The Front Squat is a great movement. It may not be considered a powerlifting movement such as the back squat, but the front squat is a respectable measure of strength for any athlete or general population client. It is also a great movement for those who may have mobility limitations at the shoulder or core stability issues that may limit the depth on a back squat, but clean up during a front squat.
There are a few areas of the body that need to be firing on all cylinders when it comes to the front squat to make sure proper form is present.
These 4 areas are:
As with any squatting movement, the ankle is an integral part of the entire squat pattern. If an ankle lacks mobility on one or both sides, then this can significantly impact the foot, knee, hip, etc. and can place an athlete at risk to compensate or increase their risk for injury.
To determine if an athlete has adequate ankle mobility, use the Knee to Wall Test:
Ideally, 4 inches away from the wall, or 40 degrees is an adequate amount of ankle dorsiflexion needed for the squat.
If there is NOT adequate dorsiflexion present, check out my guest post on Dr. John Rusin’s site,
10 Exercises to Instantly Improve Ankle Mobility
on how to improve ankle mobility. If you have a structural change that limits your dorsiflexion or you wish to front squat while continuing to work on your ankle mobility limitations, wearing Olympic lifting shoes can be a short term fix.
The thoracic spine is another area of the body that needs adequate mobility in order to properly perform a front squat. If someone lacks sufficient thoracic spine extension mobility, it will be challenging for them to maintain an upright posture as the descend into the hole and attempt to return to standing.
A great thoracic spine mobility test is the Quadruped Passive Thoracic Rotation Test:
Ideally, we like to see 50 degrees both directions. If there is less than 50 degrees when tested passively, the mobility drills listed below can help improve thoracic spine mobility.
A-Frame Thoracic Spine Mobilization
Sidelying Rib Roll
Bench T-Spine Mobilizations
There are other various thoracic spine mobility drills, but those are some of my favorite “go-to” drills to improve mobility there.
If you are performing front squats with an Olympic lifting grip:
Photo credit: breakingmuscle.com
then a quick and easy test to determine if you have adequate elbow flexion is if you can touch your thumb to the front of your shoulder with your elbow at shoulder height.
As you notice in this picture, I am able to touch my thumb to the front of my shoulder in the racked position. If there are limitations in elbow flexion due to the tricep, specifically the long head of the tricep, individuals will not be able to touch their thumb to their shoulder with their elbow at shoulder height. Make sure to assess how it is shown in the picture.
If limited, try performing self-myofascial release (SMR) to the tricep with a lacrosse ball, foam roller, etc.
Wrist extension is also important if performing a front squat with an Olympic style grip. Being able to display sufficient wrist extension will allow for the bar to be able to rest in the hand and on the front of the shoulders.
If there is insufficient wrist extension or elbow flexion as mentioned in the previous section, this can cause compensations throughout the kinetic chain and place the athlete or client at an increased risk for injury.
To determine if there is sufficient wrist extension, use your other hand to gently extend your wrist back to see if the hand can reach the front of the shoulder.
If you can comfortably reach your shoulder on both sides as shown in the picture, then you present with adequate wrist extension for front squatting.
If there are limitations in wrist mobility, try performing some of these techniques to help improve wrist mobility:
If you are still having difficulty improving mobility at the elbow or wrist, try switching to a "Crossed Arm" Front Squat as shown in the video earlier in the article.
If you want to front squat with an Olympic style grip, make sure to optimize mobility at your ankle, thoracic spine, wrist, and elbow.
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