Tag archive

Front Squats Increase your Power Clean

The Power Primer: How an Embarrassing Story lead me to focus on Athleticism


( First, I have a story. Honestly,  it’s not a story I like to tell because it was embarrassing and a difficult time. Still, I’m sure you can relate.

At the end, I’ll tell you about my latest Workout, the Power Primer 2.0. The Power Primer is three full workout programs (36 weeks) of top-notch programming to help you build a body that performs like a top athlete…and looks good naked. But I’ll get to that later.  ) 

As a kid athleticism was never an issue.  I played a ton of sports, ran around the neighborhood making forts and playing pick-up games.

But, I was small and weak. Puny even. Especially compared to my classmates.

As a result, I was timed. I lacked confidence in how I looked, and how I performed playing sports.

This built up until at all once, it came to head.  It was high school gym class in late October. In Wisconsin, the frigid temperatures meant the ground was rock solid. Every time you hit the ground, it felt like falling on a pile of rocks.

We were playing flag Football…where the idea is to pull a flag rather than tackle each other into oblivion. Well, that’s the idea anyways.
Being a smaller, fast dude I was playing safety. My job was to run anyone down who might score.

The other team lined up and through the ball to Jason. Jason was the token overdeveloped, terminator of a dude that dominated every sport. He caught it and sprinted in my direction.
Soon, I was in the last place a puny unconfident dude wanted to be: between Jason and the end zone.

Jason had two options; race past me, or run through me.

Naturally, Jason decided I provided less resistance than a blade of grass. So he lowered his shoulder and sent my helpless corpse tumbling to the turf as he gliding to the end zone.

I looked up at the overcast sky. I heard the jeers. And then I lay there ,motionless for a moment.
Physically, I was a mess.

My wind was gone. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

My body ached and throbbed after getting tossed like a lifeless doll across the turf.

And that was just the start.

Mentally, I felt weak, pathetic, and insignificant.

I peeled my carcass off the grass, stumbled to a knee, and caught my breath.
As I stumbled to the sidelines, chin down and arm cradled at my side, the jeers and taunts grew louder.

I walked away from everyone: friends, teachers, and classmates.

I stood there, staring blankly into nowhere. I just wanted to be alone.

The skin on my cheeks tightened and my eyes got big. I held back tears of embarrassment. But my cheeks blushed, illustrating exactly how I felt inside.

eric bach, power primer, the power primer, the power primer 2.0, athleticism, power primer, the power primer, eric bach power primer

Fuck it.  

Why was I even bothering with this stuff?

Then, I snapped out of it. Instead of moping around and feeling sorry for myself, I got pissed.

Pride, passion, perseverance.

I heard the voice of an old coach saying these words. Whenever a game got tough, that was his credo.

That did it. It was a turning point.  Why let some asshole like Jason ruin me?

From there on, I dedicated myself to training.

To getting bigger, stronger, and better. To forge a body and will harder than iron.

Fast forward eight years. Sixty pounds of muscle and a ton of enhanced confidence later, I was a coach.

Sixty pounds of muscle and a ton of enhanced confidence later, I was a coach.

Helping athletes and other dudes get strong, jacked, and athletic was my passion.

And then it happened.

I was at a seminar, working with other trainers and a handful of coaches on sprint technique.

Problem was, I hadn’t done much in the way of sprinting, jumping, or sports in a few years.

Competitive and intramurals sports were over.

Now, I relegated my fitness to lifting heavy shit and the bi-monthly sprint workout.

We all stood in a line, facing the instructor, and began a skipping drill.

I tried my best to mimic the drill he covered, but to no avail. I skipped awkwardly, like a teenager who had just finished his growth spurt. Bewildered by my lack of coordination, I lost focused and stumbled over my own feet.

What in the fuck was I doing?

Rather than the athleticism I’d had my whole life, I looked like a convulsing teenager who had just seen his first FULL BOOB.

The same crushing embarrassment took hold. My skin flushed. This time, I cracked a joke.

It was my new coping mechanism. But I wasn’t really fooling anyone, least of all myself.

Despite a fake smile and a few jokes, my gut wrenched. I stood there, embarrassed and dumbfounded.

Sure, I was strong, lean, and pretty built. But where had all l my athleticism gone?

Further, I asked what’s the point in all this heavy lifting, counting macros, and dedication if we ignore the basic idea of improving athleticism?

That’s the problem I’d set out to fix. First for myself, and then for hundreds of clients who wanted to be the total package: strong, lean, and athletic.
Today, more than ever, many of us are weak. Many kids drop out of sports by age 12.

Overprotective parents don’t help. Neither do sedentary desk jobs.

Neither do sedentary desk jobs.
And despite the increasing popularity of fitness, actual sports and athleticism are quickly going down the shitter.

shitters full

The resultt?

A fair number of strong and lean bodies, but piss-poor athleticism and power.

To steal from Nate Green’s masterful rant titled “For the Guys who Don’t Workout.

“But you gotta understand the gym doesn’t define me. I am not my broad shoulders. I am not my six-pack. I am not my freakin’ biceps.”

Sure, your broad shoulders, six-pack, and biceps are great. But you deserve more. You deserve a capable body and the unconquerable will that comes with building athleticism and powerful performance.

And that means changing your training to incorporate values of athleticism, namely, explosive power.

After working with hundreds of clients, I’ve found that adding in explosive power to be the best method for getting what we all want: a strong, shredded, and athletic body.

That’s exactly what these five exercises deliver: a blend of strength, athleticism, and explosive power to unleash your inner athlete.

By adding these five movements alone into your training, you’ll be light years more athletic than the average meathead.

5 Power Primer Exercises to Build Athleticism

Jump Rope

Jump ropes aren’t a stupid tool you force-fed in Elementary school. They’re a badass old-school tool that boosts athleticism and shreds bodyfat.

Let’s dive into boosting athleticism first.

Jumping rope develops speed, agility, and coordination for sports. Sprinting is great too ( and I’ll cover it later), but for dudes who haven’t run around the block in five years, jumping into full-speed sprints is asking for injuries.

You wouldn’t jump into near-maximal lifting after a long layoff, would you?

Nah. You’re smarter than that.

The same philosophy applies to sprints. You must first condition your joints and ligaments, especially the Achilles tendon, for high-speed impact.

Even better, the jump rope is a one of the safest conditioning tools for two reasons:

First, jumping rope is a self-limiting exercise, meaning that when your form breaks down the exercise ends.

To be successful skippin’ the ole’ rope, you’re forced to stay in an aligned, joint stacked position, stabilizing your core under the load of movement.

bach performance jump rope, athleticism, power primer, the power primer
This teaches your core to hold position under movement while preventing the chances of overuse.

Second, jumping rope is low-impact despite a high number of foot strikes. This keeps the joint stress low and conditions the Achilles tendon for explosive movement. Achilles tendon injuries are alarmingly common in weekend warriors.

The jump rope provides one of the best prevention tools around. It is exceptionally effective both as a low impact athleticism and conditioning tool. For most, jumping rope two or three times per week for 10-15 minutes provides a huge boost.

Squat Jump

The squat jump is one of the best exercises to improve your power and get more athletic, especially if your gym doesn’t allow Olympic lifts. Squat jumps mimic the squat and a vertical jump, bridging the gap between jumping in sport and squatting in the gym.

In the short term, these explosive exercises improve your workouts by activating high-threshold motor units to fire and recruit more muscle during training. This means you’ll be able to lift more weight and stimulate more muscle growth and strength during workouts. 


In the long-term, you’ll recruit more muscle fibers with less effort.

This makes it easier to call all more muscle to action and smash heavy weights, thus helping you build a strong, lean, and explosive body.

How to do it: There are three phases: loading, exploding, and landing.

Loading: Set up with feet about shoulder-width apart in an athletic stance with arms up at chest height. The loading phase uses downward arm swing with flexing at the hips and knees to load your legs.

Exploding: Swing your arms up while extending your hips and knees, taking off on the balls of your feet. Extend the arms overhead and aim to extend the body with the ankle, knee, hip, trunk, shoulder, and ear all aligned.

Landing: Bend your knees into a squat position and absorb force evenly through the foot. Keep your chest and head up, looking straight ahead.

How many: Three sets of five reps with 60-90 seconds rest. Perform on a lower-body training day, before a squat or deadlift.

Hill Sprints

Sprinters have some of the world’s best bodies. And while correlation does not equal causation, sprinting is a basic skill in sports and gets you shredded.

So what’s the key?

Sprints create a physiological response like high-intensity weight lifting.
In sprinting, your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and hips generate insane amounts of force while your spine stabilizes and transfers power.
This builds stronger legs and youthful athleticism while triggering a massive hormonal shift in your body.

eric bach, power primer

Three hormones that help you look better naked are affected by sprints:

Testosterone – The major masculinizing hormone in your body. Greater testosterone levels improve your energy, improve sex drive (wee!), build stacks of lean mass, and cut body fat.

Growth Hormone (GH) – GH is released in response to large muscle contractions and is further stimulated by training without full recovery.

Triggered by metabolic stress, the stressful environment when you’re gasping for air and muscles are on fire, GH is referred to as the fountain of youth. GH slows the aging process, aid in fatty acid metabolism, and boost protein synthesis.

Improved Insulin Sensitivity – Huge muscular contractions stimulate improved insulin sensitivity, which improves markers of cardiovascular health, builds lean muscle, and carves body fat off your body.

Further, improved insulin sensitivity improves nutrient partitioning. That means your body improves at breaking down nutrients for energy and muscular recovery rather than fat storage.

What to Do: Hill or incline sprints are best as they reduce injury risk. The hill makes it mechanically impossible to over stride, decreasing the risk of the dreaded hamstring pull.

Further, running up a hill shrinks the distance your foot covers to the ground, decreasing joint stress.Sprint twice per week, as an individual workout or after a lift.
After a warm-up, sprint all out for eight – twelve rounds of sprints.

Here’s a sample six-week progression:

Weeks One and Two: Sprint 15 seconds, rest 45 seconds
Weeks Three and Four: Sprint 20 seconds, rest 40 seconds
Weeks Five and Six: Sprint 25 seconds, rest 35 seconds

High Pull

I love cleans, but for a lot of lifters, years of heavy loading and poor thoracic mobility make it impossible to catch the bar with the elbows up. Enter the high pull.

The high pull uses explosive hip extension, teaching the glutes, quads, and hamstrings to generate insane amounts of force while your core stabilizes your spine and elbows drive the bar up.

As a result, the high pull helps you develop explosive athletic power and builds a jacked and athletic body. After a few weeks of high pulls, you’ll notice thicker glutes and hamstrings to pair with thick traps and cables for forearms.

High pulls are great on both upper and lower body days. Since they’re explosive in nature, make high-pulls the first exercise you do in training to get more athletic with sets and reps like 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps.If you want to add a bit more size, add them after your main lift for 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps.

Clean Grip Reverse Lunge

Most lifters have tight hips, achy knees, a weak upper back, underactive abs and tons of asymmetries between their legs. If I told you I had an exercise that takes care of all these ailments and makes you more athletic and resistance to injury, you’d say I was full of shit, right?

Well, I’m not. The clean grip reverse lunge is that exercise.


Stronger thoracic extensors: Are you hunched over your smartphone reading this?

Tsk, Tsk!

Bad posture is an epidemic and we’re all guilty. To improve posture and shoulder health we need to train the traps, serratus, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and lats to hold position and prevent you from flexing forward. Holding the bar in the clean grip does exactly that.

eric bach, power primer, the power primer, the power primer 2.0, athleticism, power primer, the power primer, eric bach power primer

Less Knee Stress: Holding the barbell on the front of your body limits the weight you can use. That means less joint compression on the knee and spine.
Further, stepping backward keepings your shin vertical, limiting shear stress on the knee. By reducing shear and compressive stress, you’ll keep happier, healthier knees.

Better Abs: Holding the bar on the front of your body forces your entire core to engage, keeping your vertical so you don’t fold like an accordion.

Fix asymmetries: The clean grip reverse lunge requires dynamic stabilization and single leg strength. This works the major muscles in your leg and what’s termed the lateral subsystem, a group of neglected muscles (quadratus lumborum, adductors, and glutes) to stabilize each leg and generate strength.

Medicine Ball back Toss

The medicine ball back toss is one of the best exercises to get more athletic for two reasons:
1. You get to throw stuff.
After a long day, or just for the hell of it, it’s fun to throw heavy stuff around.
2. Explosive Hip Extension.
Explosive hip extension is the driving force behind taking off in a sprint, maximizing your clean, squat, or deadlift, and jumping. Adding a medicine ball is just another way to add explosiveness to the same movement pattern while having a bit more fun.

Instead of squats or deadlifts, add medicine ball back tosses in the beginning of your workout for 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps.

The Power Primer 2.0 is here!

Most lifters fall into the trap of endlessly pursuing one goal at the expense of all other training parameters.

That’s fine for elite athletes. But for the rest of us, we’re after the total package.

There’s no better tool to bridge the gap between the body you want and the athleticism you deserve than my latest program The Power Primer, 2.0.

I’ve created eight months worth of programming to get you Strong, Shredded, and Athletic. This isn’t a program for athletes.

It’s for those of us that refuse to accept pathetic athleticism a the cost of building your best-looking body.

It’s time to bridge the gap between athleticism and aesthetics.

It’s time to unleash the Power Primer and build your leanest, strongest, and most athletic body to date.

For less than you spend on protein powder each month, you’ll have all your workouts expertly planned, organized, and guided by a custom video guide from now until 2017.

Get the Power Primer Today

Athlete Strong in 12 Weeks, Power Primer

1. Gould D, Petlichkoff L. Participation motivation and attrition in young athletes. In: Smoll FL, Magill RA, Ash MJ, eds. Children in Sport. 3rd ed. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics; 1988:161-178.

How To Front Squat: And How it Makes You a Diesel Gym Beast

front squat vs backsquat

Why does the front squat get thrown under the bus?

Better yet, how come no-one knows How to Front Squat?

Join the Community and Get the Beastmode Front Squat Guide, 100% Free


When you hear about the ultimate lift for an explosive lower body and huge squat numbers most are referring to back squats. It’s the most popular squat variation around and part of the big three in powerlifting.

I love the back squat, it deserves its credit, but you’re leaving huge gaps in your explosiveness, muscular development, and training by neglecting the front squat.

For starters, front squats require hard work, which most gym goers avoided like the bubonic plague, opting to post every gym P.R. and dozens half-naked selfies on Facebook. This startling trend combined with lifters staying content with their classic leg presses and smith machine squats has led to anemic leg development, un-balanced physiques, and movement patterns ripe with dysfunction.

Few exercises match the high-performance benefits of the front squat, even the back squat. It’s time to leave your ego at the door, walk on the wild side, and attack your weak-points. Give the back squat, leg press, and leg extension a rest; it’s time to front squat.

Why You Should Be Front Squatting


  • Increase depth achieved and glute activation: Anterior placement of the barbell allows greater depth during front squats. Muscle activation of the gluteus maximus also increases with increased hip flexion (squat depth), and the subsequent concentric action of hip extension. [Caterisano et al].
  • Improve core strength: Anterior bar placement keeps the torso vertical, preventing the hips from going into excessive anterior pelvic tilt, and requiring greater oblique and rectus abdominus involvement to prevent flexion. Everyone benefits from a stronger anterior core and few exercises challenge the core like front squats.
  • Huge Quad Development: Deeper knee flexion from greater depth during the eccentric a more upright posture, and narrower stance all lead to greater knee extension during the concentric and thus huge quad development.
  • Decreased lumber and knee stress: Anterior bar placement forces lifters to attain an upright posture, decreasing shear stress on the spine. Gullet et al found significantly lower compressive forces at the knee compared to back squats without compromising muscle activity in the quads or hamstrings. If you have a history of meniscal injuries and your knees sound like firecrackers front squats are a great option due to lighter loads being lifted compared to back squat.
  • Front Squats Increase your Power Clean: Whether you’re a competitive athlete, weekend warrior, or want to look better naked Olympic lifts are a valuable tool. Stronger hip extension, stronger anterior core, and a direct transfer to the “catch” phase of cleans illustrates why front squats aid in developing the power clean. There’s a reason front squats have been an Olympic lifting mainstay for decades—they work.
  • Increased Thoracic Extension and a Stronger Upper Back: Let’s be real here—Most dudes have the posture of Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.


front squat

Front squats require scapula and clavicle elevation and upward rotation to keep the elbows up and the bar in proper position. This requires the traps, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and lats to work in conjunction to hold position and prevent you from dumping the bar forward.

I’ve had dozens of clients improve posture, mobility, and strength of the thoracic extenders with front squats. Being able to maintain thoracic extension will aid your deadlift too, and I know you love you some deadlifts. 

  • Total Body Mobility and Stability: Front squats require significant mobility and stability in the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulder—something everyone in today’s “sit-in the office, go home and play XBOX” society needs. Increased mobility requirements and maintaining position under load will pour concrete over the greater movement foundation.
  • Total Body Strength Gains: Regardless of your goal improved strength will increase your success. Building strong quads, a strong, resilient anterior core, glutes, and explosive hip extension will improve all other training qualities in the gym.
  • Increased Muscle Mass: Squats are widely considered the “king of hypertrophy”. They’re a vital piece in mass building due to hormonal adaptations from progressive overload and total body training stimulus. Anecdotal evidence from Olympic weightlifters, bodybuilders, and personal experience makes one thing perfectly clear—Front squats build massive quads and a thick upper back.

With all of these kick-ass benefits, it’s a no-brainer that front squats deserve your attention.

How To Front Squat: Biomechanics 

Front squats and back-squats are quite similar: They require total body strength, stability, and power through hip and knee extension and flexion, dorsiflexion of the ankles, and a rigid core to resist flexion and folding like a napkin under the bar. Despite these similarities there are significant differences; most notably, anterior bar position during the front squat.

This change in bar position alters the center of mass and places a greater emphasis on the quadriceps, upper back, and supporting muscles of the trunk. The spine stays more vertical, lengthens the lats, reduces shear stress on the spine and requires additional core involvement to keep you vertical.

how to front squat

This keeps the lower back tight by default—lumbar flexion and learning forward “dump” the bar before excessive flexion takes place. TThis built in safely mechanism teaches proper abdominal bracing, posture, and overcoming a significant load when first learning how to front squat.

“Are front Squats worse for my knees?”

Well, not necessarily.

Research in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning by Gullet et al compared the biomechanics of the front squat and the back squat. The front squat and back squat elicited very similar muscle activation despite the front squat weight being 70% of the back squat load.

The back squat had more compression on the spine and knees (due to larger loads in my estimation), with greater torque in the knees. So, overall muscle activation was the same with a lower load, less compressive joint stress to the knees and back, and less shear stress then front squats.

This backs up my experiences as an athlete and coach—you’re less likely to be injured during a front squat than a back squat. All things considered, achieving a comparable training effect with less external loading and joint stress is a good thing. 

From an anatomical standpoint arguabley nearly every muscle plays a role in the front squat, but for simplicity stake we’ll leave it at these: the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, erector spinane, anterior/lateral deltoids, supraspinatus, rhomboids, upper/middle/lower traps, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, rectus abdominus, and obliques are all needed to stabilize the load and complete the lift.

Muscles are an integrated system that must work together to produce efficient movement, few exercises work as many of them together as front squats.Let’s find out how to front squat some damn weight!

How To Front Squat

Watching Youtube videos isn’t enough to learn how to Front Squat –you actually need to master the component pieces and integrate them to maximize your front squat.

Grip: There are multiple ways to grip the front squat, but the “clean” grip is the best option. The clean grip involves wrapping your finger tips around the bar and keeping the elbows high. This trains the catch position of the clean and provides maximum control barbell—ideal for safety and athletes who use the clean as a mainstay in their training.

As few as two fingers wrapped around the bar is acceptable when the elbows are elevated. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many lifters to get in proper position when learning how to front squat. In this case, regress the grip and work on flexibility.

how to front squat
Front Squat w/2 finger clean grip

Clean Grip with straps: This grip is similar to the clean grip but uses straps to hold onto the bar when there are mobility restrictions with the regular clean grip. This is a great grip to use while improving mobility and working towards the clean grip. Christian Thibaudeau shows you the clean grip with straps here.

How to Front Squat
front squat clean grip with straps

Bodybuilding Grip: The bodybuilding grip involves resting the bar on the top of the shoulders with hands over the bar and elbows kept high. This is great for beefcakes with the mobility of a fork, but it sucks for controlling the barbell and for athletes. Use this grip as a last resort when severe mobility or wrist limitations are present.

how to front squat
bodybuilder front squat grip

Set the Bar against the neck: There’s no denying it—getting the bar in proper position sucks. Racking a loaded barbell against your throat and performing squats gets you out of your comfort zone and builds toughness. (I heard front squats give you big cajones, or something). Once you select your grip, the barbell must stay against the base of the neck with the chin tilted up to keep the joints stacked and bar close to the torso. Failing to do so will allow  your elbows to drop, the bar to crash, and you peeling your tattered carcass off the floor.

Elbows Up: It’s Simple—Force  the“elbows up” during the entire front squat and you’ll be in good shape. Failing to drive the elbows will result in a loss of spinal position, kyphotic posture, and dumping the bar forward during the squat.

Abs Braced and Breath: Front squats create a “lengthening” of the core when the elbows are elevated. Use the anterior core to create stability by bracing and staying neutral in the trunk rather than arching. Proper breathing and pulling air into your gut becomes increasingly important during front squats as the valsalva maneuver increases intra-abdominal pressure to provide an internal belt of support.

Breathe into your stomach and brace like you’re taking a punch from Mike Tyson after stealing his tiger. If that doesn’t work, here’s a great video on the abdominal brace by Chris Duffin. Gather as much air as possible before descending into the squat—you’ll need it.

Walkout: Grip the bar, drive the elbows high, brace the abs, and squat the bar out.

Left foot out.

Right foot out.

Re-settle, breath, and go. The front squat is a different animal than your typical squat; keep the feet closer to shoulder width with very slight toe flair.

Execution: After the walkout gather your air, sit back slightly, and break at the knees and hips simultaneously while driving the elbows high. Keep a vertical spine and descend to the deepest depth possible without compromising spinal integrity—more on butt wink later.

Hold your air as long as possible, drive the elbows up, and stand up until the hips are fully extended. Exhale and walk the bar all the way into the rack, push against the safety hooks and squat the weight down—no sloppy split-stance bar dumping allowed.

Front Squat Depth

The anterior load of the front squat and increase in anterior core activation allows for a deeper squat without compromised spinal position. Unfortunately, butt wink still occurs. Sub-parallel squats aren’t for everyone, bony hip anatomy, anterior core weakness and posterior chain weakness are frequent culprits that prevents an an ass-too-grass squat.

Blasting heavy-ass squats with a curved lumbar spine is recipe for acute injury and long-term dysfunction, regardless of what anyone says.

 This should be avoided with mobility and stability being trained until further depth is achieved without compromising spinal position. Mobility and stability will improve with increased front squatting and time—stop slamming square pegs into round holes because bro-science says “ass-to-grass squats or you’re a sissy. ”

how to front squat
Good spinal position vs. bad spinal position

 P.S. Bret Contreras does a great job of explaining Butt-wink here, I highly recommend you check it out. And yes, I know this is a back squat picture above. 

How to Front Squat: Common Issues and Cues

1.)   Elbows Drop: Failure to keep the elbows high is the result of mobility restrictions, being lazy as poo on a hot summer day, or weakness in your upper back.

It becomes exponentially more difficult to keep the elbows up after 5-6 heavy reps on front squats; keep reps lower and increase submaximal training for practice. Avoid excessively arching the low back into lumber hyperextension for elbow position; instead, build a stronger core and improved thoracic mobility with this drill from Eric Cressey.

2.)   Chest Caves: This happens because the elbows dropped (see below) or improper set-up. Ensure the barbell is against the base of the neck and the elbows are kept high during the entire set to maintain posture and bar position.

3.)   Falling Forward: The anterior load is pulling you forward, you need to get the hips back slightly at the initial descent (pop that booty) and keep the elbows high. Drive the heels into the ground during the concentric portion of the exercise.

4.)   Falling Backward: You’re sitting back too far. Every exercise is a tool—use it the way it’s meant to be trained. In this case use a smaller hip hinge at the start of the squat and allow the quads and anterior core to do their job, it’s front squat not a good morning or back squat.

5.)   Spread the floor to prevent Valgus collapse: Unless you’re a fan of grotesque knee injuries and months of rehab it’s best to avoid valgus collapse. Despite a few (slim few) elite power lifters having great success with the knees diving on a back squat this technique is best avoided. Slightly push the knees out during descent of front squats to maintain stacked  joints and proper tracking of joints.

6.)   Grip: If the bar is misaligned imbalances will be referred down the kinetic chain. The clean grip gives the most control over the bar, use it. Peel a few fingers away from the bar, (as few as two fingers suffice with the clean grip) to gain control and take stress off of the wrists. Work on tissue quality and length in the forearms, wrists, and lats to improve comfort with the clean grip.

7.)   Weak Anterior Core: If you’re weak in the anterior core you’re going to have a host of problems; specifically, maintaining vertical spine under load. Practice front squats multiple times during the week and add in a heavy dose of abdominal rollouts, planks, pallof presses, and farmer walks.

Front Squats Build Muscle

Anecdotal evidence from bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters shows us front squats are great for total body muscular development; specifically, massive quads and a thick upper back. Here are some additional muscle-building considerations:

  • Greater Hip flexion and depth require greater hip extension and gluteus maximus recruitment on the concentric portion of the exercise– both important for greater gluteus maximus activation.  As a side note it would be interesting to see where the trade-off ends in muscle activation between increased squat depth (with a front squat), and increasing stance width and activation of the adductors and gluteus maximus in a wide, powerlifting squat. (Paoli et. Al)

  • Front Squats are a fantastic builder of the quadriceps due to anterior bar placement and high amounts of knee flexion.


  • Keeping the elbows high forces the thoracic extenders to work their ass actin off and adds additional volume for building your “yoke.”


  • The front squat was shown to be as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces on the knee. [Gullet et al] This becomes increasingly important with increased training age.


  • Front squats should be done with a full range of motion, as they result in more thigh muscle growth with full reps than partial [McMahon et al].


  • Training the quadriceps at long muscle lengths (greater knee flexion) results in higher muscle activation than training at shorter muscle lengths, finish your reps.

Front Squats Build Massive Strength


Squats are dubbed “the king” of all exercises for good reason– they provide huge gains in total body strength and muscle. While this title refers to the back-squat I’ve already touched on the similarities between front squats and back squats in terms of muscle activation.  Say what you want, but anyone who front squats big weights will be damn strong, both in terms of relative strength and absolute strength.

Here are some additional strength building considerations:

  • I’ve mentioned this already, but it bears repeating– Front squats require less relative load for similar muscle activation of the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while decreasing stress on the spine and knees.
  • Front squats are particularly beneficial for those competing in weight lifting events because it is an essential component in performance of the clean. (Fry et. al)
  • Additional stress to the thoracic extenders is beneficial to all pulling movements: deadlifts, squats, rows, and pull-ups are all potentially improved.
  • Huge anterior core training stimulus will improve carryover to other compound lifts.
  • It’s a damn squat. If you squat heavy with good form and a plan you’ll get as strong as an ox.

Front Squats are Better for Athletes


When working with athletes it’s imperative to understand that everything in the weight room is a tool; risk: reward analysis must be taken into account. I prefer front squats as my primary squatting method with athletes for the following reasons:

  • Front squats are beneficial for those competing in weight lifting events because they’re an essential component in the execution of the clean. [Fry et. al]


  • Anterior bar position means less shear stress on the spine and provides a more back-friendly alternative to back squats for older athletes, taller athletes, and athletes with back issues.


  • Squats mimic the biomechanical demands of athletic endeavors like the powerful hip extension needed for sprinting, jumping, tackling, and skating. Moreover, the abs braced, neutral position is vital for athletes to be maximally efficient and avoid “dumping” during movement.


  • Front squats are a tool for potentiation and long-term improvements in acceleration and maximal sprint running. Performance is improved from performing squats (30%, 50%, and 70% 1 RM) as part of the athletes’ warm-up 4 minutes before sprint trials, leading to long-term benefits after sprint training by allowing the athlete’s neuromuscular system to perform at a higher level during each training session [Yetter et. Al].


  • Greater anterior core activation due to anterior bar placement—I’ve never seen any athlete with too much anterior core strength.


  • Similar muscle activation is achieved with front squats as back squats with a lighter load, leading to  less compressive and shear stress on the knees and spine. It is clear that the front squat may be advantageous for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears and general joint health when compared with back squat [Gullett et al]. The spine handles compression well—lumbar vertebrae are huge. Unfortunately, shear stress with compression is recipe for injury and cranky backs.

The Ultimate Front Squat Progression


It’s not a good idea to load an exercise without establishing stability through an acceptable range of motion and ironing home good technique. To learn how to front squat you need a progression– here it is.

BW Squat: From standing position push the hips back and break at the knees, descending with the hips until parallel is reached with the arms extended at shoulder height with the chest up. Extend the hip and knee to stand back up. Rinse and Repeat.

Goblet Squat: Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end and hold at chest height. Keeping the chest tall and abs braced descend by breaking at the hip and knee until the proper depth is achieved. Extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.

How to Front squat, how to goblet squat

Goblet Squat W/Pause: Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end and hold at chest height. While keeping the chest tall and abs braced descend by breaking at the hip and knee until proper depth is achieved, pause while staying tight, and extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.

2 KB Front Squat: Hold two kettlebells at chest height  and stand tall with the abs braced. Keep the kettlebells “up” while breaking at the hips and knees simultaneously until proper depth is achieved. Extend the hip and knee, return to a full standing position

2 KB Front Squat w/Pause: Holding one kettlebell in each hand at chest height stand tall and brace the core. Keep the kettlebells “up” while breaking at the hips and knees simultaneously until the proper depth is achieved and pausing without losing tension. Extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.

Bar w/Pause: Using a clean grip (2 fingers only if necessary) break at the hips and knees simultaneously, keeping the abs braced and elbows up as you descend to depth. Pause while maintaining a “rigid” core, then stand up by fully extending the hip and knee. Yipee!

how to front squat

There are many ways to “skin the cat” when it comes to squat progressions, but this technique has worked best for me when teaching novices how to front squat.

You combine anterior loading, torso rigidity, a lower-body training stimulus, and the ability to hold positions under load before moving onto the barbell. Perform each rep with intent and gradually load as technique improves. Don’t worry– tell your ego you’ll be piling plates in no-time.

P.S. Who came up with the term ” There are many ways to skin the cat”? Freaks. 

Additional Considerations

Ask yourself—If your body can’t get into proper position under load should you be going there? Unless you’re okay with piling strength on top of dysfunction it’s best avoided. The performance increase may be worth it for lifters trying to boost a total, but for athletes and general population using the front squat as a tool for performance rather than mode of competition it’s not worth it.

Should you Wear a Weight Belt for Front Squats?

When it comes to using a belt a few situations must be taken into account. Compared to deadlifts and back squats there is less compression forces due to lighter load and less shear stress due to a more vertical spine position. I coach my clients to brace the abs, negating the need for a belt in most cases.

If you’re a powerlifter circumstances are different—they need to learn how to push their abs out and apply more force when lifting. Still, keep belts for the rare top-end set, not for your ugly-biceps curls and sub-maximal work. Dr. Stu McGill summarizes it perfectly here “Many people adopt belts in training for one of three reasons:

• they have observed others wearing them and have assumed that it will be a good idea for them to do so.

• Their backs are becoming sore and they believe that a back belt will help.

 • They want to lift a few more pounds.

None of these reasons are consistent with the objective of good health. If one must lift a few more pounds, wear a belt. If one wants to groove motor patterns to train for other athletic tasks that demand a stable torso, it is probably better not to wear one. Instead do the work to perfect lifting technique.”

Front Squats and Lifting Shoes

For competitive lifters I recommend Rogue Do-Wins  or a similar lifting shoe for front squats. I did a full review on the Rogue Do-Wins here. For Athletes and other lifters the choice is optional—if you need to improve ankle mobility to squat deep then lifting shoes are an option “hack” your depth, but is going to a position you’re body doesn’t achieve naturally worth the extra five pounds?

I’d recommend sticking within your limits and increasing your active range of motion rather than using equipment to achieve greater range of motion.

Personally, I’ve used Chucks, Olympic lifting shoes (Rogue Do-Wins), and typical tennis shoes with great success– 300lb cleans and a 365lb front squat in Nike Frees without issue related to footwear. The point is, if you’re strong, you’re strong. Heel lifts are an accessory, if top end weight is your primary goal then try the shoes, but the difference isn’t as great you’d think.

Simple Routine: High-Frequency Training and Front Squats

Let’s be real here, you didn’t read all this to NOT get a sweet workout program. If you have trained properly for at least one year, are well-versed in weightlifting,  and have made significant strides in your training then you are in the perfect place. This program is NOT for beginners, but intermediate and advanced lifters.

This program will help you build significant strength, muscle, and improve your athleticism unlike many crappy body-part split routines you read in bodybuilder magazines and websites. Bodies that look like Tarzan and play like Jane are no good—you deserve more, you deserve better.

If you’re up to the challenge then you need to bring it to every workout. Each workout you’ll be training with a focus on either maximum strength, volume for hypertrophy, or speed for athleticism and additional gains in strength and muscle mass.

Front Squat Finisher

I’ve professed my love for the occasional finisher here, and here. During one particularly creative (read: tormented) workout session I designed a finisher solely for front squats. This is a very advanced test of physical and mental grit. If you’re a good squatter, tough as nails, and without injury, give this a shot. Killer Front Squat Finisher.

Wrap Up

Like any exercise a risk: reward analysis is necessary to determine what’s the best tool for the job. That said, the front squat is everything you need and then some to become a diesel beast in the gym and on the playing field. Everyone from bodybuilders, athletes, and weekend warriors benefit from decreasing joint stress, increasing total body training stimulus, and attacking common weak points like thoracic extension and the anterior core.

Leave your ego at the door and focus on your front squat— they’re likely the missing link to fixing your chicken legs, caveman posture, and finally become a diesel beast in the gym.

Train Smarter, Train Harder, Perform Better

Building a high-performance body can be difficult. But, it doesn’t have to be. Let us help you build a body that is strong and athletic with our free High-Performance ebook.

Expert Tips to Build Muscle

In it you’ll learn the best training, diet, and lifestyle strategies– personalized for you. to build your ultimate high-performance body.

Click here to download the special report, for free.



Bach, Eric. “5 Plateau Busting Finishers.” Schwarzenegger.com. Schwarzenegger.com, 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.schwarzenegger.com/fitness/post/5-plateau-busting-finishers>.

Bach, Eric. “Killer Front Squat Finisher.” Elite FTS. Elitefts.net, 13 June 2013. Web. 30 May 2014. http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/killer-front-squat-finisher/

“Barbell Front Squat.” Barbell Front Squat. ExRx.net, n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Quadriceps/BBFrontSquat.html>.

Breathing and Abdominal Bracing for Strength. Dir. Chris Duffin. youtube.com, 2013. Film.

Bench T-Spine Mobilizations. Dir. Eric Cressey. youtube.com, 2013. Film.

Caterisano, A., R.F. Moss, T.K. Pellin-ger, K. Woodruff, V.C. Lewis, W. Booth, and T. Khadra.The effect of back squat depth on the EMG activity of 4 superficial hip and thigh muscles.J. Strength Cond.Res. 16(3):428–432. 2002.

Contreras, Brett. “Bret Contreras.” Bret Contreras. Bretcontreras.com , n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://bretcontreras.com/squat-biomechanics-butt-wink-what-is-it-what-causes-it-how-can-it-be-improved/>

Fry, AC, Smith, JC, and Schilling, BK. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J Strength Cond Res 17: 629-633, 2003. Graham, J. Front squat. Strength Cond J 24: 75-76, 2002.

Gullett, JC, Tillman, MD, Gutierrez, GM, and Chow, JW. A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res 23: 284-292, 2009.

McGill, Stuart. “On The Use Weight Belts.” . the National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.backfitpro.com/pdf/weight_belts.pdf>.

McMahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K, Onambélé GL. Impact of rangeof motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):245-55

Paoli A, Marcolin G, Petrone N. The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. J Strength Cond Res 23: 246–250, 2009.

Yetter M, Moir GL (2008) The acute effects of heavy back and front squats on speed during forty-meter sprint trials. J Strength Cond Res 22:159–167

Go to Top