Ask the Coach: Front Squat Frustrations

Tuesday, 7/7
July 6, 2015
Wednesday, 7/8
July 8, 2015


If you caught our recent article on the method behind the magic (and madness) that is CrossFit DC programming, you likely noticed this provision in the preview of our new training cycle:

… we’ll see a return of the CrossFit DC standby – the squat cycle.

In the past, we’ve used specific progressions in the back squat as a central piece of our strength work, with great results.  While nothing delivers the systematic punch of the back squat, this time we’ll take a slightly different approach.

With that, we welcome our new best friend: the FRONT SQUAT CYCLE!


With that announcement in mind – and in view of the fact that we’ll be determining our current 1-rep max front squats this coming Sunday – cheers to Coach Lance for fielding this oft-asked question about the mainstay of our next 12-week cycle.


Q: How the F do I improve my front squat when it’s such an uncomfortable movement??!

A: Before we consider proper squat mechanics and ways we can improve our movement, let’s take a step back and review why the front squat matters so much.

The front squat is a powerful movement for developing leg, hip, and core strength, supporting many of the movements that CrossFit DC athletes frequently encounter, such as thrusters and wall balls.  It will also aid in developing strength and confidence receiving and standing up with relatively heavy cleans at lower depths.

However, the front squat can be a frustrating movement for many CrossFit athletes.



In the front squat, the barbell is located in the front rack position, which requires a significant amount of mid-line and upper back tension in order to keep the center-of-gravity balanced over the mid-foot. A common issue with front squats is the loss of mid-line stabilization and subsequent rounding of the back. This is a poor position for any athlete and a position which should be avoided or minimized at all costs.  Not only is it an ineffective and inefficient movement pattern, it puts unwarranted stresses on the knees, lumbar spine, and SI joint – bad news bears.

A couple tips to keep in mind the next time you front squat:


  • Elbows Up


These two words should reverberate between the ears of every CFDC athlete when they hear the words “front squat.”  Driving the elbows up throughout the entire movement allows the athlete to direct tension towards the upper back, enabling a solid front rack position.

Allowing the elbows to drop can cause a shift in weight onto the toes, increased demands on the lower back, and a greater likelihood of pitching forward and dumping the barbell.

NB: The grip should be loose on the bar.  Athletes should avoid the “death grip,” as it may restrict range of motion through the shoulders.


  • Dial In


This is a subtle cue that prepares the athlete to maintain tension through the hips. Think about this before initiating the squat, to help with maintaining form throughout the entire range of motion.

It’s shorthand for:

  • Stand in your front squat position before you engage movement.
  • Keep your heels planted, and twist your toes outwards and into the floor.
  • Your feet should not physically move and your knees should not bend. Think of it as “gripping the floor with your toes”
  • You should feel your glutes ‘light up,’ and actively build tension as your hips prepare to take load. This will also help keep the weight balanced and transfer force across your entire foot.


  • Check Your Pressure

Blue shirt, male, squat_IMG2852cr

Proper breathing supports the core and allows for increased mid-line stabilization.  Think of your breath supporting your core and chest, similar to a fully pressurized tire supports your bike or car.  I know, I know, not my finest analogy, but that’s the best one I can think of right now, so we’re going with it.

  • Stand up straight with your feet together.
  • Place one hand on your sternum and the other on your belly button.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • You should feel the hand on your belly button

Do not rush your breathing between reps – properly establish your breath between each rep.


  • Practice Perfect

Coach Lance rocking the results of perfect practice at the 2014 NOVA Weightlifting Open Championships

Think back to the old saying, “Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.

Approach each rep as if you are working at a 1RM, and use the warm-up sets to establish correct movement patterns. Even at very light weight, feel the tension in your hips and back, and the balance of weight across your feet.

A large part of our job as coaches is to assess, teach, cue, and correct movement patterns.  However, we also aim to develop athletes’ self-reliance and body awareness.   Over time, this comes from astute attention to each repetition, and quality movement as a matter of habit.

That’s it for now.  Post any questions to comments or ask away during class.  Until then, happy Fittin’!


Got a question for a coach?  We’re all ears!  Give us a shout in the comments below, or ask away on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  

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