Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Front Squat - 1959

Bill Pearl

One of Vic Tanny's first gyms.
Click the pic to ENLARGE and note
the heavy bar hanging from chains on the left.

Joe Weider, Bill "Peanuts" West, Bill McArdle, Larry Scott

Don't for a moment think that I'm short-selling the regular back squat/deep knee bend in this article. Far from it! There's no finer exercise for the entire lower body . . . for some bodybuilders. Unfortunately, not everyone who practices this version of the squat gets an equal benefit. Why?
1) Because skeletal structure of certain individuals' legs (extra long femur, or upper thigh bone) prevents them doing the regular squat either correctly or with adequate weight to force rapid muscle growth and increases in strength. 

2) Because the skeletal formation of the upper body (too long a torso) forces the lifter to lean too far forward, or to round the back, or to cheat too much. When this happens, the regular squat ceases to be either a squat or a leg exercise. It becomes a combination deadlift and good-morning exercise in which the hips, buttocks and back do at least 50% of the work.

You must have seen dozens of barbell men who faithfully perform the regular squat in this incorrect and partially effective manner. They just have to do the exercise wrong . . . they can't help it!

In order to maintain some kind of balance they jut their shoulders forward and throw their buttocks far backward whe3n they get into difficulty with the weight. And that's invariably at the most important point of each repetition . . . at the "half way down" mark, when the thigh muscles re being worked near their sticking point.

Now, to continue to insist upon this version of the squat will reward the unwary bodybuilder with a peculiar type of thigh development . . . "turnip" thighs. Thighs thick at the top, but which taper off so quickly that they really do look like overgrown turnips.

Since it is the dream of every bodybuilder to build the fuller, sculptured type of thighs, it is obvious that he must adopt the squat variation the will do just that . . . . THE FRONT SQUAT.

The wonderful thing about the Front Squat is that it accomplishes a twofold objective:

1) Because of the position in which the weight is held at the shoulders, it is impossible to do the Front Squat incorrectly without losing the bar. Consequently, every inch of the thigh muscles is worked strongly.

2) Because of correct squatting form which the Front Squat insures, it is of tremendous help in maintaining good form in the regular, half, parallel, or basic power squats. Once you become mentally aware that you are squatting with correct form, once you feel the muscles responding wholeheartedly to such correct form, you carry this form awareness over into the other squat variations. Your regular (Olympic style) squat will improve after the first 30 days of implementing the Front Squat. You will use poundages you never dreamed you could use. Best of all, your thigh muscles will soon take on a shape that they would never acquire if you insisted on squatting in only one style.

Now, how should you arrange your schedule to include this wonderful exercise? How much weight should you use? How should it be alternated with your other leg exercises? How much time should you give the Front Squat? How many sets and reps?

Taking your questions in order:

1) Use your imagination and ingenuity when working the Front Squat into your regular routine. Don't just throw all your other leg exercises away. Work into it gradually. Also, if you do the regular squat fairly well, by all means continue to include it in your workouts, using Front Squats to get a new response from your thighs and to assist in bringing your regular squat form up even higher.

However, if you have extremely long thigh bones or a very long torso, and have found the regular squat to be both painful and not very rewarding muscularly . . . toss it out for the while. Wait until you've had several weeks of front squatting, then return to the regular squat and note the amazing skill with which you can do it.

2) Your primary objective is to do the Front Squat with heavier and heavier weights while still maintaining the proper form.

3) If you have decided to include both the front and the regular squat in your routine, try dividing the exercises into equal periods of time ... say, 15 minutes of front squats and 15 minutes of the regular squat.

4) How many sets and reps? Well, you'' find front squatting quite different from regular squatting, as regards number of repetitions. When doing regular squats you can perform high, medium, or low reps. But front squats are usually practiced only in the low rep category . . . perhaps four at the most. After that, if you're handling a fairly heavy poundage, you'll have some difficulty in holding the bar in correct position . . . even if you're an experienced performer. However, you can make up for this by doing lots of sets . . . say around 10.

Now, as time goes by, and you see the progress you're making, you'll want to handle even more weight. Can you do this with the Front Squat? Certainly . . . by using partial movements. Just put a barbell on squat supports or boxes and load it. You can do three-quarter front squats, half front squats, quarter front squats . . . just as you can with any other squat variation.

First, do your 15 minutes of regular squats in whatever manner and with whatever weight you are accustomed and able to. That part of your leg program done with, try this:

1) Load your bar with your usual comfortable Front Squat weight. Now perform 5 sets of 3-4 reps with a suitable rest period between each set. These are FULL front squats.

2) Now, on the next set and again with the bar on the supports, load it with 15% more weight than you have just been using. Perform 3 sets of 3 reps of THREE-QUARTER front squats.

3) Load still more weight on the bar, and do 2 sets of 2 reps of the HALF front squat.

4) Finally, load as much weight as you think you can manage on the bar and do 2 sets of one rep each in the QUARTER front squat.

Here are some suggestions which will help to make the Front Squat a more comfortable exercise:

1) If you find difficulty in holding the bar comfortably an securely in position, try this -- pass a thick towel around your neck and loop in into a big knot that hangs at the base of your neck. This will act as a support for the bar as it rests across the front of your shoulders. In this way, the bar can't roll or slide as you squat. Moreover, it will take some of the strain off your elbows and wrists; it will stabilize the weight and because of this you'll feel so secure that you'll be more able to concentrate strongly on proper performance of the exercise.

2) If you find that there's a tendency toward losing balance, and you feel like you're either going to pitch forward or fall backward as you reach the halfway mark, note what kind of shoes you are wearing when you squat. Perhaps the heels are too low, or too high.

3) Any squat depends for its correct and complete performance on the relative bone lengths of your thighs and the calf bones as well. If, as concerns squatting, one of these bones is too long, you'll soon know it by the seeming difficulty of performance of the squat. When this happens don't give up the exercise! Instead, compensate for the pull of gravity by lowering or heightening the position of your heels. Try it.

4) Next, you must find the foot spacing that suits your purposes. To do this, try pointing your toes outward at different angles, as well as experimenting with the actual distance between your feet, until you find the combination that is most comfortable and secure.

5) After a time you'll find that you can hold the weight of the bar more comfortably and securely because you've acquired the habit of keeping a straight, flat back with your eyes looking upward. Always keep your elbows well to the front as you look upward and as you consciously keep your back straight and flat . . . this will all act as further security.

Trial and error will be your best teacher in the performance, the scheduling, the alternation, the number of sets and reps, and the amount of weight to use in the Front Squat. But as I have said, work into this fine exercise gradually and never be discouraged by the initial awkwardness, discomfort and difficulty of full and correct performance. All this will pass as you give it more thought and practice, more concentration and greater effort each session.

Soon, you'll work into a terrific "free wheeling" movement and you'll feel a wonderful exhilaration every time you rack a bar to Front Squat. Once you pass the awkward-at-the-start part of your Front Squat development, and the exercise begins to really click, really shifts into high gear -- you won't trade it for any exercise in the book!  


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