Although the back squat is the king of exercises, every monarch has a royal family along side it. One of the most prominent members of that family is the front squat. The general public has a hard time with front squats because of the awkward demands placed on the body, however, in this post we are going to discuss the benefits of front squats for athletes.
1. Run Faster
With the extremely upright torso required to perform this exercise, the front squat forces the quads to work harder to lift the weight up. This develops a tremendous amount of knee extensor strength. This makes the front squat beneficial for increasing running speed.
Aside from knee extensor strength, since the torso has to remain rigid to support all of that weight, the torso will develop very strong spinal erectors and thoracic extensors. This will help prevent athletes from breaking their spine when running. If the spine breaks (i.e. flexion) while sprinting, this leads to poor force transfer from the torso to the legs. Therefore, an unbroken spine will lead to faster running speeds.
2. Jump Higher
Since the quads get more stress placed on them during the front squat, as explained above, we already know that knee extensor strength is greatly increased. Hip strength, however, is also greatly increased. If the front squat is being trained correctly and the hips are breaking parallel, then the glutes are getting trained as well.
Due to the upright torso angle the hamstrings play a much smaller role in the front squat compared to the back squat. The glutes are the key to explosive hip extension. Just look at olympic lifters and how quickly they rebound from a heavy clean with 300+ lbs. They need strong hips to get out of that hole, which helps to increase vertical jump. Just look at these guys at CalStrength performing box jumps.
Front squats require perfect posture. In the back squat the barbell is placed on the back and the lifter is allowed to lean forward a little bit. In the front squat, the barbell is placed on the front of your chest. You have to remain perfectly straight in both the descent and the ascent, otherwise the barbell falls of your chest.
Now I have to clarify, the type of rack position that I recommend is the olympic rack position. This position leaves only the fingertips on the bar, in order to stabilize the bar, and the elbows pointing forward. The position that I do not recommend is the California style front squat. This style has the lifter cross his/her arms across the chest. This can allow the lifter to cheat.
4. Correct Imbalances
Choosing the olympic grip and performing the full range of motion will reveal muscular imbalances that remain “hidden” by the back squat. This is rivaled only by the overhead squat.
After years of watching people squat, I often notice that around a certain weight (~255-275 lbs) they seem to reach a plateau and their progress starts to come to a halt. I firmly believe that this is due to muscular imbalances more than strength issues. At this point, this is when we want to start correcting these exercises.
Remember, keep your program simple and choose the fewest number of exercises to correct these imbalances and improve your squat. Choose front squats.
5. Injury Prevention
With all of the benefits stated thus far, this is probably important. Front squats help prevent injuries. Choosing front squats for athletes will not only help them perform better on the field, but it will also keep them safer.
Think about it, if you are a football player do you want to get hit by somebody with a flexed, weak spine? Of course not, you are just begging to get injured. You want to identify and strengthen these weaknesses.
If you keep ignoring your weaknesses and focus only on your strengths, it is just a matter of time before you get injured. You can’t hide from them forever, they will sneak up and bite you in the ass! Do the right thing, choose front squats for athletes!