Monday, February 21, 2011

Some training updates

I recently made a fairly significant switch in my training routine: ditching back squats in favor of front squats.  In the past, I've always used front squats as more of an assistance lift, and something to toss in from time to time to deload the spine.  However, recently I decided to make them my primary squat variation.

Don't get me wrong: I do believe the back squat is the "King" of lower body exercises.  We use it for many of our athletes at SAPT.  But for me, the costs of performing the lift were beginning to outweigh the benefits.  I've always had terrible shoulder range of motion (something I've recently been working to improve), and the back squat requires fairly significant external rotation and abduction of the humerus to grip it.  Lately, this has been significantly irritating to my shoulder, so as I'm squatting I'm limited by my shoulder more than my legs or back.

Also, it is very rare for someone to be able to back squat to depth (note: the anterior portion of the thigh should be BELOW parallel) without significant flexion (rounding) of the low back.  This is a recipe for a pissed off spine that will inevitably get you back for all the pain you've put it through. Since I'm not entering a powerlifting competition any time soon, there's no point in me forcing the back squat to depth.  Not to mention, the back squat is also more taxing to the CNS (central nervous system), and with all the activity demands I'm going to be having outside of the weight room in the next few months, I thought this would be another reason to sub it out for the time being.  

For those who don't know, the front squat is typically a more "quad dominant" movement pattern, and also requires much greater core stabilization due to the placement of the barbell in front of the neck.  The front squat also requires greater ankle dorsiflexion ROM (think: pointing the toes up toward the shin), which creates an issue for some.  I used to use the box squat as a way to get more posterior chain work (for my glutes and hamstrings), but I can still incorporate a healthy dose of glute bridging (see below), deadlifts, and glute-ham raises to cover this sector.

Another note: the front squat is not a lift for the ego, as - on the average - one can typically front squat about 85% of what he or she can back squat.  It's never a friendly stroke to the ego to lift less than you know you are capable of, but I find this is often a good thing.   

Anyway, I've been training the front squat with primary focus for about 3-4 weeks now, and I just hit a front squat PR of 295lbs for 3 reps the other day.  It will be interesting to see how things improve over the next couple months.

As I mentioned in this article, you should almost always have someone else write your program, as only someone other than yourself can truly view you with an objective lens and give you the things you NEED (not what you want), in a training plan.  Following my own advice, I began Eric Cressey's "Show and Go" program 3 weeks ago.  So far, it has been fantastic.  He also makes front squats the primary squat pattern throughout the program, which is good for me as it forces me to do it! 

I almost need someone else to force me to front squat, as (and anyone who has tried them knows this) they are FAR from the most comfortable lift to perform.  The bar is essentially shoved against your neck, pressing down on the anterior portion of your shoulders, and it's difficult to see where you're going as the barbell blocks your view of the ground immediately below you.

Anyway, that's it for now.... more to come!


Niel K. Patel said...

Stevo, have you tried Zercher squats?

I was doing front squats the last 2-3 years but switched due to some tibia pain. The Zerchers have been great so far and are a nice change of pace. Much easier to keep the torso "tall" than the front squat.

Stevo said...

Hey Niel, Zercher squats suck! Haha, I've messed around with them in the past, but haven't given them a serious shot (as in utilized them for an entire training cycle).

Glad to hear they've been serving you well, I'll be sure to try them out again!

Hamish said...

Hey great blog, I'm about to get started on front squats. quick question, what grip do you use? a clean grip or forearms crossed? any reason for that choice? My mobility through my shoulder and wrist is stopping me from comfortably using a clean grip.

(I have no way of seeing the youtube videos you posted, my workplace blocks them)


Stevo said...

Hamish, glad you like the blog. I personally use a clean grip, but I don't force it upon any of the athletes I coach. I find, especially those who need to pay special attention to hand, wrist, and forearm health (like our baseball and volleyball players), the cost-benefit of forcing the clean grip isn't worth it.

But for me, I find it's just a bit easier to keep my chest up when I use the clean grip, and it also has more carryover to the olympic lifts. I only put two fingers on the bar, BTW, which helps with regards to restrictions at the wrist.

Tim said...

I think I'm going to do these exclusively instead of back squats/front squats on alternating weeks.

It sounds like back squats are not worth the troubles they can give you, and if I'm already doing deadlifts.

Once again thanks for the article/information. You always make me aware of what the vast majority of lifters/trainers tell me is wrong.

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