The Front Squat has been one of the staples of my training programs for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I’ve had to defend my rationale for using it, as opposed to the more widely used Back Squat, many times. (Click here to read about it in the most well read article I’ve ever published). Anytime you stray from the conventional, you’re going to have to answer more questions. In the world of High School Strength and Conditioning where I’ve lived, most coaches choose the Back Squat without even giving it much thought. I think the major reason you see that is because as coaches, we tend to like what we know and do what we’ve done. Most of us didn’t learn to Front Squat from the coach we played for and so many coaches don’t know how to teach the lift.
As one whose used the Front Squat for over a decade in the trenches, with the athletes I’ve coached, I’d like to use this article to share a few tidbits on how to get your student-athletes racking the bar effectively on their shoulders. I’ve found that this is the component of the Front Squat that is least known, and most important for the success of your student-athletes.
(Before you jump into this article on teaching the racking position, take a look at the tutorial video below for a detailed description of the proper execution of the lift).
As you see in the video, I prefer to use the “Olympic” or “Clean” Style racking position. The reason I believe so strongly in teaching this style is because it helps our student-athletes develop mobility in the shoulders and wrists and because it transfers so directly to the catch position in the Hang Power Clean. Shoulder mobility is a priority in the OMNISTRONG System and the Hang Power Clean is our go to exercise for developing power (read more about the Hang Power Clean here, and here). The only reason I ever advise a student-athlete to use a different racking position, like the cross-armed grip, would be because of a pre-existing elbow or wrist injury.
With that in mind, here are 3 tips …
3 Keys to Creating a Great Racking Position
1- Shoulder Width Hand-Position
One of the mistakes I so often see with beginners is placing their hands too close together on the bar. I always start by teaching student-athletes to place their hands just a smidgen wider than the shoulders. This ensures that their fingers will not get smashed between the bar and the body because the grip is too narrow. At the same time, if their hand position is too wide, they’re going to put undue stress on the elbow and shoulder. If the fingers are just barely wider than shoulder-width, things work out perfectly.
2- Finger-Tip Grip
Many lifters will want to grip the bar too firmly in their hands while attempting to execute the Front Squat. This results in a lift with very low elbow position. If the elbows are low, the bar will have a tendency to roll forward in the bottom of the squat, throwing off the balance of the lifter and creating technical inefficiency. We want the bar to sit on the shoulders, not in the hands. I tell my student-athletes that the job of their hands is to keep the bar from rolling forward. It’s the job of the shoulders to keep the bar up.
3- Elbows Up and In
With a good finger-tip grip, now the student-athlete has a great chance to keep the elbows up, ensuring that the bar stays on the shoulders. However, if you’re not careful, this position can be lost during the bottom of the squat. For that reason, I coach my student-athletes to keep their elbows “up and in”. By keeping the elbows up, the bar stays on the shoulders, body mass is centered, and a correct, erect posture of the spine is better maintained. Keeping the elbows in (I want them to be directly in from of the shoulder joint, not wider), creates a great anatomical “nook” at the shoulder joint that helps to prevent the bar from rolling forward. You’ll notice if you pay attention that wide elbowed squatters will often lose their rack as the reps get tough.
Hopefully these tips will help you iron out the kinks with regards to Front Squat technique. I believe that the Front Squat is the best way for most student-athletes to Squat. However, (like anything else important) it needs some attention if you’re going to master the technique and gain all it’s benefits. These 3 tips should help you use it more confidently in your training programs. Enjoy!
To Your Success,
Noel Piepgrass, MA, CSCS, CiSSN