Front Squatting on the Dark Side

Over the past month I’ve been catching up on the first six Star Wars movies.  At 35, I figured it was time to see what all the hype was about.  As it turns out, they are pretty good movies.  I guess the hype is warranted.  As most of you may know, the prequels (episodes I, II, III) focus on Annikan Skywalker’s internal struggle with the Dark Side of the Force.   In the end, he loses the will to resist and allows the Dark Side to take over his life.  

You might be thinking, how does any of this relate to the Front Squat?  Well, for a long time, I have held the belief that if you front squat with your arms crossed over the bar, like bodybuilders do, it is akin to using the Dark Side of the Force.  You are wasting your time and energy, you’re not improving the flexibility of your shoulder girdle, and most DSC_0232importantly, you’re making the exercise look ugly!  Pretty much, you are evil! My thought process used to be something like this — I don’t care if it hurts your wrist or elbows, I don’t care if you are struggling to breathe, I don’t care if you can’t handle any weight, you are Front Squatting with the clean grip and the bar is going to be deep in your palms!


At this point, I’ve changed my tune — a little bit anyway.  I am still a big proponent of front squatting with the bar in the clean grip and with the bar in the palms.  As a coach who spends a lot of time coaching the Olympic lifts, a Front Squat that looks like the receiving position of the clean is going to prepare athletes to clean heavy weights.  It’s really a sports specific exercise.  But what about the athlete or client who is using the front squat as a general strength exercise?  Is it really necessary to perform the front squat with a full clean grip?


DSC_0291The answer is no.  There are many variations of this exercise that can still yield a strong training response, even if the full clean grip is not used.  One variation that still allows a clean-like grip to be used is squatting with straps.  First, you need a weightlifting strap.  If you don’t have one, ask your local bodybuilder, he will have a pair for those long intense back workouts.  If there is an Olympic Lifter nearby, they will have a pair too, for those heavy pulls off the floor.  What you will need to do is wrap the strap around the bar and grab the strap instead of the bar.  You can see in this picture. As your flexibility improves, you will be able to grab closer and closer to the bar.  Eventually, you should be able to wrap your finger tips around the bar.  I have heard some coaches say, that having the bar in your fingertips as opposed to deeper in the palm is preferred, because it allows your elbows to be higher and this keeps the bar on the shoulders more securely.  Of course, this is just a matter of preference, because personally, I feel a grip deep in the palm allows my upper back to contract harder and stay more rigid and upright.  This is more secure for me.  

DSC_0264As I learn more about training, and life in general, it has become apparent that a black and white attitude is the real path to the Dark Side.  I’ve learned that the answer to most strength and fitness questions is not a definite yes or no answer.  “It depends” is the more correct answer.  The first time this really sunk into my skull was when I heard it from one of my iron game mentors, Mike McKenna.  He was teaching at a weightlifting seminar when someone asked a question.  He didn’t give an answer right away, but offered the wisdom of “it depends” first.  He stated that most of his answers throughout the weekend will be “it depends”.  Luckily for the participants at the seminar, he has the knowledge, expertise, and wisdom to offer clear thoughts and opinions due to his years of experience.  And that is the essence of it. Experience, plus knowledge, equals wisdom.  For trainers to gain this wisdom, you need to train a whole lot of people.  You need to learn from a whole lot of people.  Then you need to develop your own systems and beliefs. Finally, be ready to change those systems and alter your beliefs when you learn more.  

There is plenty more to write about the front squat rack position.  There are various other positions to front squat from and many mobility exercises that can help you and your clients get into the position that works best for you.  More to come in future installments!

For more information on coaching barbell exercises you will be able to visit our website Our website will be updated shortly with a dedicated section for our new Certified Barbell Coach Level 1 Seminar.


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