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The front squat: Your new best friend

3
Nov

The front squat: Your new best friend

Every time I think I’ve stalled out on my progress and this is it and I should just
take up basket-weaving instead of lifting heavy things, I realize:

No, this isn’t the end of the line. There’s still much more strength to be gained.

I’m just dumb, and wasn’t doing something I needed to be doing.

In this case, it was the front squat.

So here’s 4 reasons why the front squat is super-duper-important to your continued gainz.

  1. It strengthens the upper back.
    • Specifically, it builds up the erector spinae muscles in the thoracic region.
    • It also trains the muscles responsible for holding the front rack position –
      scapular stabilizers, shoulder prime-movers, and elbow flexors.
      And in case you’re wondering why this matters…
  2. The upper back is crucial for maintaining position on ALL lifts.
    • As I’ve discovered, my primary limiting factor on the Olympic lifts,
      back squat, and deadlift is the ability to hold the thoracic spine
      in an extended position under load.
      I’ve noticed this on a LOT of, if not most, other people.
    • You’re never going to be limited in the Olympic lifts by your back squat;
      it will always be your front squat.
      (I can back squat my 1RM clean for a tempo set of 8, but front squat it for MAYBE a double.)
    • The back squat overloads the legs, building more strength there than the front squat.
      Front squats overload the upper back, building more strength there than the back squat.
      See the interplay there? Both types of squat build each other up in different ways.
  3. The front squat trains the hips & legs in an upright-torso position.
    • This mimics how the quads are generally used in sport and daily life
      more closely than the back squat does.
      Picking up an atlas stone – or anything else that’s bulky and heavy –
      feels more like a front squat than it does a back squat or deadlift.
    • For Olympic lifting, this upright-torso position is critical for the jerk.
      You want a vertical dip-drive with no loss in force transmission along the way.
      The front squat is the only major lift that trains this specifically.
    • Also this significantly reduces shear forces on the lower back, meaning you can
      train the front squat right after deadlifting (which I’ve taken to doing recently).
  4. You get more out of the front squat, pound-for-pound, than the back squat.
    • Loads handled on the front squat will generally be 10-20% less than the back squat.
      However, your quads and upper back will fight to maintain that upright position.
      Muscles don’t care about load; they care about tension.
      Translation: Legs still get stronger.
    • Since you’ll be using substantially less weight to get a comparable training effect,
      your nervous system and connective tissues (which do care about load)
      don’t get fried as much.
      Translation: Less recovery time.

The front squat is uniquely suited for developing positional strength in the upper back,
as it places a pretty large moment arm on the muscles responsible for holding the bar up.
These are the very muscles that the back squat rests upon.
Maintaining neutral position through the entire spine increases neural drive to the hips and legs,
meaning that as that position is strengthened we can load the entire system with more weight
AND execute the movements more safely.

Now obviously, I’m not saying that the back squat and deadlift aren’t important;
of course they are, since they enable more specific overload of crucial muscle groups.

What I am saying is that the front squat needs to occupy a permanent place in your training
alongside the other, more glorified competition lifts like
the back squat, strict press, and clean & jerk.
(This is a lesson that I’ve applied to our gym programming as well.)

Your gainz depend on it.

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