Your guide to training off the bike.
Lucy Fry is a London-based Personal Trainer and freelance journalist. Every month, Lucy will be guiding you through a different resistance training exercise, to help improve your performance on the bike.
Last month saw Lucy guide us through the front plank, now she’s back with the front squat.
Giving you the lowdown on what each exercise is, how you do it, how it will help you on your bike and how to make it fit in with your life.
Introducing the front squat
What is the front squat?
This is one of my favourite exercises of all – a front-loaded squat where the barbell rests in front of you, on the tip of the shoulders / shoulder girdle.
Why cyclists need a little front squat in their lives
It’s really very simple – every cyclist needs solid core strength to help maintain good posture on the bike, as well as stronger legs.
How to: Front squat
The hardest thing for beginners when it comes to this exercise is the ‘rack’ position, where the barbell rests.
Don’t worry if it feels alien at first. Approach the squat rack carefully, shuffling shoulders underneath the barbell so that it rests just on the bony bit at the front, and then manoeuvring bent elbows upwards with your fingers facing to the ceiling, not gripping, but just holding, the bar.
Walk the weight out of the rack, then place feet just wider than hip distance apart. Keeping elbows raised as much as possible, gently squat down as low as you can while keeping a straight back and without ‘bouncing’ at the bottom.
Push your knees out as you go and don’t let the upper back round. Return upwards to the starting point, keeping elbows high and abdominals switched on at all times.
If you’re struggling with depth, place a low bench or box behind you and try to ensure your bottom lightly touches it with each repetition; it’s important to squat below parallel, though you might need to build up your depth over time, or your glutes won’t get to see much action.
How many times and for how long?
As with any compound exercise, how many sets and reps you do depends on your goals. As I explained briefly in the first column on the deadlift, the heavier you lift, the less reps you should do and the more strength you’ll build.
As a general rule, three sets of 10-12 reps with a minute’s rest inbetween, three times a week (not on the same day that you deadlift, if you’re doing so), and you’ll feel the difference pretty soon.
Variations (easier and harder):
Easier: if you’re struggling to front squat with just the barbell (most weigh 20KG, some 15KG), try doing so with a lighter dumbbell (held horizontally) or kettlebell in a goblet hold (palms facing each other making the shape of a wineglass/goblet). Technique points regarding knees, depth and back remain the same.
Harder: Put some weight on the bar!
What does the front squat work?
Like any squatting exercise this works your quads, glutes and hamstrings. The front-loading aspect of this particular variation, however, makes it a little more quad dominant than the back squat, but also gives your core an extra treat; the weight being in front of you forces you to work extra hard to stay upright.
One of the best things about the front squat is that, unlike the back squat, you don’t need a spotter for heavy lifts, still – it’s always a good idea on your first few tries to grab a nearby fitness professional and ask them to watch. Arguably it’s also less stressful for your spine, not to mention encourages good mobility in the arms.
Why the front squat is good for life
Sorry to sound like a broken record, but excellent core strength means less likelihood of back problems resulting from poor posture, especially for the desk-bound which, let’s face it, is most of us. The front squat also challenges those new to lifting because the way the bar rests can feel uncomfortable and requires both perseverance and faith in one’s own body, don’t tell me those two things aren’t important in daily life.
Can I front squat at home?
If you must… Try the ‘goblet’ squat variation with something heavy that you can hold, like a 6-pack of beers or canned tomatoes. Find a low chair to put behind you to ensure you go past the point where thighs are parallel to ground, as low as you can really without your heels moving or knees wobbling.
Lucy’s top tip for front squatting
Don’t forget to brace your abdominals. If 10 is fully tensed and 1 is completely slack, go for around a 4-5. That includes the upper abs too; lots of people just switch on the bottom and forget about the top!