Saturday 5.21.16

How to Improve Your Front Squat

by Grace Lin

Over the last couple weeks, we talked about improving the air squat.  Now let’s move to a slightly more advanced move: the front squat.  The front squat is more advanced because the athlete is required to hold a bar in the front rack position while performing a squat.  Ideally, this would have the barbell resting across the shoulders with the elbows up high during the entire movement.  But, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Many athletes may have a hard time keeping their chest up, elbows high, knees out, or core tight when front squatting.  These are all factors that affect the execution of the front squat.  So how do we improve it?

First, you need a solid foundation, meaning a mechanically sound air squat.  This means being able to perform an air squat with your chest up, knees out, weight in the heels, and lumbar curve maintained during the entire movement.  If any of those points of performance are missing, then they will be magnified during the front squat.  Please refer to the squat therapy article referencing motor control here.  Always, always, always focus on improving foundations!  It will always help you in the long run.

For many athletes, mobility can be a limiting factor when performing the front squat.  This could include hips, ankles, and wrists.  If your air squat suffers due to hip or ankle mobility, it will be manifested tenfold in the front squat.  Please refer to the squat therapy article about mobility here to assess mobility limitations and learn mobilization techniques to improve squat range of motion.

However, if your air squat is mechanically sound (good motor control and mobility), but you still suffer with front squats, then your issue is most likely wrist/shoulder mobility.  Before diving into mobility, let’s talk about an ideal front rack position.  In a perfect front rack, the elbows are up nice and high so that the triceps are parallel to the ground.  This position is the strongest when performing a front squat, because the weight will remain as close as possible to the midline during the movement.  The further away the weight deviates from the midline, the more work will be required to move the weight because the distance is increased (physics lesson for ya).  In other words, if your elbows drop, then your chest comes forward, and the weight deviates from the midline, which makes it harder to move the weight.

So, what is preventing you from maintaining a strong front rack position while squatting?  With a lightly weighted bar, if you cannot drive your elbows up so your triceps are parallel to the ground, then your limiting factor is most likely tricep and lat mobility.  To improve this, you can strap a band to a pole about knee height, grab the band, turn around, take a step away from the pole, and drive your elbow above your head.  In this position, keep your ribs tucked down, arm close to your ear, and palm faced up.  You should feel a stretch in your triceps and down through your lats.  Doing this drill before front squats and on a regular basis will help improve your shoulder mobility for a better front rack.

If you can get your elbows high, but have trouble getting the bar to rest on your shoulders in the front rack position, then wrist mobility is your limiting factor.  To improve this, you can perform the following exercise: On all fours, place your palms on the ground in front of your knees, so your fingers are pointed toward your knees.  Keeping your hand flat on the ground, slowly bring your shoulders back so you’re closing the angle between your forearms and the ground.  You should feel a stretch in your wrists here.  The further you can move your shoulders behind your wrists, the better.  Again, perform this before front squats and on a regular basis to improve your wrist flexibility, and the front rack position will feel more comfortable over time.

Remember, all of this is a process, so improvement won’t happen overnight.  But keep at it every day, working on the foundations and mobility, and you will reap the benefits in the future!

PARTNER WOD
Row 200 calories (switch every minute)
100 wall balls (20/14#) (switch every drop)
50 K2E (switch every drop)
Row 100 calories
50 wall balls
25 K2E
*one person working at a time