Front Squat Fundamentals: How to Master + Benefits

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: November 23, 2023
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Front squats are popular in functional training and bodybuilding programs for their many advantages and variations.

Drawing from our experience, we have verified that several muscles are activated simultaneously when performing this complex exercise, and a great result is achieved with just one repetition.

Take a deep breath and discover the fundamentals to improve your front squat form.

Quick Summary

  • There are variations you can try, like the barbell squat, dumbbell goblet squat, front rack carry, sandbag front squat, and more.
  • Front squats are a complex exercise that requires you to take a stance with shoulder width apart.
  • It trains multiple muscles, particularly your quads when having a proper position.

What is the Front Squat?

The front squat is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core.

It’s a great way to build lean muscle mass to help you achieve your fitness goals [1].

“In a healthy breathing pattern, the diaphragm should do most of the work, and the muscles of the ribcage should only assist a bit. When you breathe this way, on your inhale, you should see the abdomen expand in all directions, and your rib cage shouldn’t rise. This creates a cylinder full of air inside the torso.”

- Brian Carroll, Powerlifter

Best Front Squat Versions to Try

A person doing front squats with a barbell

Based on our experience, you can try many front squat variations.

Each has its difficulty, like recommended lifting straps, having a different standing position, or taking your hands to opposite shoulders.

Double Kettlebell Front Squat

The double kettlebell front squat targets your lower body, core, and upper body. It involves holding a kettlebell in each hand at shoulder level and performing a full squat.

In my experience, its added instability enhances overall strength, stability, and coordination.

Proper form is crucial, and starting with lighter weights is advisable.

Also Read: How to Do Squats With Resistance Bands

Sandbag Front Squat

The sandbag front squat is a strength exercise focusing on the lower body and core, utilizing a sandbag for resistance.

Its shifting weight challenges balance and coordination, promoting overall strength and stability.

You should use an upright torso position, a neutral spine, and knees aligned over the toes.

Front Rack Carry

A person doing a front rack carry in the gym

The front rack carry is a functional strength and conditioning exercise that primarily targets the core while engaging the upper body and improving overall stability.

You carry a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells in the 'front rack' position, held at shoulder level with elbows bent and facing forward, and walk for a specified distance or time.

The front rack carry requires maintaining an upright posture and a tight core throughout the movement.

That’s why it’s an excellent exercise for building core strength and enhancing postural awareness.

Barbell Front Squat

The barbell front squat is a compound exercise that targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, and upper back.

Unlike a traditional back squat, the barbell is held in front of the body, resting on the front of the shoulders, with elbows pointing forward and the upper arms parallel to the ground.

It requires strength and flexibility, particularly in the hips and shoulders.

Zercher Squat

A person doing zercher squats with a barbell

Zercher squat is a variation of the back squat in which the barbell is held in front of the body, supported by the crooks of the elbows.

It is more challenging than the back squat, requiring higher core strength and stability.

This front-loaded exercise requires you to maintain an upright torso throughout, engaging your core and back muscles, which makes it an effective full-body movement.

The Zercher Squat encourages a deeper squat thanks to the front-loaded weight.

Heel Elevated Squats

Heel-elevated squats are a front squat alternative that involves placing a weight plate or other object under your feet.

This allows you to squat deeper, which translates to an improvement in your range of motion and activates more muscle groups.

This squat variation is particularly beneficial for individuals with limited ankle mobility.

Dumbbell Goblet Squat

A person doing a dumbbell goblet squat

In this exercise, you must use a dumbbell held in front of the chest, also known as the dumbbell front squat.

It's good for building strength and muscle in the lower body, as it targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

This exercise promotes an excellent squat form thanks to the weight placement and reduces the strain on the lower back.

It also aids in achieving a deeper squat. Hence, increasing glute muscle activation.

Front Rack Kettlebell Squat

Front rack kettlebell squat uses a kettlebell held in front of the shoulders.

It is an exercise that targets quads, glutes, hamstrings, and focuses on building strength and muscle in the lower body.

It’s effective in enhancing core stability, balance, and overall strength.

Proper form is vital, including maintaining a straight back and aligned knees. I recommend starting with lighter kettlebells and gradually adding weight as your technique improves.

Safety Squat Bar Squat

A person doing a safety squat bar squat in the gym

This exercise uses a specialized bar that distributes weight evenly across the shoulders and back.

This makes it a more comfortable and accessible exercise for people with shoulder or back pain.

The bar has a padded section that rests on your shoulders and handles at the front, allowing you to hold on and maintain control during the exercise.

High Bar Back Squat

The high bar back squat is an exercise where the barbell is placed across the upper back, just below the neck.

With this compound exercise, you work out the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core.

This exercise is a staple in strength and conditioning programs due to its effectiveness in building lower body strength and power. More upright posture makes it easier on the lower back than other squat variations.

Types of Squat Grip

A person doing a good squat grip on a barbell

There are three types of good squat grips that you should practice: clean, crossed, and strap.

Clean Grip

The front squat with a clean grip is a variation that uses the hand placement typically seen in the Olympic lift.

Here’s what you must consider:

  • The barbell is held in front of the body, resting across the front of the shoulders
  • Hands are positioned just outside of the shoulders, palms facing up, with the fingers loosely under the bar and the elbows pointing forward and kept high

This grip requires wrist and shoulder flexibility but allows better barbell control and encourages a more upright torso during the squat.

Crossed Arm

A person doing crossed arm squats

Similarly to a regular front squat, shoulders support the barbell on the front.

But instead of a clean grip, arms are crossed over the bar with the hands resting on top of it.

This grip is comfortable for those with narrow shoulder or wrist mobility, as it doesn't require as much flexibility as the clean grip.

Strap Grip

In this front squat grip, you use straps to hold instead of a traditional grip.

They are attached to the barbell to give you a secure and comfortable hold.

It’s beneficial for individuals with limited wrist or shoulder mobility, as it reduces the strain on these areas.

You can maintain a more upright posture and keep the elbows high, promoting proper squat form.

Complementary Front Squat Equipment

A person preparing a barbell for lifting

This is a complementary front squat equipment you can use during training:

  • Knee sleeves: Knee sleeves help to reduce the amount of stress during a front squat. They are also warm and prevent injuries.
  • Weightlifting shoes: Weightlifting shoes have raised heels that help to improve your squat depth and technique.
  • Waist belt: A waist belt provides support and stability during a front squat. It also protects your lower back from injuries.
  • Squat rack: A squat rack is a tool that allows you to safely and securely load and unload the barbell.

Related Article: Belt Squat Alternatives

Which Muscle Groups Does Front Squat Train?

A close up shot of a person's leg muscles in the gym

The front squat works multiple muscle groups, including:

  • Quads: The quadriceps, or quads, are a group of four muscles at the front of the thigh responsible for knee extension and hip flexion [2].
  • Hamstrings: The hamstrings consist of three muscles at the back of the thigh, which help with knee flexion and hip extension.
  • Glutes: The gluteal muscles, glutes, or cheeks, comprise three muscles in the buttocks area. They are key in hip extension, rotation, and abduction.
  • Core: The core refers to the muscles around your trunk and pelvis, including the abs, obliques, and lower back muscles. They are essential for stability, balance, and power generation in most physical activities.
  • Shoulders: The shoulders have several muscles (deltoids and rotator cuff muscles included). They allow you a wide range of motion and stability in the shoulder joint.
  • Upper back: The upper back includes muscles like the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius. They contribute to movement and shoulder blades stability.

Why Should You Train Front Squats?

A person training front squats in the gym

Consider the following as the reasons for doing Front Squats [3]:

  • Builds strength and muscle mass
  • Improves weightlifting technique
  • Increases mobility
  • Burns up to 100 calories in a single set
  • Improves posture and spinal alignment
  • Reduces the risk of injury and wrist pain


Are Front Squats Difficult?

Front Squats are difficult if you don’t have the fundamentals like starting position or proper posture. They require a lot of mobility and strength as the weight is held in front of the body, which puts a lot of stress on the shoulders and upper back.

Does Conventional Front Squat Use More Muscles than Other Front Squat Alternatives?

Yes, the conventional front squat uses more muscles than other front squat alternatives. This is because it's performed with the barbell across the deltoid, which requires more shoulders and upper back mobility.

It also requires more core strength to stabilize the weight in front of the body.


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