three bread-and-butter lifts along with the bench press and deadlifts, squats are an extremely useful exercise to include in your routine - regardless of what you’re training towards.
The front squat is a primarily lower body exercise, working the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and hips. It also engages the erector spinae and various stabilizers, such as the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles). It’s a full-body movement that utilizes almost every major muscle group in the body, to some extent.
Front squats differ from conventional back squats in that they keep the weight forward. This changes the mechanics of the movement and allows for a greater emphasis on the quads, while slightly disengaging the hamstrings as a trade-off.
When it comes to developing athletic performance, squats are a juggernaut of an exercise. They will benefit almost any athlete when it comes to lower body power and strength.
Even older adults see major benefits from squatting, especially when it comes to maintaining physical function into old age and improving lung capacity.
However, for all their benefits, front squats come with some serious drawbacks that ward off some lifters from doing them.
The issue with front squatting is that it’s difficult to feel like the bar is both secure and comfortably placed. In fact, it’s extremely frustrating for a lot of people since the positioning of the bar makes it feel like the connective tissues in your wrists, hands, and forearms are all stretching beyond their natural limit.
To a certain extent this can be fixed with some mobility exercises in these areas, but the problem never really goes away for most people. Other solutions are different grips, differing from the clean grip. For example, some people unhook their pinkie and ring fingers from the bar, allowing for more comfortable positioning.
There’s also the mummy grip, with arms crossed in front of you. This variation doesn’t use your hands at all, and the barbell is more cradled. Zercher squats are also a good squat variation that have a similar quad emphasis while also being more comfortable.
However, for many people, this still doesn’t offer a good amount of stability (or faith) for the bar not to fall off—especially when you start squatting heavier. This is where front squat straps come into play.
Lifting straps are cheap and extremely useful when combatting the drawbacks we looked at above.
Properly used, they take a lot of the strain off the joints in question. Furthermore, they also force your elbows into the correct rack position, ensuring that your form is good. There’s a lot of different choices when it comes to weightlifting straps, with one of the better options being the lasso type.
The greatest benefit of weightlifting straps is that they require a lot less mobility from you. This can be seen in both shoulder and wrist mobility, since it requires a fair amount of mobility in order to comfortably grasp the bar in a front squat.
The issue may not even necessarily be shoulder mobility, either. For example, people with larger arms often have serious issues bending their elbows back far enough to reach the bar. Using straps can enable the long-limbed to be able to not only perform front squats, but perform them comfortably.
And if you’ve injured any of the joints in question, straps can help you keep front squats in your routine while recovering from these injuries. Although you shouldn’t be pushing your injured body parts to their absolute limits, you can try working around less serious injuries and a lifting strap is a great way to do that.
Finally, lifting straps also work around a common problem with the cross grip method of lifting. You’ll often see lifters crossing their arms when front squatting since your hands are completely taken out of the equation and you don’t need super mobility.
However, this can sometimes result in a slanted bar since crossed arms down provide a symmetrical place to hold the bar. Lifting straps are a great solution to this issue.
Before you place the straps on the barbell, make sure that it’s on a squat rack with the weight already on it. It should be at around chest or arm-pit level. When attaching the straps to the bar, you’ll want to just wrap them around the bar, looping the flatter end into the loop of the strap. Then, simply pull through the loop until it’s tightly wound against the barbell.
The straps should be at a symmetrical distance on the bar from one another. This should be exactly shoulder-width apart, or just outside the spot where the bar is in contact with your shoulders. This is important because you’ll probably be pulling your hands towards one another, which will pull the straps together as well.
Placing them where the bar applies pressure to your shoulders will ensure that the straps stay in the correct place. Once you have the straps in the right place, it’s time to correctly grip them. You’ll want to wrap the hanging piece of the strap around your hands or fingers—but only once.
Be certain that there aren’t any overlapping pieces of strap. If the straps do overlap, you’ll have a much more difficult time bailing in case you fail a repetition. This can lead to serious injury, so it’s best to not wrap them too securely.
Where exactly you grab the straps will largely depend on how flexible you are, personal preference, and the length of the straps. If you’re not too flexible, your hands will probably be further away from the bar. If you have good wrist flexibility, your hands will be closer.
Before you lift the bar up from the rack, you’re going to want to securely rack it on your arms. The good thing with straps is that you’ve got a lot of different ways to tackle this. Your hands can be pretty much anywhere that leaves the bar secure.
For example, they can be either in line with your shoulders or outside of your shoulders. The point is to keep your upper arms parallel to the floor with your elbows up high. Your palms can be facing any direction that’s most comfortable—from inward, outward, or neutral.
Once you’re in the correct position with the straps and the weight rack, next what you’re going to have to do is unrack the bar.
Although straps are very useful for solving the common pitfalls of front squats, they also come with their own issues—at least if you’ve never used them before and don’t know what to expect.
Not using straps the right way can lead to improper squat form, shoddy muscle engagement, and at worst, serious injuries. This is especially important since squats tend to use quite a bit of weight, and you don’t want this falling off.
One of the biggest and more serious issues when using straps is not tightening them enough before beginning. The strap should be tightly wound around the bar, without there being any loose bits that hang off. If it’s not tightened correctly, you’re going to risk having the bar roll off your shoulders once you pull on the straps. You really don’t want this happening in the middle of the rep.
Along with the straps being wrapped tightly enough around the bar, you also need to make sure that they’re spaced at the correct distance. The easiest thing to check is whether they’re symmetrically attached to the bar. If they’re not symmetrically attached, your lift is going to be lopsided and will lead to asymmetrical engagement of your muscles.
You’ll also risk unnecessary strain and injuries. However, the straps should also be the correct distance from one another, even if they are symmetrically placed. They should be shoulder distance from each other—if too close together, chances are that your elbows will flare out too much, ruining the stability of the bar. On the other hand, if they’re too far away you’ll be uncomfortable from your shoulders turning outward too much.
Although you do want to be pulling on the straps, you also don’t want to be pulling on them too hard. This is a common issue for those who are using straps for the first time, and it makes the front squat less stable. Most of the stability comes from the bar being racked on the front delts and elbows, with the upper arm being parallel to the floor. If you pull on the straps too much, you’ll likely take the bar off the shoulders too much, meaning that elbow pain will be a high probability.
Although you should never aim to fail a rep, these things do happen and it’s better to be prepared rather than for it to catch you off guard. Ideally, a rack with safety bars is the best way to go. This will allow you safely get rid of the barbell without having to drop it to the ground. Otherwise, it’s important to bail backward while also throwing or pushing the bar in front of you, giving you some space.
If your hands are wrapped with straps, this can be very difficult to do. It’s therefore important to not have the straps around your fingers too many ties, or too tightly. If they are too secure, you’re going to have a lot of issues pushing the bar forward and it’ll likely drag you with it to the ground. For optimal lifting, you should be able to immediately let go of the straps when you ease your grip.
Aside from the problems tied to straps, there are also several things to keep in mind when front squatting in general. Most issues can be traced back to using a weight that’s too heavy. If using a weight that’s too difficult for you, your form is going to begin to suffer.
For example, you might not be lowering down into the squat far enough, not completing the full range of motion which is essential for engaging all the necessary muscles.
You might also be bouncing at the bottom of the lift, relying on elastic energy to give you the momentum necessary for coming back up to the starting position. This lift should be performed in a controlled manner, and momentum will not only take away from your gains, but it’ll also increase the risk of injuries occurring.
You should also be paying attention to your elbows and knees. Keeping the correct elbow position is easier when using straps, but your knees should also be given some attention. For one, you should plant your feet slightly wider than a conventional squat.
However, the stance should also not be wide enough to have your knees rolling in when you squat. They should also be perfectly in line with your feet when you go through the movement.
Specialized equipment has been a boon for working out in many ways. It makes exercises easier, safer, and more focused. Although straps might seem like a very simple piece of workout equipment, their usefulness pays off in dividends. However, you’re going to want to support your front squatting with more than just a pair of weightlifting straps.
Getting the right amount of protein and nutrients for muscle growth is essential for crushing plateaus and experiencing long-term and consistent growth. With the right set-up—whether in the gym or outside of it—you can make working out more comfortable and more efficient than ever.