Front squat alternative arm position
The arm position described above is commonly called the Olympic front squat technique. It’s hard on the wrists and requires decent upper body flexibility to get into the right position. Because of this, there is an alternative arm position, commonly called the bodybuilder position, which may be more comfortable for some lifters. While this alternative technique does take the pressure of your shoulders, it means that you won’t actually be holding the bar and if it starts to get away from you, you are much more likely to drop it.
For this reason. I am not a fan of the bodybuilder technique but for bigger and less mobile/flexible lifters, it may be a viable option but should only be used in a power rack with catching bars in place.
Front squat faults
Ugly squats are not safe or effective squats so it pays to make sure you squat with the best technique you can muster. Here are a few of the most common faults and how to remedy them…
- Rounded lower back at the bottom of the squat – chances are you have tight hamstrings, a weak core, have not set your upper body strongly enough or are letting your elbows drop. Possible a combination of all these factors. If you notice your lower back is rounding out at the bottom of the squat, I suggest you reduce the weight and also your squat depth. Work on your hamstring flexibility and also strengthen your lower and upper back and your core. Finally, remember that your elbows must stay up.
- Bar position hurts your wrists – this is very common with front squat novices and is usually an indicator of poor wrist flexor flexibility. To fix this, you need to stretch your forearms. This can be done by simply getting into the front squat position and holding the bar in place for an extended period of time or passively bending your wrists back on the edge of a bench, while kneeling on the floor or using one hand to stretch the other. Alternatively, you can also use wrists straps, as shown below, to take the pressure off your wrists. Be warned, this is not addressing the problem but only provides a way of working around the symptom of overly tight wrists.
- Knees drop inwards – probably caused by overly tight adductors (inner thighs) and/or weak adductors (outer thighs). Remember to push your knees outwards as you descend and ascend to keep your knees from moving in or out. Consider performing your squats with a light resistance band around your knees to help you practice pushing your knees out.
- Weight falls forwards – if the bar has a tendency to fall forwards off your shoulders, you are either dropping your elbows or leaning your torso forwards. Keeping your elbows up is hard if you have tight wrists but we’ve addressed that already. Dropping your arms may be an indicator of weak upper back muscles. Lower the weight and spend a few weeks working on shoulder girdle stability by doing plenty of bent over rows (see 22-5 for details) bench shrugs and other retraction/depression exercises.
Front Squat Variations
There aren’t too many different ways to perform the front squat but, if you want a bit of variety in your workouts, you might want to try the following…
The goblet squat is an excellent introduction to front squats. It teaches the qualities required for developing a good front squat but without the need for squat racks or heavy loads. It’s a little easier on the shoulders too!
Hold a dumbbell by the inside plates and then tuck the upper plate under your chin. Push your elbows forwards, adopt the proper squat-stance and then, leading with your hips, bend your knees and perform squats in the normal fashion. Keep your chest up and your lower back tightly arched throughout.
Dumbbell front squats
If balancing a barbell in the front squat position isn’t hard enough – try using two dumbbells!! Hold a dumbbell in each hand and then, with your elbows forward and upper arms parallel to the floor, rest the dumbbells on your anterior deltoids. This variation requires good shoulder mobility and stability – not for beginners!
Front box squats
Using a box is a common tool in both back and front squats. Many people mistakenly believe that the box is there to tell you that you have squatted to sufficient depth – not true. The box is actually used to break the eccentric/concentric chain and makes you work harder on the ascent than normal.
When you squat, part of the power that drives you up and out of the bottom position comes from elastic energy stored in your muscles and tendons. By pausing for a second or so on the box, you allow some of this elastic energy to dissipate so you have to start from a dead stop which makes the exercise harder.
If you try box squats, be careful not to bounce off the box as this could cause a spinal compression injury. Likewise, do not relax on the box; keep everything tight and imagine you are a coiled spring ready to explode upwards.
Thrusters combine a front squat with another of my favourite exercises, the overhead press. Combining these two exercises into one means you work just about every muscle in your body in one go. Performed for high reps, thrusters are an awesome conditioning tool which rival the mighty burpee whereas when performed with heavy weights, are a superb total body strengthener that teaches you to use your body as a single force-generating unit.
To do thrusters, perform the descent of the front squat as normal but then really drive out of the bottom as powerfully as possible. As you approach the upright position, use the momentum of your legs to assist your arms and heave the weight overhead. Lower the bar back to your shoulders (correct front squat position please!) and repeat.