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Old 02-15-2012, 02:56 PM   #1
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Default My Best Tips for Increasing the Front Squat - Charles Poliquin

The back squat is universally accepted as the single best exercises for total body strength and has been given the title “The King of Exercises.” Even so, when my colleagues ask me what is the best way to assess an athlete’s lower body strength, my answer is the front squat. And I have five good reasons.


Canadian weightlifter Marie-Josée Arès-Pilon performing a heavy front squat during a recent seminar held at the Poliquin Strength Institute.
First, there is the force-velocity curve to consider, which is represented by a graph showing an inverse relationship between force and speed. As such, movement speed will decrease as the weight increases. A power snatch will assess the velocity side of a force-velocity curve; the front squat will assess the force side.

Next, the front squat is the most honest test for lower body strength. I say this because if you cheat, you can seriously injure yourself. Because it is easier to cheat in the back squat than in the front squat, the front squat provides a more objective interpretation of maximal strength levels. If you cheat on the front squat, such as shooting the hips back upon the concentric contraction, you will likely drop the bar. This increases the odds of a serious injury; thus the incentive to be honest is very high in the front squat.

A third reason I like the front squat is it will immediately access your flexibility because you will not be able to perform the exercise properly unless your flexibility is superior in all the major joints. When you give a strength test that requires flexibility, your athletes have a strong incentive to train for flexibility. This is obviously not the case when performing the back squat, but it is particularly true for bench press addicts who have problems supporting the bar in the correct position on the clavicles. If an athlete has very tight forearms and external rotators of the shoulder, it will be very hard to hold the bar. This deficiency can be corrected by learning proper technique from an experienced weightlifting coach.

A fourth reason can be found in sport science research. EMG data suggest that the front squat is more effective than the back squat for activating the vastus lateralis and the rectus femoris; and biomechanical analysis indicates that the front squat places less compressive forces on the knee. In other words, the front squat works the quads harder with less stress on the knees.

A fifth reason is that the front squat is a favorite among strength coaches worldwide. In one survey of top European coaches who were asked what their three favorite strength exercises were, the consensus was the power snatch, the incline bench press and the front squat. And based upon the emphasis on the power clean among American strength coaches, especially in college, the front squat would be a more appropriate selection than the back squat.

When comparing the front squat to the back squat, weightlifting coaches believe the front squat has more transfer to making improvements in the clean (and the power clean). This makes sense: The starting position of a front squat more closely approximates the start position of a clean because the trunk is more upright than in the back squat. The back squat would be considered more specific to the snatch, as the wider grip forces the athlete to start with a back angle that is more parallel to the floor. And for a competitive weightlifter, the front squat will obviouisly help in recovering from the bottom “rack” position of the clean. As such, if an athlete’s power clean or clean is considered relatively weak compared to their other strength tests, it would be appropriate for that athlete to focus more on the front squat.

What is considered a good result in the front squat? I’ve read that top super heavyweight weightlifters such as Paul Anderson, Vladimir Marchuk, Alexander Kurlovich and Mark Henry front squatted at least 317.5 kilos (700 pounds!), and absolute clean and jerk world record holder Leonid Taranenko did 300 kilos for 3 reps. Two other weightlifters who deserve mention are three-time Olympic champion Pyrros Dimas of Greece and Dursun Sevinc of Turkey; both weighed 85 kilos (187 pounds) and lifted more than 272 kilos (600 pounds) in the front squat. The all-time record appears to be Warrick Brant, who did 350 kilos using the technique with the arms crossed in front – you can see a video of him doing 340 kilos on YouTube.


One reason weightlifters front squat is to help with recovering from the receiving position of the clean. Shown with a monster clean is Canada’s Nick Roberts.
To perform the exercise, use a pronated (palms down) grip as you would for a power clean. Squat down until the hamstrings completely cover the gastrocnemius (upper calf) muscles. You should not be able to see daylight between the hamstrings and calf muscles. Keep the trunk upright, and push the elbows up and in. During this lift two spotters are best, but an experienced coach can safely perform a single spot.

Now let’s answer some common questions about the front squat.

Q. What is the ratio between the front squat and the back squat?
A. If you are going all the way down in both exercises, generally the ratio of front squat to back squat is about 85 percent. So if you can back squat 100 kilos, you should be able to front squat 85 kilos. One reason few athletes achieve this ratio is that they do not back squat all the way down, thus inflating the amount they can actually lift in this exercise.

Q. What if you cannot keep the elbows up and in?
A. If you cannot keep the elbows up and in, the external rotators of the humerus are too tight. Find a good soft-tissue practitioner who can help you develop rapid increases in mobility. There are many forms of these techniques available to give the soft tissues the proper elasticity, from Active Release™ to Applied Kinesiology, and the FAT tool.

Q. My arms are too big, and my shoulders are too tight. What can I do?
A. Athletes who have a tight shoulder girdle may want to try using lifting straps to hold up the bar. What you do is hook the straps around the bar at shoulder-width, or whatever position you find most comfortable. Let me explain how it’s done:

Place your shoulders under the bar and grasp the straps with your palms facing each other (i.e., semisupinated or neutral). How high up you grab the straps is determined by your flexibility, such that those with extremely poor flexibility will have more space between the bar and their hands. Now lift the weight off the squat racks and start squatting. You’ll find that using straps in this manner enables you to keep your elbows high without discomfort.

Q. What do you think of the front squat devices such as the E-Z squat?
A. With the E-Z squat it’s very easy to jam your elbows into your thighs, a problem that can easily injure the shoulder. The safety is not a form of front squat as the load is still on the traps. Plus the shape of the bar displaces the center of mass of the load.

Q. When I front squat, as the load increases, I get more kyphotic. What can I do?
A. Time to get a set of scapulae retractors. Get a qualified PICP coach to assess those issues with an individualized program.

Q. What are the best sets and reps to increase the front squat?
A. This is one of my favorite questions to ask my most successful colleagues, as there are many training protocols that will improve your front squat. Whereas higher rep ranges are preferred in the back squat, most experts prefer to train the front squat in a lower rep range, and frequently endorse doing singles in that lift. Every expert agrees that doing more than 6 reps in that lift is a complete waste of time, as the scapulae retractors cannot hold the proper position isometrically when the duration of the set is too long.

The following are set-rep protocols recommended by weightlifting coaches of multiple Olympic medalists. (To avoid confusion, recognize that sets always come before reps, so that 2 x 5 means 2 sets of 5 reps, not 5 sets of 2 reps.)

Wave-Like Pattern 1
With this protocol, the trainee should be able to use more weight during each successive “wave” as the nervous system adapts to the workout. For example, a lifter might squat 150 kilos for 3 on the first wave, 160 kilos for 3 on the second, and 170 kilos for 3 on the third.

1 x 7, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 7 , 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 7 , 1 x 5, 1 x 3

Wave-Like Pattern 2
This is simply a variation of the previous workout, but it’s designed for a more advanced athlete who is striving for maximal strength, especially relative strength.

1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 2

Wave-Like Pattern 3
Among all the loading parameters patterns recommended, this is the one recommended most often by elite weightlifting coaches. It does require you to do 12 sets of work.

1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1
1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1
1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1
1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1

Patient System 1
Choose a weight that is very challenging (but possible) to lift for 8 sets of 2. In every workout try to get to 8 sets of 3. Once you can do 8 sets of 3, increase the weight.

East German Stair-Step System
5 x 2 followed by a decrease in load of 7 percent, then 5 sets of 3 at the new step load.

Modified Hepburn Method I
8 sets of singles followed by 5 x 3-5

In this approach, I advise performing the first 8 sets of singles with a regular stance, then the 5 x 3-5 with the heels elevated by 2-2.5 cm.

Modified Hepburn Method II
8 sets of singles @ 50X0 tempo, followed 5 x 3-5 @ 32X0 tempo

To learn more about this system, check out the following article, Training Heavy Comes First.

In this approach, I advise performing the first 8 sets of singles with a regular stance, then the 5 x 3-5 with the heels elevated by 2-2.5 cm.

What are the best plateau busters?
I ask the following question to every expert I meet: “If the front squat is not up to par, what do you recommend?” Here are some of the answers:

• Squat more often (most common answer)

• Do one and a quarter reps in the bottom position.

• Pause 2-3 seconds in the bottom position (see Modified Hepburn II)

• Standing, seated good mornings

• Partial reps in power rack to disinhibit the nervous system, then full-range reps

• Increase regeneration

Depending on their country of origin, my colleagues’ approaches tend to differ: increase Yin herbs, anti-inflammatory herbs, acupuncture (Chinese), laser treatments to break down scar tissue, use methods such as frequency specific microcurrent, manual therapies, and applied kinesiology.

Again, I believe that the front squat is the best expression of maximal strength of the lower body within an athletic population. I trust you have enjoyed these tips and will use them to achieve new levels of proficiency in the front squat.



My Best Tips for Increasing the Front Squat
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