Stability, Mobility, And Better Posture
The squat has been described as the king of all exercises. The large amount of muscle recruited during squatting makes it a very metabolically demanding exercise. In athletics, the capacity to perform a full squat with proper torso, hip, and knee position has been correlated with greater durability–fewer injuries. The overhead squat test is one of the patterns assessed in the Functional Movement Screen and is used in physical therapy and athletic training. Squatting with the load placed on the front of the body is an excellent way to enhance mobility, stability, and strength. Compared to leg presses, seated leg curls, and knee extension, front squatting creates much more carry over to activities of daily living and athletics. The problem is most people do not know how to get started with front squats.
When you squat with the load across the front of the body instead of on the upper part of the back, the stress on the spine is reduced. You can “cheat” a back loaded squat by leaning forward, but you cannot lean forward with a front squat. Leaning forward on the front squat causes the load to fall from your shoulders or hands. Front squatting creates a greater core stability demand and reduces shear force on the lower back. Full depth front squatting will improve your posture and restore mobility in the hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine.
Front squatting is an exercise that is more equivalent to daily tasks and athletics. Lifts in real life rarely place the load across your shoulders. When you lift the grandchild, carry the groceries, or hoist the wheelbarrow, the load is in front of the body. During athletics, the opponent is in front of you, and you must stay upright and tall to dominate the activity.
Front Squat 101
Before loading the squat, practice bodyweight squats to a depth target. I like to use a 12 inch box or a Dynamax ball (12 inches in diameter). You should be able to perform a body weight squat to a thigh below parallel position with a stable spine before attempting a loaded front squat. When you perform a loaded front squat, initiate motion from the hips by sitting down and back. Push the knees out and descend so the thighs travel to below a parallel to the floor position. Keep the chest up and torso tall as you push back up. Finish at the top by contracting the gluteal muscles and keeping the front of the rib cage down.
Choose A Proper Implement
While the barbell offers the greatest loading capacity, many individuals do not possess the shoulder mobility to hold the bar on the shoulders. The Goblet Squat position with a kettlebell or dumbbell works just as well. A sandbag hugged close to the body in the high Zercher position or bear hug hold has a high degree of athletic carry over. Avoid the Smith machine variation. You end up leaning on the machine and this eliminates much of the core stability demands and exposes the spine to greater shear force.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS