Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Front Squats, And Why They RULE!

I've said time and time again, if you want to get stronger, faster, bigger, leaner, more powerful, and look like you actually lift weights, get under the bar and do some squats.  Seriously, you can read this article later! go hit up the squat rack for a few sets of heavy triples!

And now that that's done, let's talk about why next time you run off to the gym, you should try putting that heavy bar on your shoulders instead of your traps.  What the heck am I talking about?  FRONT SQUATS!  The ultimate total body squat exercise (save for overhead squats, though those can be a little harder to jump right into).  I'm not kidding, back squats and front squats are two completely different beasts.  To put it in perspective, I can easily rep 280 lbs for a set of three back squatting, then after a minute or two I'll be ready to come back and hit it again.  When I approach my max in front squats (which happens to be about 80% of my max back squat), I literally need to compose myself for quite some time between sets.  They absolutely drain you, and work your body to a whole new level of fatigue.  Don't be scared though, because after a set of good, deep front squats, you'll walk away from that squat rack feeling like you REALLY pushed yourself, and nothing feels better than that.

So what's a front squat look like?  Well, before I attempt to explain via text on a page, I'll show you a video:

This guy definitely knows how to front squat, great depth, great flexibility, and INCREDIBLE strength from the very rock bottom position.  Can you do this?  Absolutely, though obviously we'll start off with a little less weight.

First step in a front squat, approach and grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width.  This will ensure your upper back is as tight as possible, and will fight your urge to "hunch" in the bottom of the squat.  Second, bring your elbows down under the bar, and push them forward until the bar is resting on your deltoids (shoulders).  Make it tight against your throat.  Don't worry about breathing problems, and if you are choking just a little, LOOK UP.  It will clear your airway.  I'm serious here, you want that bar tight against your neck, keep it close to you.

Now, un-rack the bar with either both heels under it or in a split position (just make sure you're not using your toes to lift the weight off the rack).  Step back with a couple slow, very controlled steps, and get your feet into a position that's either shoulder width or slightly wider (I go a little wider because I have very long legs).

Now this is important.  You may have learned to keep your legs parallel and your toes pointing straight forward.  If you do this in a front squat, you'll dump the bar.  Front squats require you to remain UPRIGHT in the bottom position, and therefore they might feel a little weird at first.  To accomplish this upright position, the first thing necessary is to point your toes at an angle slightly outward.  When it's time to descend, lock in your lower back, and instead of pushing your butt "back" like so many personal trainers might have told you, push your knees OUT and start to descend between your hips.  This may take time to get right, and you'll need to build up some hip flexibility to get it right.  STAY ON YOUR HEELS.  Don't go onto your toes, or your knees will punish you.  Keep going as deep as you can, continually pushing your knees out, and staying on the outside of your heels.  Once you're as low as you can go (hopefully at least below parallel), drive with your heels, quads, and glutes, and try to stay upright.  A little forward lean is expected under heavy loads, but try to keep it minimal.  Oh, and don't let your knees buckle inward!  Push them out with all your might!  Once you're standing again, feel free to do another.

Now I keep saying to remain upright, but I haven't told you two EXTREMELY important tips to doing so.  Firstly: KEEP YOUR ELBOWS UP!  Don't let them dip.  Keep them parallel to the ground (I mean your upper arm here, your elbows shouldn't point toward the ground at any time in the squat.)  Second:  FLEX YOUR CORE!!!!  Front squats are one of the greatest core exercises of all time BECAUSE they require you to keep your core extremely tight to stay upright.  You have to clench your abs with everything you got, even before you start the squat.  Don't even THINK about heading down until you make sure your abs are TIGHT.  The requirement for a strong core is much moreso than in back squats.

Here's a picture:

Alternate Grip:  If you're having trouble with the classic Olympic grip, you can try the cross arm grip.  You're still balancing the bar on your shoulders, but your grip looks more like one of those russian "hooplah" dancers, if you know what I mean.  If you don't, here's a picture:

I honestly don't like this grip too much, and if you do any sort of Olympic lifting, even as an assistance exercise, DON'T USE THIS GRIP.  But for those of you just starting out, or just doing front squats for the fun of it, feel free to try it out.  Some people like it much better.

So there's your intro to the front squat.  I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend hitting this exercise ASAP! You won't be sorry.  The gains possible off of front squats are enormous, and a lot of people have found that if they've plateaued on back squats, front squats can push them over that stall point and keep their numbers going up.  As far as Olympic lifting is concerned, the front squat is MUCH more applicable to the lifts than back squats, because you're forced to stay upright (and every single time you clean a heavy weight, you have to front squat it up...see the relation).  Hit the gym and try these bad boys out and you'll look and feel like an absolute monster!

Squat deep, squat heavy, stay tight, and GOOD LUCK! 

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