Note: the bottom three photos are from Hook Grip.
Overall, I think the back squat is superior to the front squat. If you must choose only one squat variation to do for a strength program, choose the back squat. But if you cannot perform the back squat at all for whatever reason, or if you want a great assistance movement to complement the back squat, then the front squat is perfect. Furthermore, if you want to seriously train the Olympic lifts (the snatch and the clean & jerk), you should definitely do the front squat, since the clean involves a front squat.
Here are instructions on how to correctly perform the barbell front squat.
• In the power rack or squat rack, set the barbell (BB) at the level of your upper chest. Record the notch you use on the power or squat rack. Use the same notch each time.
• In the power or squat rack, set the safety pins or arms at the appropriate level. The safety pins or arms should be about 6 inches below the BB when you’re in the bottom position of the squat. When you squat down, the BB should not touch the safety pins or arms.
• If you’re using a power or squat rack in front of a mirror, make sure you’re facing the mirror straight and the rack is aligned straight, parallel with the mirror.
• Use collars on the BB.
• Center the BB on your torso.
• The front rack position (for the front squat, power clean, and clean)
- Your elbows should be horizontal (or near horizontal)
- Throughout the entire range of motion (ROM), DO NOT let your elbows drop down (excessively)
- The BB should rest on top of your front shoulders (anterior deltoids). It should be in a solid position on your shoulders.
- If necessary, you can use only two or three fingers on each hand to hold the BB
- If necessary, you can use a wider grip and point your elbows slightly to the side. They should still be horizontal or near horizontal.
- To achieve the front rack position, your wrists must be sufficiently flexible. If necessary, stretch your wrists.
• Take two steps back. Establish your stance.
• Once you unrack the BB, do not shift its position. Stay tight in the front rack position. Keep the BB secure. Do not let the BB roll or move at all.
• Stand tall.
• Through the entire ROM, look straight ahead.
• Place your feet shoulder-width apart or just outside shoulder-width apart.
• Point your toes out slightly (30 degrees).
• Make sure your stance is perfectly symmetrical. Look down and check. You can use a horizontal line (e.g. a straight line on the floor or a straight piece of tape) as a frame of reference. DO NOT change your stance in the middle of the set.
THE ECCENTRIC (DOWN) MOVEMENT
• Squat down.
• Initiate the movement by bending or breaking at the knees. DO NOT initiate the movement by sitting back (i.e. breaking at the hips). For the front squat, you must break largely at the knees.
• As you squat down, your knees should travel outward and track over your feet. DO NOT let your knees collapse inward. Push your knees out.
• As you squat down, you should feel the weight in your heels.
• Keep your head, chest, and elbows up. Continue looking straight ahead.
• DO NOT round your back. Keep your core super tight.
• Squat down to just below parallel: your hip crease should be just below the top of your kneecap.
• Or you can squat all the way down. These are deep squats (a.k.a. ass-to-grass).
• Descend in a controlled manner (1-2 seconds), but not too slow. This reinforces the movement pattern and allows you to squat better.
THE CONCENTRIC (UP) MOVEMENT
• Squat up. Use your butt, hips, and legs to do so.
• As you squat up, drive through your heels. Feel the weight in your heels.
• As you squat up, lead with your elbows and chest.
• Drive up as powerfully as you can. EXPLODE. Try not to pause or slow down.
• As you squat up, apply force equally through both legs. Stay balanced.
• As you squat up, fully extend your hips and knees. Use full ROM. At the top, contract your butt hard.
• Before and during the set, visualize every rep with perfect form. Then execute the perfect form that you have visualized. This makes a big difference.
• Hold your breath as you perform each rep. This helps you stay tight in your core. Breathe between reps.
- Inhale deeply
- Squat down (while holding breath)
- Squat up (while holding breath)
- Exhale deeply
• Keep your elbows up horizontally, in the front rack position. This is critical when you’re doing heavy front squats. To the extent that you drop your elbows and lose the front rack position, you will fail reps.
• Do not pause at the bottom of the squat. Rebound up. This is the bounce.
• When you’re doing heavy front squats, get aggressive but still visualize and execute perfect form. In particular, be aggressive when unracking the BB. This will make your set easier.
• Once you unrack, do not waste extra time standing with the BB in the front rack position (on your shoulders). Unrack. Set your stance. Squat for X reps. Rack. Get in. Get out. It’s easier.
• When you’re doing front squats, if your elbows drop excessively and your back rounds severely, then that is technical failure and the rep(s) doesn’t count. Do not count very ugly, technically unsound reps. Decrease the weight as needed. Ultimately, technically sound form is more important than weight.
• Never go until absolute failure: when you get stuck in the bottom position and you must dump the BB, or when you squat up and you dump the BB. If you seriously think you will absolutely fail the next rep, then stop. In fact, you should stop once you reach technical failure, which precedes absolute failure.
• If you’re doing many front squats in your training and your wrists hurt, then (1) stretch your wrists and (2) wear wrist wraps, which should be tight around your wrists.
Here is a video of Johnny Candito demonstrating the front squat. I agree with him on virtually everything. But there are two ways to adjust your grip in the front rack position: (1) use only two or three fingers on each hand to hold the BB, and (2) use a wider grip and point your elbows slightly to the side. I favor using a wider grip and holding the BB with all four fingers.