The Front Squat, also known as a Barbell Front Squat, is simply a squat done with the barbell on your front shoulders instead of on your upper-back. The Front Squat involves the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lower back and gluteus maximus muscles. The Front Squat is one of the most effective exercises for targeting the quadriceps and at the same time strengthening your entire core. The Front Squat also minimizes spinal compression and therefore places less stress on your lower back.
Main Benefits of the Front Squat
Quadriceps Muscle Physiology Summary
Quadriceps (quads) is large group of muscles on the front of the upper leg, often referred to as the thighs. The Quadriceps are so named because they are a group of four (quad = four) different muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedialis. The quadricep is the strongest and leanest muscle in the human body.
Quadriceps run along the front of the thigh, starting at the hip joint and ending at the knee joint.
- The Rectus femoris occupies the middle of the thigh, covering most of the other three quadriceps muscles. It originates on the ilium. It is named from its straight course.
- The Vastus intermedius lies between vastus lateralis and vastus medialis on the front of the femur (i.e. on the top or front of the thigh).
- The Vastus medialis is on the medial side of the femur (i.e. on the inner part thigh).
- The Vastus lateralis is on the lateral side of the femur (i.e. on the outer side of the thigh).
All four parts of the quadriceps muscle attach to the patella (knee cap) via the quadriceps tendon.
Quadriceps' primary function is to flex the hip and extend the knee, very important in walking, running, jumping, climbing, and pedaling.
Front Squat Summary
- Main Muscle(s) Worked: Quadriceps
- Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Lower Back
- Equipment: Barbell
- Mechanics Type: Compound (When two or more joint movements are involved).
- Force: Push (Concentric contraction of the target muscle when movement is away from center of body).
- Utility: Auxiliary (An optional exercise that may supplement a basic exercise. Auxiliary exercises may place greater relative intensity on a specific muscle or a head of a muscle).
Target Muscles Used for Front Squat
Synergist Muscles Worked When Performing Front Squat
- Gluteus Maximus
- Adductor Magnus
Dynamic Stabilizers Worked When Performing Front Squat
Stabilizers Worked When Performing Front Squat
- Erector Spinae
- Deltoid, Anterior
- Deltoid, Lateral
- Pectoralis Major, Clavicular
- Trapezius, Upper
- Trapezius, Muddle
- Levator Scapulae
- Trapezius, Lower
- Serratus Anterior
Antagonist Stabilizers Worked When Performing Front Squat
- Rectus Abdominis
Correct Exercise Procedure Use for Barbell Front Squat
- Adjust the pins in the squat rack so the bar will rest at about shoulder height.
- Cross your arms in front of your body parallel to the floor and rest the bar across the front of your shoulders.Note: some may prefer the underhanded grip (2nd picture).
- Lift the bar off the rack and take a step back.
- With your feet approximately shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly outward, back straight, abs tight, head up looking forward, begin movement by squatting toward the floor.
- Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Drive the weight back up to the starting position until knees are about to lock out.
- Repeat until the desired number of reps have been completed then re-rack the bar.
Tips for Performing Front Squat
By using the tips mention below will help for the muscle(s) full development by incorporating more muscle fibers per rep, thus increasing the muscle's size and strength.
- Practice proper form and control. Starting with this exercise, or any exercise you have not performed before, use light weight until you have the full range of movement with proper extension and contraction completed. This is important for the muscles full development.
- Grab barbell with both hands. For beginners you can grab the barbell with both hands instead of crossing your arms. This will help until you become accustom to the distribution of weight.
- Do not overload on weight. When you first try the barbell front squat do not overload the weight, the center of gravity is no longer behind you as in the traditional squat.
- Keep your back straight and head up. Keeping your head up and back straight will help prevent you from leaning or falling forward.
- Keep your feet flat and pointed forward. Make sure your feet are flat on floor, pointed forward and aligned with your knees in order to help keep the weight distributed evenly.
- Avoid locking out knees. Avoid locking out your knees and allowing muscles to relax before next repetition.
- Stop one rep short of failure. Taking this exercise to all-out failure can be potentially dangerous. I recommend that you stop your set one rep short of failure and safely re-rack the bar.
Frequent Mistakes Made While Performing Front Squat
Performing the exercise improperly, often referred to as cheating, will not allow for the muscle and muscle fibers to be use their fullest potential, resulting in not achieving desired development of the muscle.
- Movement performed too fast. If movement is perform too fast, with a jerky motion or using body momentum will not allow full usage of all muscle fibers.
- Locking your knees. By locking your knees out while in the standing position will take the stress off your quads and add stress on your joints.
- Failure to keep head up and back straight. Failure to keep your head up and back straight may cause you to fall forward with the barbell. It can also cause you to lean forward, placing extra stress on the back and joints in your knees, which over time; can lead to spinal problems and degeneration of the knees.
- Limiting the range of motion. Many lifters do not go all the way down or do not squeeze at the top of the movement. If full range of motion is not use, less muscle fiber will be worked and less growth will occur.
- Using too much weight. A front squat is a very awkward exercise to perform at first. Make sure you start out with light weight in order to get a proper feel for the lift before moving to a heavier weight.
Front Squat Variations
A variation of a specific exercise is intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are many exercise variations to this strength exercise. Some of the variations use for the Barbell Front Squat:
- Smith Machine Front Squat. With the Smith Machine Front Squat the utility, force, mechanics and muscles use are the same as with the Barbell Front Squat, except with the additional safety and control of a smith machine.
- Dumbbell Front Squat. Front squats can also be performed with dumbbells.For some people they find the dumbbells easy to hold. However, using a dumbbell for the front squat movement will limit the amount of weight that can be used. Therefore this option is typically only used by women interested in just toning, or both sexes that are new to the technique and are looking to first improve their form and balance..
Additional Complimentary Exercises for the Legs
- Leg Press. The leg press is another great for strengthening the gluts for helping with the squat exercises. It also reduces stress on the lower back and can provide an opportunity to allow for heavy weights, since the machine does not require the use of supporting muscles for balance.
- Barbell Squat. The barbell squat is the standard squat exercise that most lifters use. The main difference with this exercise, other than the placement of the barbell, is having a basic utility and has fewer stabilizing muscles being use.
- Cable Squat. The Same utility, mechanics, force and muscles use as the dumbbell squat but with added resistance and control that cable equipment provides.
- Barbell Single Leg Squat. Even though this is a single leg squat exercise, that requires lot of balance, fewer stabilizers and no antagonist stabilizers are use. The Barbell Single Leg Squat has the benefit of working each leg individually therefore strengthening them both equally without the stronger leg doing much of the work as with two legged squats.
- Dumbbell Squat. Dumbbell squat is another good alternative exercise with fewer stabilizing muscles than with the front squat and can have either a basic or auxiliary utility.
- Smith Machine Squat. The Smith Machine Squat can be a safe alternative to regular squats to help build the legs.
- Smith Single Leg Squat. This has an auxiliary utility allowing you to concentrate on one quadriceps at a time, similar to the split squat. One of the differences with single leg squat when compared to the split squat, you are using additional stabilizers with the addition of antagonist stabilizers.
- Smith Rear Lunge. Similar to the split squat, except by using a lunging movement you incorporate additional stabilizers.
- Smith Hack Squat. This is an excellent alternative exercise to Smith Machine Squats with using additional stabilizers.
- Leg Extenstions. The leg extension is an isolation exercise that also targets the quadriceps muscle group and can be used as a good finishing exercise that allows for a great final pump. It should be noted however, that leg extensions should not be done with heavy weights and if you have any knee problems, should not be done at all.
Complimentary Exercises to the Front Squat
- Hyperextensions. Hyperextensions will strengthen the lower back which is use when performing squat exercises.
- Smith Good-Morning. This is an isolated movement for developing the hamstrings and strengthens the lower back which aids in performing all squat exercises, and reduces the chance of injuries. Quadriceps and Hamstrings should be given equal attention to avoid injury and also helps balance quad-hamstring to reduce chances of injuries.
- Smith Straight Leg Dead Lift. Smith Straight Leg Deadlifts is hamstring strength exercise with additional stabilizers that help in performing squats.
- Seated Calf Machine. Seated calf machine will strengthen the calves, which is one in the group of secondary muscles needed when performing Barbell Front Squats.
- Hamstring Curl. Hamstrings are extremely important to work for any type of athlete. Quadriceps and Hamstrings should be given equal attention to avoid injury. Hamstring curls is a great exercise to build and strengthen the leg biceps (hamstrings). Hamstring curls can be done lying, seated or standing; depending on the equipment that is available in your gym.
Bottom Line on Front Squata
Though the Front Squat is a more advance exercise, it is a great alternative squat exercise which also adds more emphasis on the quadriceps muscle. The front squat also is a fantastic leg exercise that has the added benefit of building a very strong core. The Front Squat will also strengthen the quadriceps and improve their primary function of being able to flex the hip and extend the knee, very important in walking, running, jumping, climbing, and pedaling.
About the Author
Lynn Glenn is a 61 year old natural athlete who started training at the ripe young age of 48. Lynn Glenn is also an avid weightlifter who enjoys writing about hot topics in the areas of health, and fitness and developing further knowledge in the areas of disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and personal training. Lynn Glenn lives and trains in Southern California, and serves as a tremendous inspiration for many "mature" weightlifters in the gym that are trying to look better, feel better, and beat father time!