The Merits of Front Squat Grip

Should everyone front squat?

Squat­ting is an activ­i­ty that we all per­form dai­ly from sit­ting to a chair to pick some­thing from the floor or as a train­ing tool.

For clients who have lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence of exer­cis­ing, the body weight squat is a good place to start and there are many ways to progress this. Is it often seen with dumb­bells or a bar­bell held across the back of the shoul­ders (Back squat) and gen­er­al­ly this allows an easy progress with­out too much addi­tion­al coach­ing to make quick gains in strength(4). But is there a bet­ter or dif­fer­ent way of doing this?

The front squat grip seen in the images below offer a dif­fer­ent way in which load can be added to the body that will aid in reach­ing strength gains whilst pro­mot­ing a dif­fer­ent tech­nique. There are just a few rea­sons below why this may be more beneficial.

Firstly, what is the Front Squat Grip?

It is a way of hold­ing the bar across the chest rather than a rear hold. The bar rests across the col­lar­bone and if this caus­es the bar to place slight pres­sure on the throat in a deep squat then you have the right tech­nique. You can per­haps imag­ine that this isn’t a tech­nique to teach everyone!

The hands can be placed around the bar in many ways.

First­ly, the arms can be raised out in front so the shoul­der is flexed to just over 90 degrees. As the bar rests on the front in the val­ley formed between the clav­i­cle and del­toid, it should be snug­ly held with­out falling for­ward off the arms.

One must be care­ful to keep the chest raised upwards and main­tain this pos­ture with the arms raised to pre­vent the bar from falling forward. 

A sec­ond option is to rest the bar on the col­lar­bone and fold the arms over the bar and across each oth­er so the palms rest over the oppo­site shoul­ders. The elbows and chest remain as high as pos­si­ble so the bar will be safe­ly snug­gled on the shoul­der. This is a slight­ly eas­i­er and safer way than described in the first description.

You can per­haps imag­ine that this isn’t a tech­nique to teach everyone!

Anoth­er and more chal­leng­ing way to grip the bar on the front of the shoul­ders is to rest the bar again across the clav­i­cles and then grip the bar in a clean’ posi­tion. For this, the hands will need to be slight­ly wider than the shoul­ders, the shoul­ders should be flexed to at least 90 degrees and exter­nal­ly rotat­ed. The elbows to remain as high as pos­si­ble and as close togeth­er as possible.

This requires a sig­nif­i­cant lev­el of shoul­der, elbow, Radio-ulnar joint and wrist move­ment in addi­tion to the mobil­i­ty in the Tho­racic spine and strength sup­port­ing these joints. FYI, if elbows are allowed to drift apart, this also allows slump­ing in the Tho­racic spine and sub­se­quent drop­ping of the arms. This is very tech­ni­cal and might not be the first option for a new­com­er to the front squat exercise.

Front Squat Rg

Even if this is coached cor­rect­ly, per­fect tech­nique may not be imme­di­ate­ly pos­si­ble and a pro­gres­sive method should be fol­lowed that start using an eas­i­er grip and per­haps quar­ter squats before pro­gress­ing to a more advanced grip and deep­er squats. For an exer­cise pro­fes­sion­al to coach this, pro­gres­sion should be based on a sound jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that you have observed them per­form­ing the move­ment cor­rect­ly and safely.

But does this mean that the front squat is always the bet­ter exercise?

It is for this rea­son that it may not be the exer­cise of choice for a client who is look­ing for quick gains in the strength depart­ment, or some­one who has no inter­est in invest­ing their time in devel­op­ing per­fect tech­nique’. Of course, the out­come is also influ­enced by how well you sell the exer­cise to the client.

What are the benefits?

First­ly, the stand­ing pos­ture improves imme­di­ate­ly. A 2003 arti­cle in the Jour­nal of strength and con­di­tion­ing research found that back squat grip (Pos­te­ri­or load­ing) caus­es the body to adopt a for­ward bend to act as a coun­ter­bal­ance for the change in cen­ter of mass (4). This will per­haps include a break­ing’ move­ment of the hips or a slump­ing of the tor­so. If it is the hips that become flexed then full hip dri­ve into exten­sion is nev­er real­ized with­out a change in spinal pos­ture. In this, the weight can also be placed too much through the heels as the hips sink back, or weight too much through the fore­foot if the tor­so leans exces­sive­ly forward.

The effect of this is exces­sive load and com­pres­sive force on the back, knee as well as increased risk of injury to the Achilles ten­don from a greater peak load (1,3). How­ev­er, there is no evi­dence to sug­gest any dif­fer­ence in mus­cle recruit­ment in the low­er leg or spine as mea­sured by EMG (1), Inter­est­ing­ly, Gul­lett et al also found there to be reduced load­ing on the mus­cles of the low­er limb dur­ing eccen­tric move­ment com­pared to con­cen­tric which adds fur­ther to the debate that eccen­tric load­ing isn’t actu­al­ly the exer­cise of choice for max­i­mal­ly load­ing a ten­don, but may actu­al­ly be a way to gen­tly begin load­ing a recov­er­ing client (1).

With a front loaded bar, the hips must extend ful­ly which devel­ops prop­er hip dri­ve dur­ing the squat and improves standing/​running pos­ture (4). At this point one must be care­ful not to allow their client to sink back into a sway-back’ pos­ture, which is done by cue­ing them to keep the elbows and chest high’. This way, spinal exten­sion will occur at the tho­racic spine encour­ag­ing appro­pri­ate use of the abdom­i­nals and paraspinals to con­trol the move­ment between the tho­rax and hips.

As the spine and hips align cor­rect­ly, you will also see a great improve­ment in knee posi­tion for any client who repeat­ed­ly locks their hyper­mo­bile knees into exten­sion (4,5).


I have often won­dered how this trans­lates into per­for­mance or tasks of dai­ly liv­ing? Whether it be stand­ing pos­ture, run­ning tech­nique, sit­ting posture!

there aren’t many exer­cis­es that devel­op full body strength as well as mobi­liz­ing the pos­te­ri­or cap­sule, Rhom­boid and Lev­a­tor Scapular

But does this mean that the front squat is always the better exercise?

Braidot et al 2007 observed in the knee a bet­ter devel­op­ment of ener­gy with the front bar, allow­ing a bet­ter mus­cu­lar exer­cise with the same load. How­ev­er, the mean pow­er absorbed by the hip with the back squat was con­sid­er­ably greater, asso­ci­at­ed to the speed of the gesture.

Yet­ter and Moir (2008) recruit­ed men and women who were fit and well trained to take part in a 40 meter sprint. Some per­formed a heavy back squat (HBS) before the sprint, some per­formed a heavy front squat (HFS) before the sprint and some were part of a con­trol group who just cycled before the sprint. Both HBS and HFS pro­duced quick­er speed in the first 30 metres than the con­trol. In the remain­ing 10 metres the HBS pro­duced quick­er speeds than the HFS. This study did only have 10 sub­jects though and any dif­fer­ence between the per­for­mances could be just because one sub­ject was quick­er than another.

For the upper limb, there is no evi­dence to sup­port either front or back squat. So I’ll just ad-lib and shout out about why I like the front squat.

The ROM, sta­bil­i­ty and strength devel­oped dur­ing an activ­i­ty with Front Squat (clean) Grip make it a great addi­tion to upper limb programmes.

Aside from the joint move­ments required dur­ing a front squat grip, it also requires fas­cial mobil­i­ty of the deep pos­te­ri­or arm line. This encom­pass­es part of the tri­ceps, infra­spina­tus, rhom­boids and lev­a­tor scap and there aren’t many exer­cis­es that devel­op full body strength as well as mobi­liz­ing the pos­te­ri­or cap­sule, rhom­boid and lev­a­tor scap. So this is NOT an exer­cise lim­it­ed to clients with low­er limb problems.

The lat dor­si is also mobi­lized in the Front Squat Grip, as the shoul­der has to remain flexed (par­al­lel to the ground) and exter­nal­ly rotat­ed while the pelvis pos­te­ri­or­ly tilts in the squat position.

The ante­ri­or shoul­der mus­cles are devel­oped in addi­tion with the load that must be held. If the bar is not prop­er­ly set across the clav­i­cles, this will become more of an ante­ri­or delt or long head of biceps work-out so make sure you have the cor­rect tech­nique before pro­gress­ing load on the bar, or deep­er into a squat.

This load on the front of the shoul­der requires strength and pos­ture in the tho­racic spine, shoul­ders, and scapu­la which is in a great posi­tion to acti­vate the traps and serratus.

All these upper limb chal­lenges and ben­e­fits are increased as the body moves through a squat, reverse lunge, side squat or side lunge move­ments. So exer­cise cau­tion when instruct­ing clients on pro­gres­sions and safe prac­tice. Remem­ber, you are the pro­fes­sion­al who is pre­scrib­ing, coach­ing and pro­gress­ing the exercise.

Ref­er­ences

1. Gul­lett. J.C, Till­man M.D, Gutier­rez G.M, Chow J.W. 2009. A bio­me­chan­i­cal com­par­i­son of back and front squat in healthy trained indi­vid­u­als. Jour­nal of strength and con­di­tion­ing research. 23(1): 284 – 292.

2. Schoen​feld​.BJ. 2010 Squat­ting Kine­mat­ics and kinet­ics and their appli­ca­tion to exer­cise per­for­mance. Jour­nal of strength and con­di­tion­ing research. 24(12):3497 – 3506

3. Sin­clair J, Edmund­son C, Atkins S, Tay­lor P.J, Vin­cent H. 2015 The effect of front and back squat tech­niques on peak loads expe­ri­enced by the achilles tendon

4. Fry A.C, Smith J.C, Schilling B.K. Effect of knee posi­tion on hip torques dur­ing the bar­bell squat. The Jour­nal of strength and con­di­tion­ing research. Novem­ber 2003:17(4):629 – 633.

5. Braidot A. A, Brusa M. H, Les­tus­si F. E, Par­era G. P. 2007 Bio­me­chan­ics of front and back squat exer­cis­es. Jour­nal of Physics. Con­fer­ence series. Vol­ume 90.

6. Yet­ter M, Moir G.L. 2008. The acute effects of heavy back and front squats o speed dur­ing forty-meter sprint tri­als. Jour­nal of strength & con­di­tion­ing research. Jan 2008: 22(1):159 – 165.