How To Front Squat

Front squats are an excellent exercise for targeting your quads. But balancing the bar can be intimidating and even painful. I’ll admit, I’ve avoided this exercise for a long time because it’s uncomfortable!

However, once you get the bar placement down, front squats are easy to do without too much discomfort. And they can be a great way to build up your strength on back squats.

So I’m going to show you how to master the front squat grip. And how to front squat with proper technique to build massive quads and super strength. 

Front Squat

What Is A Front Squat?

The front squat is a leg exercise where you hold the bar on the front of your shoulders. By changing the location of the weight, front squats shift your center of gravity forward.

Traditional back squats are like a shotgun – hitting everything in the general direction of your lower body. By comparison, front squats are like a rifle – targeting a more precise muscle grouping.

Front Squat vs Back Squat Bar Placement

Figure 1. With the bar on the front of your shoulders, front squats move your center of gravity forward 2 to 3 inches.

Front Squat Muscles Worked

Like all squat movements, the front squat works almost all of the muscles in your lower body. Including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, hip flexors, and even the calves.

However, the forward loading of the front squat means that it puts a strong emphasis on the quads.

Front Squat Muscles Worked

Front Squat vs Back Squat

To understand the body mechanics, it helps to compare the front squat and back squat. Again, the main difference between front and back squats is the center of gravity.

When your center of gravity is further forward, your back remains in a more upright position. And that means you get less hip bend and more knee bend with front squats compared to back squats.

Front Squat vs Back Squat

Figure 2. The shaded triangles in the knee and hip area have the same angles in both pictures. This illustrates how front squats result in more knee bend but less hip bend. And that is why they generate more quad activation. Also, notice how the knees travel farther forward in relation to the toes.

Front Squat vs Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is another popular lower body exercise. In this movement, you hold the weight in front of you like a front squat.

Therefore, the goblet squat results in similar body mechanics and muscle activation to the front squat. However, it isn’t easy to go as heavy since you have to hold the weight in your hands.

Front Squat vs Goblet Squat

Figure 3. With goblet squats, your center of gravity is shifted forward similar to front squats. This results in comparable body positions at the bottom of the squat as illustrated above.

Front Squat Benefits & Limitations

Pros

  • Works more quads compared to back squats
  • Can strengthen healthy knee joints
  • Less stress on the lower back
  • You don’t need to go as heavy to build quads

Cons

  • Can aggravate existing knee injury or pain
  • May cause wrist pain or shoulder pain
  • The grip may be the limiting factor for how much weight you can lift

Front Squat Bar Placement

When setting up for the front squat, you want to place the bar right up against the front of your neck. It should feel a little uncomfortable.

Also, raise your elbows high to create a shelf on your shoulders. Then position your hands on the bar using whatever grip works best for you.

Front Squat Grip

The front squat grip is one of the most challenging parts of this exercise. If you get the hand position wrong, you won’t feel comfortable enough to complete a set.

Fingertip Front Squat

By far, the most common way to hold the bar during front squats is with your fingertips. This grip involves putting the tips of your first two or three fingers under the bar just outside shoulder width.

With the fingertip grip, it’s essential to keep your elbows up high throughout the exercise. And your upper arms should be almost parallel to the floor.

Front Squat Grip Fingers

Figure 4. When doing the fingertip grip, I hook my pointer and middle fingers under the bar just outside my shoulders. Then lift my elbows as high as I can to keep the bar tight up against my neck. This position can get uncomfortable on my hands and wrists with heavy weights or a high number of reps.

Keep in mind, your hands and fingers are not holding the bar. Instead, they are only there to keep the bar from rolling forward.

Many people complain of wrist pain when using the fingertip grip. This discomfort happens when your hands and forearms lack the necessary flexibility. If this is the case for you, then you may want to try the cross arm position.

Cross Arm Front Squat

With this front squat grip, you cross your arms across your chest like a genie. Then place each hand on the opposite shoulder.

Again, make sure you keep your elbows high throughout the entire exercise. Otherwise, the bar tends to slide forward.

One drawback of this front squat grip is that it can be challenging to keep the bar tight against your neck. Especially as you work up to heavier weights.

Cross Arm Front Squat Grip

Figure 5. When doing the cross arm front squat, the bar still sits up against my neck. But my hands rest on top of the bar on the opposite shoulder. This is much more comfortable on the wrists, but it’s easier for the bar to move forward.

Strap Front Squat

Another grip option involves wrapping wrists straps around the bar. Then you grab the ends of the strap and hold the bar similar to the fingertip grip.

With the straps, your hands can stay a couple of inches above the bar, making it easier on your wrists.

How To Front Squat

Once you have the bar positioned on the front of your shoulders, it’s time to perform the front squat exercise.

First, lift the bar off the rack and take a step or two back. Now, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. And point your toes slightly outward.

Next, squat down by bending at the knees and hips simultaneously. As you squat, keep your chest up and your back relatively upright.

Squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the floor. Or as low as your flexibility allows. Then stand back up by extending your knees and driving your hips forward.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Position the bar high on your shoulders up against the front of your neck
  2. Hold the bar with your fingertips or with the cross arm grip
  3. Lift the bar off the rack and stand with feet about shoulder-width apart
  4. Squat down while keeping your back relatively upright
  5. Stand back up by extending your knees and pushing hips forward
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps and rerack the bar

How To Do Front Squats Video

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Front Squat Form

While doing a front squat, proper form is critical to keep the bar in position. That means you want to sit tall and keep your elbows up.

In addition, you should try to squat down until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor. This depth results in knee bend less than 90-degrees which activates more quads.

Front Squat Form

Figure 6. The image above shows the proper front squat form at the bottom of the movement.

At the bottom, your knees should be in front of your toes. This leg configuration is another indicator of greater knee flexion.

However, you do not want your body weight to be leaned forward on your toes. Instead, try to keep your weight on the center of your foot.

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Front Squat Variations

Remember, you don’t have to include the barbell front squat in every workout. And if you don’t have a squat rack, there are other front squat variations you can use instead.

Smith Machine Front Squat

Another option is to do front squats on a Smith machine. The Smith machine bar travels on rails which makes it easier to balance during the front squat.

Heel Elevated Goblet Squat

As you saw earlier, the goblet squat is a close variation of the front squat. To really blast your quads, elevate your heels on a box or plate.

With the heel elevated goblet squat, your knees have to bend even more. And that’s what results in greater quad activation. The first time you do these, your quads will be sore the next day – guaranteed!

Kettlebell or Dumbbell Front Squat

The dumbbell squat is similar to the goblet squat, except that you use two dumbbells. Hold a dumbbell in each hand up near your shoulders as you do the squat movement.

If you don’t have dumbbells, you can also use kettlebells.

Banded Front Squat

For those of you with a small home gym, you can also do banded front squats. For this version, you stand in the center of the band and grab the other end in each hand.

Then hold your hands up near your shoulders as you perform the squat movement.

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Front Squat Form

Landmine Front Squat

Lastly is the landmine front squat exercise. A landmine is a barbell attachment that allows one end to pivot from the floor.

To do a landmine front squat, hold the free end of the barbell up by your chest and perform the squat. In the video below, Dylan has his heels elevated the same way I did with the goblet squat.

Front Squat Alternative

Several alternative exercises provide similar body mechanics and muscle activation if you’re not comfortable doing front squats yet.

High Bar Squat

Earlier, I showed the difference between front and back squats. But the back squat I showed was using the low bar position, which shifts your center of gravity way back.

Another option is called the high bar squat. This bar placement puts the weight higher on your shoulders, closer to the back of your neck.

With this bar position, your center of gravity is closer to the middle of your body. So the exercise mechanics end up being closer to the front squat.

Front Squat vs Back Squat High Bar

Figure 7. The shaded triangles in the knee and hip area have the same angles in both pictures. With the high bar position on the back squat, the body mechanics are closer to the front squat compared to the low bar squat illustrated in Figure 2.

Hack Squat

A hack squat machine has a weighted sled that travels on rails. Similar to a leg press, except that you push the sled with your shoulders instead of your feet.

With a hack squat, your back stays upright relative to your legs. So the movement path is very similar to a front squat.

Smith Machine Hack Squat

Most gyms don’t have a hack squat machine, so you could do a Smith machine hack squat instead. The key is to replicate the upright body position.

To keep your back upright, stand with your feet about 12 inches in front of you. Then your hips should drop almost straight down when you do the squat.

Sissy Squat

One of the best exercises for isolating the quads is called a sissy squat. But make no mistake, this exercise is way tougher than the name suggests!

What makes it so challenging is that you have to squat down without bending your hips. This body position puts all the load directly on your quads.

Zercher Squat

Zercher squats are where you hold the bar in the crux of your arm instead of on your shoulders. The benefit is that it shifts your center of gravity farther forward.

But a significant drawback is that it’s highly uncomfortable with heavy weights. So I don’t recommend this alternative unless you’ve mastered the front squat.

Benefits Of Squats

Front squats are a tremendous squat movement for developing bigger and stronger quads. But if you want to grow your legs, you should also do good old-fashioned heavy back squats.

Some of you may need a little motivation to get out of your comfort zone and get under the bar. So I’ve put together a list of 21 benefits of squats for men and women.

After reading this article, you’ll never want to skip squats again!

Benefits of Squats For Men And Women
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With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better lower body. And if you found this article informative, check out some of my other helpful workout tips below!

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