5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Front Squat Technique

Front squat technique can be one of the more frustrating lifts for a beginner to learn in the gym.

However, I do not believe this is due to front squat technique being uniquely difficult to any other lifting technique. Rather, it’s just going to require some time for it to feel anywhere near “comfortable”, and most people don’t want to put in that time to learn it. They want perfect front squats on day one.

Barring some genetically gifted hyper flexible folks, the first time you pop under a bar for a front squat probably isn’t going to feel so hot. Even for those with the required mobility right out the starting gate, having a metal bar pressed up against your throat is also a “unique” experience.

Respect that this is a movement that will take some time before it 1. Feels comfortable and 2. You are able to move some decent weight, and that’s okay.

Take your time with the process, don’t rush anything, and make sure you are practicing multiple times in the week. Don’t expect the front squat to magically feel better training it on a whim once per month…

If you are diligently practicing your front squats however, here are some tips to help you out along the way!

FOCUS ON YOUR POSITIONING NOT THE WEIGHT: 

Ego is your number one enemy when it comes to learning how to front squat.

I get it. It’s a new movement, you’re excited, and you want to test out how much weight you are able to move. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to do much for you actually getting better at the movement.

If you are truly trying to better your front rack position, and your front squat as a whole, limit your weight progression to weights you can perform both proper and pain free reps with.

This may mean you have to practice front squats with an empty barbell, that’s fine. 

The most common gripe you’ll hear with front squats is it hurts peoples wrists the first few times they do it. Letting go of your ego, and practicing with lighter weights first will help you get around this. You’ll both be able to develop the proper mobility for the movement, and your wrists will adapt to the pressure. Throwing as much weight as possible at your wrists right at the start however…not so much…

Likewise, the starting with lighter weight just makes learning your proper positioning that much easier.

If it’s frustrating you that the light weight isn’t a good enough training stimulus add some tempos and pauses in there to make things harder. Or use a normal back squat for the time being, and practice your front squats at the end of your sessions until you can load up enough weight for a proper stimulus!

PROPER BAR PLACEMENT:

Bar placement is something I’m always correcting in our group classes when it comes to front squats and I understand why.

Proper bar placement in the front squat feels wrong…

The correct bar placement for front squats is much higher up on the shoulder than most people think. It’s high up enough that the bar will be resting atop your clavicle (collar bone), and lightly pressing against your throat. Put simply, this isn’t comfortable, but it’s correct.

This puts the bar in alignment with our torso and keeps it balanced over our center of gravity. Usually, people don’t like the feeling of a bar against their throat so they let it rest lower down on their shoulder. As a result the bar is out in front of their center of gravity and will pull them forward in a decently heavy front squat, making the lift much harder than it needs to be.

Is it uncomfortable having a bar on your collar bone? Yes. Are you going to feel like the bar is gently trying to choke you out. Yes.

I promise you get used to it. The more you practice the less this bar placement is going to bother you. It’s similar to Jiu-Jitsu in that the first time someone get’s put in a rear naked choke they immediately freak out, and tap out. Given time, they learn they can spend a lot more time in the position so long as they stay relaxed about it.

Don’t use the wrong bar placement because it feels more comfortable, take the time to learn it right, and get through those first few uncomfortable sessions.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR ELBOWS HIGH:

I think most people understand that their elbows are supposed to be up in the front squat. Ideally you’re thinking about pointing them towards the wall in front of you. However, while everyone understands this, actually keeping your elbows high is a different story.

Obviously you need the proper mobility to get into this position in the first place. That just requires repeated practice on your part.

What if you have the mobility though, and you still can’t keep your elbows up?

Something that will fix elbow issues for many new front squatters, is the realization that your arms are not supposed to be supporting the weight of the bar in a front squat.

Your torso is. 

Trying to hold up a heavy barbell on the strength of your arms alone is fighting a losing battle. One that you don’t need to be fighting in the first place. If the bar is in the correct spot on your shoulders the majority of the weight should be resting on your torso, your hands and arms really aren’t doing much at all. In fact, you’ll see lifters all the time show off with “hands free” front squats. That just goes to show you how much weight your hands should be supporting.

When you take all of that pressure off of your arms, it’s going to feel like theirs less resistance pushing your elbows down…because there’s…literally...less resistance pushing your arms down.

This makes high elbows a much easier task to pull off.

HOW TO KEEP AN UPRIGHT TORSO:

Along the same vein as both bar position and elbow position. Keep your torso upright throughout the entirety of the movement.

Again, I don’t think this is news to people, but as soon as someone starts to struggle on a front squat, they almost instinctively lean forward. You’re just making this harder on yourself.

Much like letting a bar get out in front of you on a dead lift makes the lift drastically harder, letting a bar get out in front of you on a front squat makes the lift drastically harder. When lifting in the higher percentages leaning forwards is going to end up in you dumping the bar 9 times out of 10.

With proper bar placement, a nice high elbow position, and a nice upright torso, the bar is balanced over your center of gravity, and simply well supported by your body. Front squats feel easy this way. However, even a little bit of movement forwards is enough to throw the bar out of balance, and make your life way more difficult than it needs to be.

If you are having problems with torso positioning. Try some tempo squats. Tempos will force you to stay in the positioning longer, give you time to think about your positioning, and will naturally limit how much load you can actually put on the bar.

LIMIT YOUR DEPTH:

One of the defining stereotypes behind front squats is that you can squat super deep while doing them.

Decently true. But, that doesn’t mean you NEED to squat ATG.

Many times I’ll see people sacrifice their positioning, just for the sake of having a super deep front squat. Don’t.

If you feel yourself being pulled out of position at a certain depth, just don’t squat to that depth. Or at least not yet. Limit your depth to where you can keep the bar in the proper rack position, keep your elbows high, and maintain an upright torso angle. If that means you are only front squatting to parallel, so be it.

Squatting to a slightly higher depth and maintaining position is far better than dive bombing to the ground missing all your cues, and then struggling coming up because the bar is out of position on the way up. You’ll gain the mobility to squat lower and lower with proper form over time, but if it’s not there out of the starting gate, don’t rush it. You’ll get that ATG squat along with all the social media clout that follows as you progress!

(Check out this video for a full front squat tutorial!)

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.

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