It often surprises us when we walk through someone’s program and realize how neglected the front squat is. Back squat is always in there but when we ask ,“why don’t you front squat?”, we get the same answer over and over, “I can’t do it.” We are quick to bail on the front squat because of the mobility demands it places on us are either causing pain or poor form.
So, what’s the big deal if you already are doing another form of squatting? Different variations of squats, like front and back squats, place different emphases on the hips and knees, therefore making it a more glute or quad dominant exercise. Front squats force your torso in a more upright position and the load is placed in front making it easier on the hips. However, a front squat requires greater mobility and stability in specific areas.
A few things we want to see in the front squat are:
Many of our clients that experience pain with front squat are missing one or more of these, which may lead to compensations in other areas. These compensations can cause even more issues to arise. No worries! Here are a few drills you can implement right away to start improving your front squat.
To test if you have sufficient ankle mobility, start in a lunge position with your big toe ~5″ from a wall. Move your front knee as close to the wall as possible, keeping your foot and heel completely on the ground. Can your knee touch? If not, add this mobility drill into your routine.
We can’t start correcting movement patterns or pain with the front squat without addressing the ankle. This is the first place we always look, regardless of what you’re coming in for. Everything always starts at the foot/ankle. There are a lot of passive ways to improve your ankle dorsiflexion, and those are great, but at some point you must actively improve it. Utilizing the ankle PAILS/RAILS (Progressive & Regressive Angular Isometric Loading), you can quickly improve your ankle dorsiflexion.
The front rack position demands that you have optimal external rotation at your shoulder. If you don’t, you might struggle to achieve a good shelf for the barbell but can also experience anterior shoulder pain and screw up the entire system (knee and back pain is something we commonly hear in this case). Another factor to consider is the size of your biceps or how much elbow flexion you have. If that is limited, or if you have larger biceps and are unable bring your hands to your shoulder, you need an even greater amount of shoulder external rotation. Your arms should move slightly past vertical (like the video). This PVC exercise is a good starting spot if you are limited in your external rotation.
The most common painful area in the front squat is the wrist. At first, there is an adjustment period for your body to handle the changing load. However, wrist mobility or rather extension plays a big role in your ability to achieve a proper front rack. If you are tipping too far forward with the barbell, this will also place greater stress on the wrist.
Checking all the boxes and mobility isn’t the issue? It’s time to look at how well you can stabilize through a front rack position. The banded squat forces you to brace through your core in order to stay upright.
*This is helpful information, but it is general information. This is NOT medical advice. If you already have any injury, pain, tightness, etc., please seek help from a licensed and qualified healthcare provider like us, performance physical therapy in Green Bay. A complete solution for what you’re dealing with needs to be customized to all the different factors driving your pain, and those factors will be at least slightly different for each person. These strategies may help, but they’re not likely to be a complete solution for each individual reading this now or in the future.