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How To Front Squat

Front Squat Progression: Simple and Effective

front squat

Let’s talk front squats.

I think we’d all agree squats are the king of all exercises. But when you hear the word “squat”  you’re probably thinking back squat. Fair enough. The back squat is the most popular squat around.

It’s a staple in nearly every program from fat loss to athletic performance. It’s a competitive lift in powerlifting and lets you lift gargantuan weights.

So why on earth would I not roll out the red carpet on a back squat progression?

Because the front squat is superior for building an athletic, injury resilient, and jacked body.

And no, I’m not some anti-powerlifting recluse. The front squat is just that epic. When the goal is to improve performance, build legs the size of tree trunks, and improve your cubicle dwelling posture … the front squat is at the pinnacle of exercise selection.

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In fact, my much smarter (and better looking) colleague Dr. John Rusin had this to say about the front squat:

For a majority of athletes and lifters the front squat is my preferred squat pattern variation due to its total body requisite. From packing the shoulders to owning a more upright spinal position, the front squat maximizes sports performance transfer and reinforces optimal movement patterns.

john rusin, Front Squat Progression, front squat

The upright position reduces stress on your back and the movement more closely mimics the movements needed in to be an exceptional athlete. 

Now comes the Real Battle: Progressing to a Front Squat

The biggest reason people avoid big challenges is because they’re hard. It’s a cliche, but everything worth having takes sacrifice and hard work. Refining front squat technique is no different. 

The Biggest Problems Most Lifters Face in the Front Squat

  1. Poor Thoracic Mobility

Poor thoracic mobility is per for the course these days. Almost all of us are excessively interiorly rotated from sitting at a desk 8-12 hours per day. The shoulder blades tend to get “stuck” on the back of the rib cage. The shoulders roll forward, and the head drops protrudes forward like a turtle peekin’ out of his shell. 

The front squat can improve posture, but you must first be able to get into position. Joel Seedman, PhD and owner of Advanced Human Performance has this to say about the importance of thoracic mobility in the front squat. 

The front squat teaches the lifter how to find the ideal balance between spinal extension and anterior core activation. Because of the unique loading parameters, front squats force the lifter to achieve significant thoracic extension while simultaneously engaging the anterior core at a high intensity.

In turn this grooves the proper recruitment patterns needed for producing neutral spinal alignment not only for squats but for other movements as well.

With that said, how can we get into proper position to optimize movement patterns? Active thoracic mobility training.

Drills to improve thoracic mobility:

Bench T-Spine Extension Mobilization: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps Daily

Why: By improving t-spine mobility and targeting the lats, serratus anterior, and traps you’ll improve the shoulders ability to stay in position and transfer force.

How to: Start by kneeling and facing a bench while holding a dowel or PCV pipe in your hands with your elbows on the bench. Holding onto the PVC pipe, rock your hips back, dropping your head until it’s even with your arms and extending through your upper back.

Floor Slide: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps daily

Why: The floor slide actives muscles of the mid and upper back, namely the mid-lower trap to fire, helping combat poor posture to improve overhead work.

How to: While supine, keep the lower back flat with the arms extended overhead. Without arching, drive the elbows down towards your sides, squeezing through your mid back. Work to keep the ribcage down through the full range of motion. 

Stop your range of motion if you start to arch your lower back, or elevate the rib cage (as seen at end range in the video.) Gradually increase your range of motion.


2. Poor Strength in the “Rack Position”

By hammering thoracic spine mobility, you should be able to get into the rack position.  The rack position is when the bar is situated on the front of the shoulders with the arms parallel to the floor. 

To get stronger in this position, you’ll need a dose of goblet holds and positions to strengthen the anterior core, rhomboids, and traps. 

As Coach Bob Thompson puts it:

The goblet squat makes the transition to front squat smooth and easy because you’re already familiarized you holding the rack position while keeping an upright torso. Once a barbell is added, the body is already familiar with the pattern that it performs it effortlessly.

3. Front Squat Grip

Gripping the bar on the front squat is a common issue that comes down to technique and mobility. There are numerous grips covered in my Complete Guide to the Front Squat eBook.

Just fill out the form at the end of this article and I’ll send my Front Squat eBook to you for free …  instantly. 


front squat, front squat progression

Front Squat Progression:

So far, I’ve touched on improving mobility and strength to hold thoracic extension. Now, let’s put it all together. After all, you can’t just jump from “no front squats” without the prerequisite stability and mobility.

Further, it’s never a good idea to load an exercise without establishing stability through an acceptable range of motion and  good technique. To learn how to front squat you need a progression. Here it is.

The Third World Squat:

Ever wonder what people did before chairs….or toilets? 

Sitting on the ground wasn’t the only option– they had what’s now termed the third-world squat.  As coach and former special ops operative Craig Weller says,

“In third-world countries, there will be a lot of situations where people are hanging out or working, and rather than sitting or kneeling down, they squat. They can sit like this comfortably for hours. It seems like a simple thing and can be easily overlooked, but try it some time. The average North American adult can’t even get into this position, let alone stay there for any length of time.”

3rd world squat, Front Squat Progression

I could spend all day discussing third world squat position, but Craig did a killer job of this here on T-Nation.

To cut to the chase:

Add 20 full squats to the end of every warm-up.

Once or twice per day, drop into the lowest squat position you can handle for 30 – 60 seconds and hold position.  Keep your heels down and chest up.

Over time, this will improve total body mobility and posture to optimize front squat technique.  

Goblet Squat:

Brought to the forefront by Dan John, goblet squats are the ultimate teaching tool for squatting. Like a front squat, the anterior load engages the core, keeping the spine more vertical. With this increased engagement, you’re more easily able to sink the hips between the knees without posterior pelvic tilt-butt wink, as shown below by the Glute Guy Bret Contreras. 

bret contreras, bret contreras squat
Goblet squats are idiot proof a the easiest way to groove squat technique in all of five minutes.  Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end (or the horns) 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.

Goblet Squat With 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.

Incorporating this pause reinforces your mobility by pouring concrete on the movement foundation. This builds stability from head to toe. 

2 KB Front Squat:

Using two kettlebells greatly increases the demands on your rhomboids to maintain thoracic extension and strength. Since most lifters miss front squats by the elbows dropping and weight shifting forward, this variation improves strength in the rhomboids to prevent that problem before it gets started. 

Holding one kettlebell in each hand at chest height stand tall and brace the core. Keep the kettlebells “up” by driving the elbows high, then 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.

Frankenstein Front Squat:

After chatting about the Frankenstein front squat on Travis Pollen’s podcast, I asked PhD Student Marc Lewis to chat about his favorite progression, the Frankenstein Front Squat.

After the goblet squat has been utilized, and loads have been progressively increased, the barbell loaded front squat would be the next logical progression.

However, before transitioning directly into a “normal” front squat (i.e. clean grip, strap grip, arm crossover grip, etc.), it’s critical to learn proper bar placement and body position with a barbell located anteriorly.

Therefore, the Frankenstein front squat is the ideal exercise to reinforce proper bar position, while teaching the athlete/client how to complete the movement with proper technique throughout the entire range of motion.

  1. The unloaded barbell should be unracked and placed on the on the flexed anterior deltoid. This teaches the athlete/client to create the “shelf,” which is vital to the set-up of the front squat as well as for maintaining the correct torso position.
  2. Elbows should remain at or above the bar level at all times, which will reinforce the cue of “elbows” not “hands” when using the clean grip.
  3. When driving out of the hole, this variation assists the athlete/client with maintaining a vertical torso and driving through the heels. Remember, if they start rounding at the thoracic spine or shifting their weight forward, the barbell will fall.
  4. Finally, this front squat variation will assist in teaching the athlete/client to brace their core and the proper breathing pattern with a barbell placed anteriorly.

Many athletes/clients will appreciate this part as it’s uncomfortable to breathe properly with a barbell snug against your throat.

Front Squat with a 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.

Focus on driving the elbows high throughout the lift to keep the elbows parallel to the ground and spine vertical.

Progressive your 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 my clients how to front squat.

First, mobilize the movements and tissues needed for movement.

Then, reinforce the movement foundation with rock-solid stability to hold position. Crush each rep with intent!

Finally, keep your ego at bay. With this progression, you’ll be piling on plates in no time.

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10 Sure-Fire Ways to Squat More Weight

Squats are lifting loyalty for curing chicken leg syndrome’ and building high-performance muscle mass for good reason–they work.

Squats develop total body strength, stimulate tons of total body muscle growth,  and improve athleticism. Yep, the squat reigns king among bang-for-your buck exercises.

Problem is, most lifters have the mobility of a cast iron skillet and lack ability to execute the squat safely and effectively.

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This poses a huge problem—If you don’t squat safely and effectively a powerful tool becomes limited at best, dangerous at worst. To maximize the squat you need mobility to reach proper position and the stability to control movement through the  intended range of motion.

“To maximize the squat you need the mobility to reach proper position and the stability to control movement through the intended range of motion.”

It’s time to maximize your squat potential through improving technique, mobility, and execution to take your high-performance training to another level. With these 10 Sure Fire Tips you’ll be Squat More Weight, build more muscle, and improve athleticism in no time.

1.) Train for Maximum Strength

Obvi bro…right?

Here’s the thing—despite the fact that you need to train heavy to build maximum strength of people still neglect heavy weights. Yes, training with submaximal loads will spare your joints and nervous system to a degree, but to maximize submaximal training you need a base of absolute strength.

Training at 60% 1-rm for speed is much more effective when your 1-RM is 1.5-2x bodyweight. Sorry bub, you won’t get much squatting with a 135lb max and trying to be explosive with loads of 75-85lbs.

While heavy lifting is generally defined as 85%+ maximum effort for multiple sets of one to five reps, It’s best to avoid missing lifts. Missing lifts zaps your nervous system, engrains poor technique, and wrecks your confidence—a death sentence for your training or that of your clients.

Hit reps the you know you’ll make and save yourself for the occasional max-out attempts, unless you want to wreck your nervous system and technique.

2.)Train Submaximal Reps for Power

Strength-speed and speed-strength are synonymous with power. They produce a sky-high power output compared with longer-duration, lower-velocity maximum strength exercises.

“Compare a tractor-trailer and a Ferrari. It’s great to have a ton of horsepower, but for high performance, it’s best to generate horsepower rapidly.”

squat more weight

For breaking lifting plateaus or achieving more weight-room transfer from athletes, power development is key. Compare a tractor-trailer and a Ferrari. It’s great to have a ton of horsepower, but for high performance, it’s best to generate horsepower rapidly.Remember: Power= Work/Time

Most research shows that maximum power is achieved through moving moderate loads at high velocity with loads of 40-60% of your 1RM. Depending on the athlete, there will be differences within this range and some experimentation will be needed to find what’s best.

For a big squat, speed squats are ideal for power development and technical practice. These can be used as long as a decent base of absolute strength is present and technique isn’t an issue.

3.)Train Speed and Speed-Strength

Speed-strength works the lower-load, higher-velocity component of the force velocity curve to train explosive power. Once again, the greater your base of absolute strength, the easier it will be to express explosive strength. For most lifters, keep the emphasis on explosive jumps that match the biomechanics of the squat closest, i.e. jump squats.



There are tons of variations that address speed of movement, landing mechanics, and power without too much risk. Your best choices are broad jumps, vertical jumps, and box jumps to increase your rate of force development and explode through sticking points. Stick to single-response jumps and ensure sound landing mechanics before moving to multi-response jumps.

[Side Note: If you’re an athlete that requires speed for on-field dominance there needs to be a premium placed on it. In this case intense movement skills like acceleration and top end speed should be the first priority in your training, not lifting maximal weight.]


4.) Squat Twice Per Week

Multiple squatting sessions per week maximizes technical and neuromuscular efficiency through training at variable intensities. Squatting twice per week allows you to focus on one heavy and one speed session. Separate these sessions by 48-72 hours for full recovery.

“Targeting the squat pattern with multiple sessions per week while addressing the force-velocity spectrum leads to greater gains in power, strength, and explosiveness.”

I like to combine a speed-strength method before squatting, followed by maximum strength (85-95+%) on the first squat day. On the second day, I’ll emphasize a pure speed movement with a submaximal strength-speed squat (40-75%). Targeting the squat pattern with multiple sessions per week while addressing the force-velocity spectrum leads to greater gains in power, strength, and explosiveness.

5.) Train to YOUR depth

Yes, building a big squat is great and should improve multiple performance parameters.

But the key word is “should.”

Too many coaches and athletes sell out for big totals in the “big three” and being hardcore with ass-to-grass (ATG) squats no matter what.

While ATG will earn you props on the interwebz, it doesn’t mean anything if you’re risking injury to the lumbar spine. If you squat to depth without a tuck – keep going. But if you can’t maintain position due to lack of core control or bony hip anatomy, don’t force a deep squat. 

6.) Cycle in Front Squats

Yes, back squats take the title as the King Builder, but front squats offer a plethora of benefits:

  • Increased core integrity, allowing greater depth without compromised spinal position and, thus, greater relative muscle activation at lighter weights compared to the back squat.
  • Similar muscle activation of the back squat without as much joint compression and shear stress due to using less weight.
  • Increased strength requirements of the thoracic extendors to hold position – a bonus for desk jockeys with kyphotic posture.

If you’re into 3,000+ word blogs full of biomechanics, research, and front squat nerdin’ then check out this full post.
Otherwise, here are a few highlights:  http://bachperformance.com/training/how-to-front-squat/

Benefits of Front Squats:

  • Increase core integrity and greater depth for greater relative muscle activation. By staying upright and activated in the anterior core you’re less likely to have “butt-wink”.
  • Similar muscle activation of the back squat without as much joint compression and shear stress. Less weight, same muscle activation and lower risk of injury? Count me in homie.
  • Increase strength requirements of the thoracic extendors and anterior core to hold position and resist flexion. Meaning your abs and upper back work harder during the exercise.

7.) Spread the Floor

Allowing the knees to buckle in, known as valgus collapse, is a great way to reinforce poor mechanics and set yourself up for a significant knee injury. Prevent valgus collapse by spreading the floor and pushing the knees  out during the squat. This emphasizes hip and posterior chain development and skyrocketing your squat numbers.

Yes, some high-level powerlifters let the knees dive in during their squat, but you’re not the genetic freak and powerhouse they are.

Letting the knees cave engrains dangerous technique, especially if it leads to uncontrolled valgus collapse in sport or recreation activities. In other words, don’t be an idiot and let the knees cave in– you’ll probably bust your shit and end up in rehab rather than the gym.

8.) Train the pause

If you’re squatting to depth, you need to be stable in the bottom position. Train the pause by using submaximal loads and squatting to maximum depth while maintaining trunk integrity (this means no butt-wink). Unless you’re training for a big total and need to hit certain depth, the risk versus reward IS NOT worth a rock-bottom squat under load in the presence of butt-wink.

9.) Bend the Bar

Don’t be lazy with the bar. Get your Hulk on and try to bend it around your body. If you’re not actively applying force to the bar, the bar will act on you – jumping off or burying you in failure.

“If you’re not actively applying force to the bar, the bar will act on you.”

how to squat more weight

Drive your elbows down and back to engage the lats, provide a larger shelf for the barbell, and create additionally stability in the trunk. Solomonow, et al concluded that over 200 muscles are activated during squat performance. Use them all to maximize your squat performance.

Additionally, you’ll prevent the bar from jumping off your back during explosive squats, improving rep quality and decreasing injury risk. You don’t want to be that chump who loses a barbell behind your back during training anyway.


10.) Rack at the correct height

We’ve all seen it: a rack set-up too high, a calf-raise walkout followed by the poor sap nearly cracking his skull when re-racking. Besides inappropriate barbell loading, improper rack set-up is the most preventable way to get injured.

Set the rack up with the barbell set between nipple and shoulder height, low enough to allow you to squat to weight out and easily re-rack, as well. Make your mark and write down the “notch” in your workout log until it’s habit.


Wrap Up

Sick of getting planted by your squats?
Good. Implement these 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Squat More Weight and you’ll be adding plates in no time.
As always, Optimize your technique first, and then start piling on plates for long-term success.

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1. Solomonow, M., et al. “The Synergistic Action of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Thigh Muscles in Maintaining Joint Stability.” Am J Sports Med. 1987 May-Jun;15(3):207-13. Accessed November 18, 2014.

photo credit: Derek Walker Photo (Derk Photography) via photopin cc

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