Front Squat Tips You’re Not Using

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Key Take Home Points

  • Make it tougher to enable progression
  • Train it twice a week
  • Use a patient approach for continual progress

I refer to the Front Squat as an honest exercise. This is because you can’t get away with horrible form. You can’t cheat it, unless you want to suffer an injury. Not only that, you’ll need a good amount of mobility to ensure proper execution, so you can’t neglect this area either.

It’s a go to favourite of strength coaches as it has incredible transfer to sports performance. I utilise it as a primary indicator lift for many sports. Here are some lesser utilised tips to get your front squat improving fast.

Use Lifting Straps

This position takes some getting used to and I believe that is why people avoid it. They try it once, assume it’s not for them, and avoid it like the plague. Do you remember when you were an expert at something after one exposure?!

Just because you’re not lifting what you could do without the straps doesn’t mean this is a bad idea. What I’ve continuously found is that if you can improve Front Squat with Straps, to your current rep maxes, when you revert back to without straps, you’ll be stronger.

The improvements are likely down to you being able to create more tension in your abdominals and upper back. This means increased kilos coming to your Front Squat 1RM soon. I much prefer my clients using straps as opposed to the crossed arms technique as I find the upper back responds better and it’s the identical position to that of a Log lift which I program often for.

Target the VMO

The bar is positioned in front of the body, therefore it increases stress on the musculature located here. Also to maintain an upright posture you will need proper ankle mobility, which means your VMO is going to have an increased stress placed upon it. Here are some VMO options for you take advantage of:

  • Heels on plate: Even if you wear Weightlifting shoes use this tip. It will allow further travelling of your knee past your toes thus increasing the range and tension on the VMO.
  • Cyclist: A more extreme version of the above and also a narrower stance. Heels 4-6” apart and 4-6” raised.
  • 1 & Quarter: Put the quarter in the disadvantageous position (the bottom) and if you want, add more than 1 x quarter! Pair this with the cyclist squat for ultimate returns on investment.
  • Isometrics against pins: When utilising this, push through the balls of your feet to further increase tension on the VMO. I recommend 3 x different positions (Bottom, Middle, Top). There are many ways to apply this which would constitute another full article, but 3 sets of 4-6 partial movements followed by 6-8 seconds isometric at the end of each set is a great option.

A visual for a weak VMO or improper firing pattern is the hips kicking back. Your body recognises the VMO isn’t strong enough to complete the movement and shifts tension to your glutes. Hips kicking back in a front squat is the recipe for a disaster as the weight will now go through your wrists, thus, snapping your shit up!

Go Beltless

A major predictor of Front Squat strength is the collective strength of your core. Also if you are strong without assistance gear, often you are stronger with. I see too many rely on their belt in 100% of the program. Dropping it completely and aiming to reach your current repetition maxes with a belt before reverting back to training with belt on, always provides success.

Yes, your average weight will be down compared to wearing the belt but your potential to improve is increased. Often the ones that argue against this are the ones who haven’t improved in years…just saying!

Periodise Disadvantageous Positions

Use 4 weeks with a weaker position before moving onto a stronger one. For Example:

  • Week 1-4: Front Squat (Hold Straps, Heels on Plates, 1 & Quarter)
  • Week 5-8: Front Squat (Hold Straps, Heels on Plates)
  • Week 9: Test Normal Front Squat Positioning
  • Week 10-14: (Hold Straps, Heels on Plates)
  • Week 15-18: (Hold Straps)
  • Week 19: Test Normal Front Squat Positioning

Use Heavy Supports

Success leaves clues is a maxim I continuously use. So, who collectively have the best front squats? I would vote the Chinese Olympic Weightlifting rank first here. Both technically and also in total tonnage. One of their ‘secrets’ is using heavy supports.

A heavy support is used, usually, at the end of the squats. You complete your sets and reps and then simply add a plate to either side of the barbell and hold it at lockout. This enables your body to get used to handling heavier weights. The mechanism is an inhibition of your golgi tendon reflex. It improves your confidence with these supramaximal weights, making you and your body think it’s normal. The biggest predictor of a fail in a squat is lifting it up and thinking, ‘Fuck, this is heavy!’

You don’t need to use a huge percentage more and I recommend increasing it slowly. Heavy walkouts are different and are tougher on the body. I have clients pick it up once, drop it back to the safety’s, then pick it up and stand with it for 5-10 seconds. You can even unlock and lock the knees continuously, creating a bit of bounce and whip with the barbell, but not too much.

Use 4 Week Patient Build Ups

Here’s a favourite approach I utilise for the Front Squat:

  • Week 1: 3 sets of 6 reps with a 0% Weight Spread
  • Week 2: 4 sets of 5 reps with a 0% Weight Spread
  • Week 3: 5 sets of 4 reps with a 0% Weight Spread
  • Week 4: 2 sets of 3 reps with a 30% Weight Spread (Here is where you can push to a Maximum Effort on Set 2)
  • Week 5: 3 sets of 5 reps with a 0% Weight Spread
  • Week 6: 4 sets of 4 reps with a 0% Weight Spread
  • Week 7: 5 sets of 3 reps with a 0% Weight Spread
  • Week 8: 2 sets of 2 reps with a 30% Weight Spread (Here is where you can push to a Maximum Effort on Set 2)

You’ll notice on weeks 4 & 8 you de-load the volume but up the intensity. On these weeks the first set should follow the increases used week to week and the second set should be the one where you have aneurism completing the last rep. You can even put your belt on for this set!

The squat is a skill so keeping the weight selection lower in 95% of the sets will give you a bigger return. This means keep some reps in the tank and use the de-load weeks to get after it.

Increase by 6-7% weekly, not 5%

  • Week 1: 3 sets of 6 reps at 62%
  • Week 2: 4 sets of 5 reps at 69%
  • Week 3: 5 sets of 4 reps at 76%
  • Week 4: 2 sets of 3 reps: Set 1 at 83% & Set 2 at whatever takes your fancy but hit the 3 reps!
  • Week 5: 3 sets of 5 reps at 72%
  • Week 6: 4 sets of 4 reps at 79%
  • Week 7: 5 sets of 3 reps at 86%
  • Week 8: 2 sets of 2 reps: Set 1 at 93% & Set 2 at whatever takes your fancy but hit the 2 reps!

The Front Squat likes it heavy and increases are seen quickly, hence the larger than normal increases.

After the de-load weeks you’ll notice you then drop down and build up from a reduced percentage again. This is key. Your body can’t stay at the top all year round. Be patient and start enjoying using lower weights to increase your max!

Train it Twice a Week

Day 1 should be your Neural Day and Day 2 should be aimed at improving Intermuscular Co-ordination. I’ve already covered the Neural Day recommendations above so for the Intermuscular Co-ordination you have 3 x options:

  • Paused: Pause for anything up to 4 seconds whilst sat in the bottom to completely remove the stretch reflex.
  • Accommodating Resistance: Use chains/banded/reverse band/full speed device to adjust the strength curve. Traditionally seen as speed work in the Westside Methodology. Use 5-12 sets of 2-5 reps.
  • OTMR/EMOM: Perform 1-3 reps, on the minute every minute for 8-12 sets. You can periodise the tempo, repetition type and accommodating resistance to add variety.

With intermuscular co-ordination the speed and quality of the concentric is key. We’re looking for 0.8 metres a second or faster. The technique must be perfect and the speed must be a maximal voluntary contraction.

I prefer people to think ‘go faster’ rather than increasing weight. The eccentric can be periodised and often controlling it at first gives clients a better training response as when the eccentric is perform too quickly, the amortisation phase is too slow, negating the benefits.

Go heavier

The Front Squat loves a heavier average percentage to increase it. I don’t program anything over 6 reps or 40 secs time under tension. The upper back fatigues too quickly and compromises the execution of the lift.

Putting it All Together: Neural Day

Cycle 1

Week Front Squat Variation Sets Reps Tempo % Spread
1 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates, 1 & Quarter (No Belt) 3 6 4110 62% 0%
2 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates, 1 & Quarter (No Belt) 4 5 4110 69% 0%
3 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates, 1 & Quarter (No Belt) 5 4 4110 76% 0%
4 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates, 1 & Quarter (Belt Set 2) 2 3 4110 83% 30% ↑
5 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 3 5 40X0 72% 0%
6 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 4 4 40X0 79% 0%
7 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 5 3 40X0 86% 0%
8 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (Belt Set 2) 2 2 40X0 93% 30% ↑

*Heavy Support after last set of every workout

Cycle 2

Week Front Squat Variation Sets Reps Tempo % Spread
10 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 3 6 4010 62% 0%
11 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 4 5 4010 69% 0%
12 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 5 4 4010 76% 0%
13 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (Belt Set 2) 2 3 4010 83% 30% ↑
14 Hold Straps (No Belt) 3 5 30X0 72% 0%
15 Hold Straps (No Belt) 4 4 30X0 79% 0%
16 Hold Straps (No Belt) 5 3 30X0 86% 0%
17 Hold Straps (Belt Set 2) 2 2 30X0 93% 30% ↑

*Heavy Support after last set of every workout

*Weeks 9 & 18: Squat once per week, normal front squat for 1 x set each of: 5, 3, 2 reps @ 20X0

Putting it All Together: Intermuscluar Co-Ordination Day

Cycle 1

Week Front Squat Variation (OTMR/EMOM) Sets Reps Tempo % Spread
1 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 8 2 34X0 0%
2 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 6 2 34X0 0%
3 Hold Straps (No Belt) 10 1 40X0 0%
4 Hold Straps (No Belt) 8 1 40X0 0%
5 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 8 2 32X0 0%
6 Hold Straps, Heels on Plates (No Belt) 6 2 32X0 0%
7 Hold Straps (No Belt) 10 1 20X0 0%
8 Hold Straps (No Belt) 8 1 20X0 0%

Cycle 2

Week Front Squat Variation Sets Reps Tempo % Spread
10 Heels on Plates, 1 x Chain (No Belt) 5 5 40X0 0%
11 Heels on Plates, 1 x Chain (No Belt) 4 5 40X0 0%
12 Reverse Band (No Belt) 8 3 40X0 0%
13 Reverse Band (No Belt) 6 3 40X0 0%
14 Heels on Plates, 2 x Chains (No Belt) 5 5 30X0 0%
15 Heels on Plates, 2 x Chains (No Belt) 4 5 30X0 0%
16 Banded (No Belt) 8 3 20X0 0%
17 Banded (No Belt) 6 3 20X0 0%

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 28/12/2018

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