Monday, January 23, 2012

Front Squat Round Table - Mark Lawson/Joe Wier/Gerard Martin

Front Squat Q & A
by Mark L. Lawson, Joe Weir and Gerard Martin (1991)

1.) List some of the common technique errors observed in beginners when instructing proper exercise technique for the front squat.

Weir: The most common errors are not maintaining a vertical torso, loss of heel contact with the floor and letting the elbows drop. Dropping the elbows is related to loss of vertical posture in the torso; it may lead to a rounding of the back and loss of balance to the front [Note: all of Weir's responses assume the Clean rack position technique.]

Larson: When racking the bar on the front deltoids, it is common for beginners to have their elbows pointed downward, creating a situation where poor control of the bar may exist. This usually occurs when they use a Clean-style method of gripping the bar. This may produce poor balance and a subsequent loss of control of the bar. To remedy this problem it is necessary that the trainee place the humerus segment of his upper arm in a position parallel to the ground. Individuals experiencing chronic problems with this technique may experience greater success by using a cross-arm grip, which consequently forces the bar to be held higher on the frontal deltoids, thus preventing any forward/downward slipping of the bar.

Some individuals have a tendency to shift their weight forward toward the balls of their feet, thus producing a loss of balance and control. Instructing the exerciser to shift his center of balance back toward the heels will help to remedy this error in technique.

Martin: Common technique errors include:

a.) Rounded back causing excessive amount of stress on the supportive structure of the back (ligaments) instead of on the muscular system of the lower back. Back should be tight and arched.

b.) Elbows low and behind the bar or flared out to the sides. Both of these improper positions can cause a poor rack of the bar, thus causing the bar to actually slip out of the hands of the trainee. The error may be caused by poor flexibility of the shoulder and/or wrist. Also, check to see if the hand grip on the bar is too wide. This can prevent the trainee from achieving the proper position of getting his or her elbows high and in front of the bar.

c.) Bouncing out from the bottom position of the lift. This can cause undue stress to supportive tissues of the knee. Lift should be smooth and controlled at all times.

d.) "Jamming" the bar near top of lift and possible hyperextension of the knee at top of lift. Lift should be smooth and controlled at all times.

e.) Knees pulling together, causing excessive wear on knee joint. Knees should be over the same plane as feet. Feet should be at shoulder width and can be pointed out slightly out to help open the hip joint so the athlete can achieve the parallel position or lower.

f.) Coming to toes during ascent of lift. Poor distribution of weight could cause the athlete to fall due to faulty base. This may be due to inadequate hip flexibility. Feet should always be flat. Weight should be distributed over mid-foot/heel of foot.

g.) Hyperextension of the cervical spine. Head should be in neutral position of slightly up.

2.) Are there any prerequisite strength or skill requirements before trainees should include the front squat in their workouts?

Martin: If starting from the floor, the lifter must be familiar with competent power clean/hang clean movements in order to bring the bar up to the proper rack position to begin the front squat.

Flexibility of the wrist and shoulder joints is necessary in order to keep the bar secure in the rack position. Flexibility of the hip is necessary for the exercise to be properly performed with a straight/arched back.

The trainee needs a strong midsection (abdominal/lower back). Due to the weight being so far from the body's center of gravity, the midsection must be strong in order to properly support the lift.

Weir: My own opinion is that any healthy trainee is ready to learn to squat, whether front or back, as long as appropriate technique is stressed throughout, and light weight is used as a beginning load. There are, however, some flexibility requirements that may facilitate proper technique. These include flexibility in the wrist flexors, iliopsoas, hip extensors, gastrocnemius/soleus and the erector spinae.

Simultaneous with learning proper technique, developing strength in the abdominals and erector spinae should be emphasized in the beginner. This will aid injury prevention and will facilitate proper technique development.

Larson: All lifters should develop sufficient back squatting proficiency before attempting this movement. As a supplemental exercise to the back squat and a source of training variation, I recommend the trainee possess the ability to back squat at least 1.5 times his bodyweight before incorporating this movement into his regimen.

All lifters should adopt either the clean-style rack positioning on the front deltoids, or the cross-arm grip, which places the bar even higher up toward the clavicles. This should be done according to comfort and/or personal preference. The cross-arm grip may produce discomfort with breathing, as technique tends to position the bar too close to the throat and may interrupt normal air exchange.

4.) Are there any particular instructional methods you have found helpful when teaching the front squat to your athletes?

Larson: Wrist flexibility -- wrist flexion and extension stretches should be regularly included in the warm-up procedures prior to any workout involving the front squat.

Grip -- as noted above, according to comfort/personal preference.

Elbows -- positioned parallel to the floor.

Descent -- slow and controlled; do not bounce at the bottom. Eyes directed straight ahead. Weight positioned over the heels. Trunk straight and arched at base. Toes directed slightly outward at approximately 30 degrees..

Ascent -- drive feet into floor, thrust elbows upward and drive hips forward and upward. Eyes remain focused or slightly up.

Weir: There are several critical clues that need to be focused upon when teaching/learning the front squat. The first is that the elbows need to be held high ("elbows up"). This is related to adequate flexibility in the wrist flexors. A drop in the elbows leads to forward lean in the ascent. Second, the lifter needs to either look straight ahead or slightly upward at all times ("head up"). Finally, it is important that the back be arched as opposed to rounded, and that the lifter lead with the chest ("chest out").

Tips that are helpful include using a weightlifting shoe with slightly raised heel and lateral support, as this helps maintain heel contact and an upright torso. Also, some lifters find wearing a thick sweatshirt provides padding across the clavicles and can reduce bruising when using heavier weights or higher reps. Avoid thick towel wrapping or commercial pads, as the bar will be more likely to roll with these.

Martin: I use the following methods:

a.) Video. We use a video camera and monitor in the weightroom. By this process, the lifters can see themselves right after the completion of a lift. The use of water soluble markers can be used to draw right onto the monitor's screen in order to emphasize and correct improper form and to acknowledge good technique.

b.) There are products that come over the shoulder and hold the weight in the racked position for the lifter. This is helpful if the athlete lacks the necessary flexibility, is recovering from an injury or is presently rehabilitating from surgery.

c.) I also use dumbbells in order for the lifter to learn the necessary mechanics of the lift. The athlete holds the dumbbells along the side of his body and proceeds to do the squat exercise, concentrating on the proper back alignment, foot width and position and form. Once this has been accomplished, the athlete can concentrate on the placement of the bar and the proper positioning of the upper body.

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