It’s called a “Front Squat” for a reason.
The anterior (front-oriented) load is there to take potential stress off the back extensors and place it on the abdominals.
You have to be strong and technically sound enough to prevent the anterior load from collapsing you forward like an accordion. This is one reason why many believe thoracic spine extension is necessary to stay upright during the move, something I’ve heard time and time again.
I believe this is a big misconception.
The healthy human spine has a normal degree of thoracic flexion. Why wouldn’t we train to maintain that? If we don’t, we are jamming up our posterior ribcages, limiting our ability to breathe well, and training ourselves to “use” our backs when we squat.
You might look at my examples of optimal form and think, “That guy’s back is way too rounded!”
I’d argue otherwise.
My thoracic spine is in a neutral position and if you pay close attention, my pelvis is also neutral. It is not excessively tipped forward or backward. This allows proper expansion of air into my ribcage when I inhale and optimal recruitment of the abdominals as I exhale. An extended spine will only allow me to breathe through my belly, as the air has nowhere to go but forward.
This is important because if we cannot breathe well, our bodies cannot recruit the proper musculature to perform movements correctly. This is because we must compensate with other muscles not necessarily designed for inhalation to pull the air in for us. Improper breathing is sensed in the brain as a threat to your body’s survival.
Notice the significant degree of low back arching and flat upper back in the top example. If the pelvis is tilted forward like that, then the hamstrings, glutes and abdominals are in a lengthened and disadvantageous position to fire. The low back extensors and quads are set up to do all of the work:
How to Fix Your Front Squat
I have had many high-level athletes shaking like a leaf with just the barbell once they executed a Front Squat correctly for the first time. Here’s how I cue the movement.
- Stand tall and push the elbows forward without the head pushing forward. I’ll also cue Vladamir Janda’s Short Foot concept here. That means pushing into the ground with the heel, big toe, and little toe of each foot for foot arch stability.
- While still standing, exhale air out through your mouth like you’re blowing out your birthday candles until you feel your abdominals heavily recruited.
- As you descend into the squat, inhale through the nose and feel the posterior ribcage expand. Feel the ground “coming up to you” underneath your heels while your knees travel forward over the toes. Do not push your hips back, or you will put yourself back into that Anterior Pelvic Tilt.
- Exhale through the mouth strongly on the way up as you push through your heels and the arches of your feet.
If an athlete can’t hold the optimal position for the entire lift, the weight is too heavy or there is a mobility restriction. Period.
If the ankles are tight, it limits the ability to descend properly into a squat with the knees over the toes with the weight in the heels and arch.
If the latissimus muscles are tight, it limits shoulder flexion and the ability to keep the elbows high.
Next time you Front Squat, try this with only the bar. You will feel your abdominals, hamstrings and glutes like you’ve never felt them before.
It requires you to check your ego and use lighter weight, but if you care about proper form and performance, this is essential to success.
Photo Credit: franckreporter/iStock