The Front Squat Exercise : ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal

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The Front Squat Exercise


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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal 26(2):p 44-50, 3/4 2022. | DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000745



Similar to the barbell back squat, the front squat is a closed chain compound, multiple joint lower body exercise (1–5).


The front squat is often performed as a means to enhance lower extremity strength, power, speed, and athletic performance as well as lower body muscle development (1–7). The front squat is considered a safe alternative to the rear barbell squat for individuals with anterior shoulder instability, who experience discomfort when in the “high five” (extreme shoulder external rotation while in or near 90 degrees of shoulder abduction) position (8). In addition, some clients will find it easier to maintain a more upright or near vertical position with the front squat versus the rear squat exercise (1,4,7,9–11).


The front squat exercise is a basic multijoint lower body exercise. It also is a component part of the clean and jerk, one of the two competitive weightlifting events (clean and jerk and snatch) and its derivative exercises (1,6,10–12). It is a relatively simple exercise to teach and learn, is appropriate for athletes and nonathletes, can be adapted for use by most clients, and is often taught during the intermediate or improvement stages of a strength enhancement program. Because of its multisegmental nature, maintaining good posture and exercise techniques and receiving proper teaching and supervision are warranted. Clients should be free of neck, shoulder, back, hip, and knee pain, and clients with a history of pain in these locations should consult their health care provider and receive clearance from them before participating in a strength enhancement program. Examples of proper performance of the front squat exercise and a number of its variations will be described. The front squat exercise appears in Figure 1A and B.

Figure 1:
A, Front squat exercise with a loaded barbell. B, Front squat performed with an unloaded bar.


The gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, and erector spinae are most active during the front squat (1–5,9,13). It has been posited that additional stabilization is provided by the rectus abdominus, erector spinae, trapezius, rhomboids, and other muscles through or by isometric or static actions (10). Figure 2 depicts an anterior and posterior view of muscles activated during the front squat exercise.

Figure 2:
Anterior and posterior muscles activated during the front squat exercise.


The front squat is a two-step exercise consisting of the downward, descent or execution and upward/ascending or recovery phases. The client uses a slightly wider than shoulder width “rack” position grasp and positions a weighted bar firmly across the upper chest, clavicles, and deltoids. This is accomplished by placing the hands approximately a thumbs extended distance from the beginning of the knurled part of the weight bar (11). The client lowers the body to a parallel or deeper squat position and returns safely to an upright, standing position (1–5,7,11,14). The descent and the recovery (ascent) phases of the front squat are preceded by the setup in the starting position. The client resumes the same position as the setup at the end of each repetition and before “racking” the bar (safely returning and placing it in the hooks in the squat or power rack). The weighted barbell is initially raised from and then returned in a controlled manner to a squat or power rack, which is adjusted a few inches below the clavicles at upper chest height (1,5,11). Supplemental Digital Content 1 A ( demonstrates proper performance of the front squat without spotters to enhance views of the entire body throughout the exercise. Please refer to Supplemental Digital Content 1A and B ( for demonstrations of the front squat exercise with an unloaded and loaded barbell, respectively. To enhance safety, and effective learning, clients unfamiliar with performing the front squat can be taught a number of prerequisite exercises to enhance balance, body position, joint stability, and movement competence (1,11). The ability to simultaneously hinge backward at the hip joint while allowing the tibia to glide forward in dorsiflexion is fundamental to maintaining vertical alignment of the head, neck, spine, hips, knees, and ankles, in enhancing movement competence and in reducing the potential for back and knee injuries (1,4,7,10,11,15). Four examples of exercises that can enhance clients' prerequisite movement competence and facilitate learning how to perform the front squat exercise properly include hip hinge, clean grip deadlift, plate squat, and goblet squat. Figure 3A–D depicts hip hinge, clean grip deadlift, plate squat, and goblet squat, respectively.

Figure 3:
A, Hip hinge. B, Clean grip deadlift. C, Plate squat. D, Goblet squat.

Initially, novices should perform the front squat exercise with unloaded or lightly loaded bars with safety collars to learn how to balance the bar and develop the right body position and exercise technique. Unlike the explosive weightlifting movements (clean and snatch and their derivatives), the front squat is directly spotted because the bar is raised and lowered while resting directly on and over the lifter's shoulder girdle and trunk, respectively (5). Clients should be screened for and free of musculoskeletal injuries before performing this exercise and demonstrate proper technique and control before increasing either the amount of weight to be lifted and or the complexity of the exercise.


The squat or power rack should be adjusted to upper chest height, enabling the client to place the bar firmly across the tops of the chest and deltoids with slight flexion of the hips and knees. The client should use a slightly wider than shoulder width “rack” grip (full wrist extension with bar resting firmly against the fingertips) to secure the bar. The shoulders and elbows should be flexed so that the upper arms remain parallel with the ground throughout all phases of the exercise (1,4,5,11). Figure 4 depicts the rack grip. While positioning the spine in an upright, slightly extended position, the client should be able to raise the bar vertically off the squat or power rack by comfortably extending the hips and knees while keeping their feet flat on the ground (1,5,15). Proper alignment in the starting position is fundamental to performing the front squat exercise. The head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should maintain vertical alignment (1,5,11,16). The client should look straight ahead or slightly upward throughout the exercise (1,4,5,10,11,16). All repetitions begin and end in this position. Figure 5 depicts proper position when removing the bar from the squat rack and during the starting or setup position. Common errors include placing the bar too low or too high for efficient and safe bar lift off and replacement or racking in the safety supports or rack; arching (hyperextending) or rounding the low back; dropping the arms, elbows, and chest; placing the hands too close together; looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor; and setting the adjustable safety racks too low. Verbal teaching cues for this stage of the exercise include the following: “look straight ahead,” “keep the torso upright and tight,” “rest the bar across the shoulders,” “hold the chest, arms, and elbows up,” “squeeze the shoulder blades together,” “forcefully straighten the hips and knees,” and “step back with control.”

Figure 4:
Rack grip.
Figure 5:
Proper removal of the bar from the squat racks and start/setup phase of the front squat.


With heavier loads, two spotters are typically recommended for the front squat to reduce the risk of injury to either the lifter or to a single spotter (5,11). The spotters should assist the client with removal and return of the bar from and to the squat or power rack (5). During the front squat, the spotters should face each other and maintain an upright stance at each end of the loaded bar without touching or distracting the client. With their hands just below the weighted bar, they should place their feet shoulder width apart with their knees slightly flexed. The spotters should assist with moving the bar off the rack at their client's signal by extending their hips and knees and then by sidestepping at the same rate that the client steps backward to their starting position for beginning their set. Ideally, the front squat should be performed inside squat racks but also can be performed outside of them if the client is proficient at performing the front squat and has adequate spotting. As an additional safety measure, rubber bumper plates are recommended when the front squat is performed outside of squat or power racks (11). If squatting inside squat or power racks, right and left safety support bars should be adjusted slightly below the bottom of the client's comfortable descent depth, which is typically where the thighs are parallel with the floor (1,11). Full attention should be given to the client during each repetition and through the entire set. The spotter should keep the hands close to the bar without touching it and follow the bar path during both the lowering and the upward recovery phases by keeping the torso rigid and upright and by flexing and extending the hips and knees, respectively. They should prevent the client from falling forward at the waist, dropping the weight, or getting stuck during a failed repetition attempt. They should keep the bar moving safely upward if the client suddenly fatigues. Both spotters should move in unison throughout each phase of the front squat (5,11). When finished, the client will signal for assistance in racking (safely returning to the safety rack or supports) the bar. The spotters should maintain grip of the bar until it is racked. Figure 6 depicts the front squat performed inside squat or power racks with adjustable safety supports.

Figure 6:
Front squat exercise performed within squat or power racks with adjustable safety racks.


The head, neck, and torso maintain the same alignment as previously described during the starting or setup phase. The feet should be approximately hip width and turned outward slightly. After inhaling, the torso is lowered by flexion of the hips and knees to a point where the thighs are parallel with the ground or slightly lower in a controlled manner by eccentric action of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstring muscles. The torso maintains in an upright position throughout the exercise from isometric cocontraction of the erector spinae and abdominal muscles (9,10). A speed of 1 to 3 seconds is appropriate (17). Common errors in technique include dropping the arms and elbows, rounding the thoracic spine (upper back), bending forward at the waist, lifting the heels and rising up on the toes, and looking down at the floor or up at the ceiling (16). Verbal teaching cues include “breathe in before squatting down,” “look straight ahead,” “keep the chest high and the trunk motionless,” “sit down and back slightly,” “keep your heels down and let your shins move forward,” and “push your knees outward slightly.” Figure 7 depicts the bottom position of the lowering phase of the front squat.

Figure 7:
Bottom position of the lowering phase of the barbell bench press exercise.


While rhythmically exhaling, the hips, knees, and ankles forcefully extend and the trunk, barbell, and body return to the standing or setup position (1,5,11). This motion is accomplished by concentric actions of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles (1–5). The torso remains rigid, motionless, and aligned with the head, neck, shoulders, and hips (1,5,11). The hips and shoulders should rise in the same plane and at the same rate and before the knees fully extend (5). A cadence of approximately 1 to 2 seconds is appropriate during the upward recovery phase (17). Proper alignment and technique should be mastered before loading the bar. Verbal teaching cues include “keep the chest and elbows up,” “look straight ahead,” “keep hips and knees apart,” “push through the ground with the heels and ball of the foot together,” and “exhale toward the top.” Common errors include dropping the arms, elbows, and chest; rounding the upper back; bending forward at the waist; raising the heels off the ground; looking down at the floor or up at the ceiling; extending the knees before the shoulders and hips rise; letting the knees move inward (hip adduction); and breath holding throughout the exercise (1,5). Figure 8 depicts the upward recovery phase of the front squat exercise.

Figure 8:
Upward or recovery phase of the front squat exercise.

Loading intensities expressed as percentage of the one-repetition maximum, number of repetitions, and sets as well as rest period durations should reflect the specific objectives of the overall training program, which can include hypertrophy, strength, endurance, or power (17).


The front squat exercise can be performed with dumbbells resting comfortably on the tops of the shoulders (14), as a goblet squat (1) with one dumbbell or with a Smith machine (not shown). Figure 9 depicts the front squat done with dumbbells. Please refer to Supplemental Digital Content 2 ( and 3 ( for demonstrations of the dumbbell front squat and goblet squat, respectively. Clients that either experience wrist discomfort during or lack the range of motion necessary to hold the bar in the rack position can secure the bar on top of their shoulders with a crossed arm position (1,5,11) or rest the bar across their shoulder while holding wrist or lifting straps that are secured around the bar (not shown) (1,11). The arms are crossed at the shoulders and remain parallel to the ground, while the palms press downward and secure the bar against the shoulders. Figure 10 depicts the crossed arm position during the front squat exercise. Please refer to Supplemental Digital Content 4 ( and 5 ( for demonstrations of the gripless front squat and arm crossed position during the front squat exercise. Two drills that can help correct the tendency to round the thoracic spine, flex at the waist, and drop the elbows and arms are performing “gripless” squats and performing front squats while holding a basketball or soccer ball firmly against the wall with the thoracic spine (middle and upper back) (11). Resistance bands can be placed around the knees during these drills if desired to help correct excess hip adduction during the front squat exercise (not shown) (1). Figure 11 depicts the front squat with the crossed arm and gripless arm positions done against the wall with a basketball. Please refer to Supplemental Digital Content 6 ( for demonstrations of the front squat with the crossed arm and gripless arm positions done against the wall with a basketball. The use of a spotter is still warranted if the client is using a load representing a high percentage of their maximum on a Smith machine regardless of the fact that the weighted bar moves up and down on a guided track.

Figure 9:
Front squat with dumbbells.
Figure 10:
Arm crossed position during the front squat exercise.
Figure 11:
Gripless and arm crossed front squats done against the wall with a basketball.

Clients with a previous history of shoulder pain who have been medically cleared to resume resistance training can reduce the stresses to their shoulders by performing the front squat and its grip variations while avoiding the previously mentioned “high five” position (8). Flexibility exercises to improve dorsiflexion and extension at the talocrural (ankle) and radiocarpal (wrist) joints can make the rack grip easier and help to maintain a more upright or vertical trunk position, respectively (11). Exercises that improve strength in the posterior chain shoulder girdle and hip abductor muscles can help clients maintain an upright thoracic spine and proper knee and foot alignment during the front squat exercises (11). Simple exercises can include wall calf stretches (knees flexed), scapular retraction/rows, and bilateral (both shoulders together) shoulder external rotation with resistance bands/tubing and squats and bridges with resistance bands around the knees (not shown).


The front squat exercise is one of several exercises used to enhance strength, power, speed, athletic performance, and muscle development in the trunk, hips, and thighs. It is often taught progressively with a number of precursory exercises to enhance trunk and lower body stability, mobility, and movement competency and control. As with other exercises discussed in the Do it Right column, its utility as a safe and effective strength and power development tool is predicated on sound instruction, effective supervision, and proper execution.

Recommended Reading:

• Ronai P. Do it right. Prone scaption above 90 degrees in external rotation. (the prone Y). ACSMs Health Fit J. 2016;20(4):29–30. Available from:

• Ronai P. Do it right. The prone shoulder full can: the prone “T”. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2016;20(6):32–4. Available from:


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