The front squat is one of the most important compound movements in CrossFit.
It differs from the air squat or back squat because it is performed under load, load which is held in front of yourself and not on your back.
The positioning of the load is what determines the most important factors that need to be accounted for when coaching and perfecting this skill and it’s deriving movements: the wall ball, the squat clean and the thruster.
In this article we will cover the fundamental aspects that need to be assessed when performing a front squat. Once you know what to look for it will be easier to identify any weaknesses within your movement so you can improve faster and more efficiently.
What we will be looking at:
- The front rack
- Wrist mobility
- Torso positioning
- Ankle mobility and load distribution
The front rack
There are many Olympic weightlifting squat variations that require a sturdy front rack position. So, incorporating the tips form this guide will widen your exercise arsenal to become the best athlete you can be.
If you are not able to get in and maintain a comfortable front rack position you most definitely will not have a great relationship with front squats.
When positioning is not ideal the movement will become not just inefficient but painful as well.
The front rack sees the athlete holding the bar on their chest, in particular resting on their shoulders.
Hands are in a relatively narrow grip, just a bit wider than shoulder width and elbows should be pointing straight forward.
Your ability to hold a front rack position comfortably depends on mobility and strength of the upper body.
Most times as athletes consistently practice different movements within CrossFit and follow a sound warm up and mobility routine they quickly acquire the required range of motion to maintain the front rack.
However, it is not too unusual to find some individuals who have a hard time in the front squat due to limited shoulder ROM or stiff wrists.
If you find this could be your case a simple yet effective way to work on this issue is to perform front rack holds with a lightly loaded bar.
We have athletes load the bar with usually 10kg plates in order to give them enough weight to effectively counteract the elastic reaction happening within their body that is keeping them “stiff” and preventing them from hitting the correct positioning in the front rack.
Once you load the barbell just practice holding the front rack in time intervals going from 10/15 seconds to 30 seconds and up to 1 minute.
As you get stronger and more mobile you should find that keeping the front rack is almost effortless.
As we previously stated upper body mobility is crucial in the front squat. In particular together with shoulder mobility we always look at wrist flexibility as a limitng factor.
We like to see a full grip on the bar, meaning all fingers should be under and around the bar. Although occasionally not having this full grip can be ok you have to keep in mind that it means you will lose control over the barbell.
Therefore, if you lose your balance it will be more likely of you to drop the bar.
If you find you have stiff wrists flows and wrist mobility drills will help immensely in this department. We recommend you pair these wrist drills with front rack holds as described in the previous segment of this article.
Unlike with the back squat where if you lose your balance forward you can maintain a more horizontal torso and compensate with your back, in the front squat if you are unable to stay vertical you are effectively losing power and strength on the lift.
Additionally if you consistently are too far forward with your torso when front squatting you are likely placing unnecessary strain on your wrists and shoulders.
In order to teach correct positioning to athletes and ensure they have the body awareness to research vertical torso positioning we have them incorporate partial reps in the lead up to front squat work.
Partial reps are simply front squats that end before the athlete reaches parallel.
They often can be even as short in ROM as 45 degrees.
The main focus around them is to stay as vertical as possible while maintaining a strong core.
Ankle mobility and load distribution
Last but not least on our assessment list is ankle mobility and evaluating how athletes distribute their bodyweight when descending in the front squat.
This becomes especially important when breaking under parallel.
If ankle mobility is limited the athlete will naturally be pushed to want to compensate with their hips ultimately leaning forward with their torso and putting themselves in the ideal position to lose the barbell and miss the lift.
Ankle mobility work will be crucial here especially done before any lifting session as often this joint needs to be actively “loosened up” each time you work on movements that heavily rely on ankle mobility.
However, some athletes will always have relatively stiff ankles regardless of how much time and effort they put into mobility drills.
In these cases a pair of weightlifting shoes which have a slight heel to compensate for limited ankle ROM can hugely benefit the movement.
We recommend the use of weightlifting shoes and/or work on ankle mobility not just to avoid the torso falling forward but because they help extract as much power as possible from your lower body.
This is because the front squat is a heavily quad dominant movement meaning the more you can recruit the quads the heavier you should be able to lift.
Your feet are your only point of contact with the ground and in that small surface area of your foot you determine how much force you can express and in what direction.
Therefore, when we look at weight distribution in the feet we want to see full contact with the floor with a slight bias towards the front of the foot. The front bias will allow for more and better quad recruitment.
We hope this article was helpful, don’t forget you can find even more information on ankle and wrist mobility as well as in depth explanations on how to fix issues in your front squat on our official YouTube channel. Just look up The Progrm CrossFit!