If barbell back squats are the king of all leg exercises, then barbell front squats are next in line to the throne. With the barbell front squat, you’ll hold the barbell either at your fingertips or directly on your shoulders. No matter the configuration, both versions are supported by your front deltoids.
Your ego may take a hit because you’re lifting less weight with a front squat versus a back squat. But the hit is well-worth it. Because you’re holding the weight in front of you, your quads, core, glutes, and hamstrings are trained differently than other squat variations. The vertical torso position requires greater core and upper back strength.
Just like with the back squat, you likely can’t jump straight into barbell front squats — and even once you master them, you might want some variation now and again. Whether you’re looking to beef up your quads or looking to learn more advanced front squat variations to crush your training, these variations have you covered.
Best Front Squat Variations
- Resistance Band Front Squat
- Landmine Front Squat
- Double Dumbbell Front Squat
- Double Kettlebell Front Squat
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Front Squat
- Single-Arm Landmine Front Squat
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Front Squat
- Barbell Box Front Squat
- Barbell Front Squat
- Barbell Pause Front Squat
- Anderson Front Squat
- Bottom Half Front Squat
- Double Pause Front Squat
Beginner Front Squat Variations
If you’re new to front squats, you’ll want to nail down your form before getting under the barbell. These four variations will teach you the right form, build anterior core strength, and fight any imbalances between sides.
Why Do It: If you’re extremely new to the movement, this might be the first front squat variation you’ll want to try. The resistance from the band will help build lockout and upper back strength. This variation is also easier on your joints, which means you can pump out more reps for added strength and muscle, even as you’re just learning.
Coach’s Tip: It may help to wear a long-sleeve top so the band doesn’t pull on your skin.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Why do it: This is a great beginner-friendly squat variation. You’ll load the weight in front of your body, which forces your back to stay upright. The arc that the bar travels allows you to get into the bottom of the squat easier. This teaches you to have the upright torso needed for more advanced front squat variations.
Coach’s Tip: Take the time to find your correct foot position. Make sure the end of the barbell is against your body at all times.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Why Do It: This variation will help you learn the posture you’ll need for the barbell front squat without the barbell. Its mechanics are very similar, as you need core stability, control, and upper back strength to do this correctly.
Coach’s Tip: You can rest the dumbbells on your shoulders or hold them in front of your shoulders. Keeping your elbows level with your shoulders will help you practice proper form for your front-rack position.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Why do it: Double-racking kettlebells might feel uncomfortable at first. But it will help you get used to the pressure that the barbell can put on your front delts and even your neck during conventional front squats. Using two kettlebells fires up your anterior core, upper back, and grip strength. Any loss of position and you’ll lose the kettlebells, so this is the most advanced beginner variation.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of eight to 15 reps.
Intermediate Front Squat Variations
If you’ve been training with a landmine, dumbbell, and kettlebells, you might be ready to test yourself a little more. Here are some more difficult front squat variations to challenge you and help you iron out even more strength imbalances.
Why Do It: Performing a front squat with just one arm will help you reduce strength imbalances between sides. You’ll challenge your core while performing higher reps than more complicated variations to help build better upper back endurance.
Coach’s Tip: Because you’re only holding one dumbbell, you can try to go with a heavier dumbbell than with the double dumbbell front squat. This will also increase the challenge to your core and balance.
Sets And Reps: Three sets of eight to 15 reps per side.
Why Do It: Like the landmine front squat, this variation is easier on your low back due to the lack of compression of your spine. But it will still test your shoulder stability, upper back strength, and lateral stability. You’ll also address any strength imbalances in your quads.
Coach’s Tip: Keeping your wrist neutral and your elbow high will better secure the barbell in place.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of eight to 12 reps per side.
Why do it: The offset load engages your anterior core and obliques. If you have a strength imbalance between your left and right upper back and legs, the kettlebell gives you instant feedback. Because you perform reps separately for both sides, this move also gives you a nice volume boost to spur hypertrophy gains.
Coach’s Tip: Performing this in front of a mirror helps you see if you’re favoring one side over the other. Try to avoid leaning to one side or the other when rising from the bottom position.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of six to eight reps per side.
Why Do It: Before performing regular barbell front squats, it helps to find a depth that you can control. The box squat will help you do that. Using a box or weight bench as a touch point for your glutes takes away your muscle’s stretch reflex. This helps make the concentric contraction harder to help you build strength out of the hole.
Sets and Reps: Three to five sets of five to eight reps.
Advanced Front Squat Variations
Now is the time to use the best tool of all — the barbell. You’ll further build strength in your quads, core, and upper back. When you’re ready to level up your front squat, consider these advanced variations for your program.
Why Do It: This classic move allows you to move the most weight to maximize your strength and muscle-building potential. You’ll have to keep your torso upright because you’re holding the weight anteriorly. That makes this squat easier on your low back because there is a less compressive force on the spine relative to back squats. This is a great accessory exercise for Olympic lifters because the front squat forms the bases of the clean & jerk and even the snatch.
Sets and Reps: Three to five sets of five to 12 reps.
Why Do It: Similar to the box squat, this move will take the stretch reflex out of the muscle. This helps build strength out of the hole because the concentric contraction is made harder. But in this case, you’ll be pausing — without help from a box — which is an even bigger strength-builder. The time under tension increase is great for building muscle. The benefits will likely comfort you, because pause squats will have you hating life in a hurry.
Coach’s Tip: It helps to reduce your load so you can hold a three to five-second pause in the bottom position. Make sure to maintain tension during the pause.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of five to eight reps.
Why Do It: The Anderson front squat takes the eccentric contraction of the mix. This will improve your power and strength out of the hole. If you find you lack strength out of the hole, it pays to spend more time there and not less. Place the pins at your sticking point to train yourself to blast through them.
Coach’s Tip: Because you have to generate force from the bottom position from a dead stop, it pays to start a lot lighter to build strength and technique before loading up.
Sets And Reps: Five to eight sets of one to three reps.
Why Do It: The bottom half front squat is pure evil — AKA, pure strength-building intensity. Only rising up to the halfway point and sinking back down to the bottom during each rep will build strength in the hole and fry your legs with a lot less load. When you’re looking for a challenge — both mentally and physically — you’ll find one with the bottom half front squat.
Sets and Reps: This depends on how many times you choose to bounce between the halfway point and bottom position per rep. If you’re doing five controlled bounces in the bottom position, two or three sets of two or three reps will do.
Why Do It: This move will build strength in the hole, help you bust through squat plateaus, and majorly develop upper back strength. Adding a double pause — one in the half and one in the bottom position — builds serious isometric strength. You’ll put your legs through a ridiculous amount of muscle- and strength-building tension. This front squat variation is no joke. Be ready to not walk up or down the stairs for a couple days afterward.
Coach’s Tip: Similar to the bottom half front squat, it’s better to go light. Try using about 50 percent of your front squat one-rep max.
Sets and Reps: Three to five sets of three to five reps.
Benefits of the Front Squat
Improved Anterior Core and Upper Back Strength
The front-rack position engages your anterior core and upper back in a big way. While you do need core and upper back strength to perform the back squat, front squatting emphasizes your core and upper back even further. You’ll need your upper back to help support the bar on your front delts. Your core will keep your torso upright and prevent you from dumping the weight forward during the lift.
As this movement is anteriorly-loaded, the emphasis of the lift shifts to your quads. Yes, your glutes and hamstrings are still very much involved in this lift, but your quads will kick in a bit harder here. Because you’ll train the front squat with lighter weight than back squats — and often perform more reps — this sets up a great environment for growing bigger quads. The vastus medialis, or your teardrop muscle, is one of your quadriceps muscles. Front squats target this muscle for maximum potential to show off in your gym shorts.
Don’t get it twisted — back squats aren’t inherently bad for your knees. But strengthening your quads specifically is a great boon to knee health. Your quads act like shock absorbers for your knees. The bigger and stronger your quads, the better knee stability you can have. This translates into knees that can more easily handle the bigger loads that back squats put them under.
Strengthen Olympic Lifts
The front squat has high carryover potential to Olympic weightlifting movements. Without a strong front squat, you can’t hope to sink into the heaviest clean & jerks you can. The front squat will also help you develop the kind of upper back and core strength you need to translate into the overhead squat portion of the snatch.
Training the front squat as an accessory to your Olympic lifts is a great leg-focused option that will train your upper body without overtaxing it. This can help you add quality lower body training volume to your Olympic lifting program, resulting in a stronger set of wheels to support your biggest, baddest max attempts.
How to Program Front Squat Variations
How you program the front squat depends on your experience level. If you’re just learning the exercise, you might perform moves like the landmine front squat and kettlebell front squats as many two or three times per week. But if you’re going heavier with more advanced moves, you might want to scale it back a bit to accommodate greater recovery needs.
When you’re using a front squat variation as your biggest lower body exercise, perform your main front squat variation first. You don’t necessarily want to push these lifts to their maximum weights, but you can keep the reps relatively low — between five and eight — when they’re being used as your major lift. Then perform relatively smaller lifts — for example, lunges or leg curls — as your accessory lifts.
For Intermediate and Advanced Lifters
As you progress in your training, you might reach a point when the back squat becomes your main knee-dominant lift. When that happens, front squat variations — including the barbell versions — will then become accessory lifts. In that case, you’ll shift to performing your front squat after your biggest lift of the day. Program three to four sets of these accessory front squat variations, performed once or twice a week depending on your training cycle.
The advanced variations — along with the front squat box squat — can be used as a replacement for the back squat. Use a small training cycle with these variations to build your quads, anterior core, and upper back strength. Performing these once or twice a week for between five to 12 reps will work well.
Get in Front of Leg Training
Front squat variations can help elevate the leg game of everyone from newbies to competitive strength athletes. By boosting your core strength and training your upper back along with your legs, front squats will give you an iron-clad midsection and base of support. Find the moves that work for you and integrate them into your program to develop a rock-solid core and a certified pair of tree trunks.
Featured Image: Mongkolchon Akesin / Shutterstock
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