The front squat is a variation of the back squat but with the barbell placed in front of the chest instead of resting on the upper back. This shifts your body weight forward and requires you to use your upper-back muscles to keep the bar in position. While the front squat excels at developing quad strength, it is a more difficult lift so you can expect to use a lower weight than you use for the back squat.
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A general rule of thumb, according to conditioning specialist Josh Henkins and strength coach Charles Poliqun, is that your front squat should equate to approximately 85 percent of what you can lift in your back squat. For example, if you can back squat 200 pounds for five repetitions, you should be able to front squat 170 pounds for five reps. If you can back squat 100 pounds for 20 reps, your front squat should be 85 pounds for the same number of reps.
To perform the front squat, start with a barbell racked at slightly lower than chest height. Use a palms-down grip (pronated) and place the barbell on top of your chest, resting it across the front of your shoulders. In this starting position, your palms will be facing up and you will only keep your first three fingers on the bar. Keep your elbows pointing toward the wall in front of you and push them inward toward the center of your body. Squat down as low as you can go, aiming to have the back of your upper thighs come in contact with your calves. Push your heels into the floor to drive your body back to the starting position.
While there are several approaches as to how to best use front squats in your training program, experts like Poliquin agree that front squats should be trained in a range between one and six repetitions. This is because the upper-back musculature is not able to maintain the proper position for an extended length of time. A sample training session would be to lift eight sets of two repetitions, resting 2 to 3 minutes between sets. Once you can complete all eight sets in good form, increase to three reps. After you can do eight sets of three reps, increase the weight in your next training session.
Front squats can place a tremendous amount of stress on your wrists, so make sure you adequately warm up your wrists and forearms by completing five sets of five reps with an empty bar. To help you get into a lower bottom position, wear shoes with a slight heel lift. And if you find that the barbell pressure on your shoulders is too much at first, try wearing two shirts to increase the amount of padding on your shoulders.