Saturday, April 8th, 2006. It’s axiomatic that exercises that give you the best results are always the hardest ones to do. If you want a huge back… you row and deadlift. If you want huge legs you squat… OR… you do THIS exercise – that almost no one wants to do because its one of the hardest of all.
Which exercise am I talking about? FRONT SQUATS! Here is today’s session, starting with front squats. Commentary below.
Note: 4-point tempo prescriptions are as follows:
2010 tempo =
2 = negative/eccentric action
0 = pause in stretch position
1 = positive/concentric action
0 = pause in contracted position
Tempo is noted where it is important to achieve a desired effect. When no tempo is noted, reps are simply “controlled”, (not fast, not slow)
In my opinion, front squats are one of the absolute best quad builders. Most people don’t do them simply because they are so difficult to perform. Back squats are difficult too, but front squats introduce an additional level of difficulty because it requires flexibility, technique, core strength and also because the bar must be balanced on the front of the shoulders.
There are two styles, the Olympic lifting style and the crossed arm style. I find that athletes and of course Olympic lifters, almost always use the former, while most bodybuilders, myself included, prefer the latter.
The front squat does everything the back squat does and more. A great advantage for me is that the torso can be held in a more upright (vertical position) and since there is less forward trunk inclination, this removes some of the stress and shear forces from the lower back. At the same time, this upright position is closer to a bodybuilding squat and throws much more stress on the quads. It is truly a superb bodybuilding exercise.
I also find that the front squat is particularly effective at developing the tear drop shaped vastus medialis portion of the quads, and you can emphasize this effect even more by working full squats (breaking parallel) and only coming up three quarters (no locking out). You can also emphasize the medialis more by elevating your heels on a board or a wedge.
Elevating your heels is considered controversial and some say that this is damaging to the knees. I’m not convinced that this is the case with a slight elevation, although I would not recommend this method to anyone with existing knee problems. There is certainly a risk to benefit ratio of every technique variation, and you have to decide if the added potential risk is worth the potential benefit depending on your particular situation (consult the appropriate medical or training professional if you’re not sure)
Have you ever seen Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman’s workout videos? I realize that Mr Olympia’s bodybuilding video tapes are not workout instruction nor do they really have anything to do with us mere mortals, but I pay attention to everything in the world of bodybuilding, and I did find it very interesting to watch Ronnie FRONT squatting 500+ pounds. I also found it interesting that he went rock bottom and he did ¾ reps without releasing tension for even a single rep. Although he certainly has some advantages over other bodybuilders, if you know what I mean, everything is relative and he has some ridiculous quads, even compared to other IFBB pros, doesn’t he?
So if front squats are so good, why don’t more people do them? Simple – because they’re so damn hard. Here is what I usually see happen: Someone will start front squatting (or try to), and they inevitably put on way too much weight. Their form is horrible, it feels totally uncomfortable and unbalanced, so our novice front squatter quits and writes off front squats for good after only one try, and heads back over to the leg press machine.
I usually advise them to unload the bar and master the form first with very light weights, but invariably, ego gets in the way, and 315 squatters don’t want to be seen with quarters (or even just 45’s) on each side of an Olympic bar while they patiently master the technique for a new exercise. Alas, they never learn to front squat, they go back to what is easy and familiar and they never gain all the benefits of this awesome exercise.
By the way, if you want to see some bodybuilding-style leg training, including front squats – I mean pure, old-school BODYBUILDING training – not this stuff you read about in the Men’s fitness magazines these days, check out bodybuilding.com’s fit show and scroll down to Derek Farnsworth’s leg training (with Garret Downing and Pete Ciccone).
In this particular clip, Derek front squats in the smith machine, but no doubt, Derek could just have easily been on free weights with 400+ lbs. These guys are intense (maybe “insane” is the proper word!) Wait till you see what they do in the parking lot at the end of the workout - crazy! (Don’t “try this at home, kids!) http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/fitshow.htm
Published on 10 April, 2006