Technique, Technique Part 3 – Front Squat

The time of year for front squatting is among us in my gym, and it’s exciting. Front squatting is one of my all time favorite exercises. I prefer it to almost any other lower body exercise because it utilizes all the leg muscles while putting a good amount of stress on the core. It’s a great bang for your buck exercise that can be used to train just about any stimulus while effectively strengthening multiple areas of the body. Plus, its a self limiting exercise due to the placement and hold of the bar, so injury risk goes down with it.

This year we started doing front squats at 20 reps, and I heard lots of comments about athletes having sore wrists after one or a few sets. Our front squat sets are now down to 8 reps, and will continue to drop to 6, 5, 4, etc. In the past I would have ignored those comments and told the athlete that “it’s okay, your wrists will loosen up and it won’t hurt,” but this year the comments stuck with me. Most of the soreness I attributed to the length of the set, with 20 reps being a long time to hold a bar in that position, but what happens when the load gets heavy? The time under tension will be less, but the shear force will be astronomically higher.

I have been carefully watching each athlete front squat and hold the bar with their wrists hyperextended, and their faces grimacing. Almost every athlete, upon finishing a set, racks the bar and immediately flexes and moves their wrists in a circle. As a strength coach for hockey players, and a former hockey player myself, this is not the sight I want to see. The wrists endure a large amount of stress in hockey and keeping them strong is important for just about every skill based aspect of the game.

Why would I want to increase the stress on the wrists, when they are already one of the most worked joints on a hockey player?

Sure, mobility of the shoulder and wrists is important and can be taught be doing a front squat. But is a front squat really the appropriate place to teach shoulder and wrist mobility? Overhead shoulder mobility is not taught through overhead pressing, it is taught through separate mobility exercises. Why can’t wrist mobility be taught the same way?

I’m not saying I will not be teaching and utilizing front squats anymore, because I most definitely will. The benefits of them are not outweighed by the drawbacks. However, I may be teaching a different rack position. Instead of placing the bar in the fingers with the wrist hyperextended, a less traditional arms crossed or bent arms rack where the bar rests on the front of the shoulders may be the way to go.

From my experience, the hold on the bar for a front squat is not any less strong when a crossed or bent arm hold is used compared to the traditional wrist extension hold. So why do we insist on placing the extra stress on the wrist joint?

Food for thought on a Friday morning.

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