The front squat is a brutally challenging exercise for most people, especially for beginners. Technique is mainly responsible for this. Since the front squat trains less muscle groups than the back squat, it is not really a good strength builder. Therefore, assuming your back squat is perfect, you should be able to front squat somewhere within the same proximity(~85%) of your back squat.
With all of that said, we are going to look at front squat technique from several different angles in order to get you to get the full athletic benefits from this exercise.
Chest Up, Elbows Up
The first and most important cue to improving front squat technique is to understand “chest up, elbows up.” Most strength coaches just yell out to keep your elbows up, but they neglect the chest. This is a HUGE mistake and shows a relative misunderstanding of the exercise.
The back squat allows for more weight due to the fact that the back angle is bigger (i.e. leaning forward). The front squat has to be done with a vertical torso (smaller back angle). With that said, you can tell yourself, or anybody else, “elbows up” all you want. It won’t make a hell of a difference if you are still trying to lean forward.
So remember: CHEST UP, ELBOWS UP!
Brace Your Torso
Don’t just brace your abs, brace your entire torso. This is simple to understand if you learn how to breathe properly when lifting. This ensures that the torso is firm, rigid and stable enough to hold a heavy barbell on the front of your chest.
The carryover of this skill to other athletic endeavors is unmatched. Athletes when mastering this skill will learn to load the front of their body with real world objects.
Just look at strongman competitors, these guys/gals need really strong torsos to pick up those massive atlas stones. Yes, deadlifts help you get them off the ground, but front squats help you hold them.
Never do more than 3 reps for volume work. Unless you are using light weight for conditioning purposes (i.e. CrossFit), I would not recommend going any higher than 3 reps.
Since the torso is braced and the weight is placed on the front of the body, the thoracic extensors are now under a tremendous amount of stress. These muscles do not have the endurance of the powerful hip muscles, therefore, they will give out first.
In order to keep your front squat technique as perfect as possible, I recommend only doing three reps.
Get Better Shoes
Still doing squats in running shoes? Throw those things away and get yourself some lifting shoes. With all of the technical cues mentioned above, worrying about your feet should be your last concern.
Lifting shoes help to keep your feet secure on the ground. This is due to the firm heel design on the shoe. Running shoes have rubber “soft” heels in order to help absorb the impact from running. However, with 300 lbs on your chest, those heels will be a problem.
Lifting shoes also have an elevated heel in order to provide the ankles with increased mobility. If you don’t have proper ankle mobility, you are going to have a very had time going down low with good form.
Don’t Forget The Glutes
The front squat trains not only the quads, but also the glutes as well. Once the hips drop below parallel, the glutes handle the load more than the quads. One of the reasons that most people don’t really feel their glutes is because they either don’t go down low enough, or they don’t know how to use their glutes.
Mini-bands will help to solve this problem. As for going low, you should always go the full distance on any exercise. If you are not then you are not doing the exercise correctly and you are just doing the partial movements.
It’s one thing to work your ego, but it is something completely different to work your muscles.