The front squat is a valuable exercise for building stronger quads and a better clean. Compared to the back squat, it takes more work to develop, requiring excellent mobility in the wrists and shoulders—not to mention strength in the posterior chain and core. So just as we perform accessory work to build our back squat and overhead squat, so too must we incorporate drills to improve our front squat.
1. Front Rack Lunges & Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squats
These two exercises are great for developing the front squat for several reasons. They’re both unilateral movements that help identify muscular imbalances and strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and hip rotators in both legs. Furthermore, any time you can perform a drill outside of the front squat that requires holding the barbell in the front rack position, you’re going to feel more comfortable with the position. Considering that front rack lunges and Bulgarian squats also force you to maintain a vertical torso as you perform them, these two movements have tremendous carryover to the positioning you need to execute a solid front squat.
Performing the Front Rack Lunge
With the barbell in the front rack position, take one step forward. Pause briefly, then lower your back knee to the ground, while keeping your elbows up and bracing your core to ensure you maintain a vertical torso. Drive out through your front heel to stand, then repeat with the opposite leg.
Performing the Bulgarian split squat
With the barbell in the front rack position, place one foot on a box or bench behind you. Try not to have your foot higher than three feet off the ground. With your front foot flat on the ground and chest raised high, lower your body to allow your back knee to touch the ground, then drive through your front heel to return to the starting position.
2. Wide-Grip Pull-Ups, Bent Over Rows & Pallof Presses
While leg strength is obviously important for any type of squat, if you don’t have the necessary core and lat strength to keep your torso vertical and the bar stable in the front rack position, your leg strength won’t matter one bit. These three exercises are fantastic for building stability and strength in those precise areas, making them valuable additions to your front squat accessory work.
Performing wide-grip pull-ups: Moving your hands out wider than your normal pull-up grip width places more emphasis on your lats and the muscles in your back to lift a greater percentage of your body weight. In a close-grip position, you use more of your shoulders and elbows while your biceps and pecs take some of the load off your lats.
Performing Bent-Over Rows
Deadlift the barbell with your hands in a clean-grip position. Hinge forward at the hips so that your back is at a 45-degree angle to the ground, yet still remains flat. Allow the bar to drift away from your thighs. Tense your abs, and pull the bar towards your sternum. Don’t jerk the weight—move it in a controlled fashion.
Performing Pallof Presses
This exercise is designed to be performed on a cable machine, but using a resistance band will work just as well. Attach a moderate to light resistance band to the bottom of a squat rack or rig. Take the loose end of the band, and step outward so that the rig is to your side. There should be some tension on the band. Hold it with both hands close to your chest, sternum level. Squeeze your abs and press the band away from you, fully extending both arms. Hold this position for a few seconds and return the band to the starting position.
3. Hands-Free Front Squats
This is a great drill for teaching people to keep their shoulders raised and torsos vertical during the front squat. When we perform the front squat, we don’t want to death-grip the bar. Our hands are there for support—the weight moves depending on the strength of your legs and core, as well as body positioning. If your chest, shoulders or elbows drop, the movement becomes far more difficult to execute. Hands-free front squats are a great way of reinforcing proper body positioning.
Performing hands-free front squats
With a light barbell stationed on a squat rack, step into the rack with your arms extended out in front of you like a zombie, palms facing each other. Position the bar on your deltoids, and keep your arms elevated so that the bar stays in the front rack groove. Carefully step away from the rack, and perform a regular front squat. Keep your arms elevated throughout to avoid the bar rolling forward.
4. Front Squat Isometric Holds
Isometric training consists of the muscle contracting without changing length in a static position. For the front squat, this means holding a barbell in the front rack position without squatting. This means you can add more weight than your 1-rep max to the bar, which forces your body to recruit more motor units in order for your muscles to contract. This allows for significant strength gains in all of your stabilizing muscles, and it helps you get more comfortable at handling heavier loads.
5. Wrist Mobility Work
The amount of stress and tension being placed on the wrists from heavy weight during a front squat can create a lot of pain, and when combined with a lack of attention to the flexibility of the joint (not to mention working on a computer all day) this can quickly lead to poor wrist mobility, an inability to get into the front rack position—thereby limiting one’s capability to execute a lift—and the risk of creating further damage and injury, making regular wrist stretches so important.
Wrap your fingers together and move your wrists around in every possible direction. Hold any position that feels a little tender/limited for a few seconds. Repeat often throughout the day.
Stand up and place your hands together in front of you, as if in prayer. Maintaining contact between your hands, lower them. Go as far as you can. The longer you can keep your hands together, the better you’ll stretch the wrists. At the bottom, reverse things so that your fingers point downward and your hands remain together. Bring your hands back up.
Static Holds: Pull your wrist back into extension and/or flexion and hold for at least 20-30 seconds. Switch and repeat.
Photo credit: Mongkolchon/Adobe Stock