Here is Part 3 of Larry’s Chinese Weightlifting Experience series. This one is all about Front Squats. From rack position, over torso strength to knee tracking.
I made my way to the provincial sports college I was introduced to Coach L. I caught him in the morning when the team did not have a scheduled workout so I was able to have some one-on-one teaching.
He suggested I train Front Squats in the morning and then return in the afternoon to take part in the team workout.
Since my start in the sport, my Clean and Jerk has always been limited by my inability to recover heavy Cleans, which in turn is likely due to my poor Front Squat strength. Coach L instructed me to perform sets of three repetitions with ascending weight. As I warmed up, he could immediately see that the movement was unnatural for me.
Elbows sit wider & lower. Shoulders relaxed. Back does the work
Front Rack Position
He modified my rack position by letting my elbows sit wider and lower rather than squeezing them inwards and up.
He also said to keep my shoulders relaxed and let my back do the work.
I found it surprisingly comfortable when I pointed my elbows slightly outwards – this naturally created a shelf with my deltoids and I did not need to shrug my shoulders to support the bar. In order to create this shelf I allowed my chest to expand and I imagined a lordotic arch in my upper back.
I am seeing a trend with these positioning cues – it seems that reducing the amount of external rotation creates a more stable shoulder position for supporting weight overhead and in the front rack.
it’s beneficial to allow the torso to lean forwards slightlyCoach L. also felt that I kept my torso too upright during the entire movement.
Before this day, I assumed that the ideal Front Squat position was a completely vertical torso. Coach L said this is not the case and that the hips must make room for the torso in the bottom position and so it is beneficial to allow the torso to lean forwards slightly during the entire movement and focus on tightening the back while maintaining hip tightness.
The feet should be placed at shoulder width or slightly wider and pointed outwards to create space in the hips.
squeeze elbows up and out. not forward.
In the bottom position, he instructed me to raise my chest and push upwards on the bar with my hands. This required the barbell to be held in the palm of my hands rather than the fingertips.
Pushing upwards against the bar aided in maintaining upper back tightness, and despite my torso being leaned forward more than usual, the weight felt very stable and balanced.
Another way to think about this, he said, was to squeeze your elbows up (not forward, upwards) and out. I liken the tension in this position to the initiation of a Sots Press.
Stability & Balance
Much like Coach Fangs advice for Back Squats (read Part 1 here), Coach L emphasized the importance of stability and balance in the hips during Front Squats.
The hips should not travel forwards or backwards and the drive from the legs should be felt evenly throughout the torso.
Tracking of the Knees
As for tracking of the knees, Coach L had a simple answer:
Try not to let your knees touch together when you stand up, because you’d get red lights in competition.
The idea of forcing your knees either outwards or inwards on the recovery of a Squat or Clean seemed strange to Coach L.
the priority is to stand up with a tight backHe said this is not something the athletes or coaches here think about, and that the priority is to stand up with a tight back because that will make the weight feel the lightest.
Whether a lifter’s knees stay over the feet or travel either inwards or outwards was solely dependent on what felt the most natural to the individual, and the movement of the knees was never forced.
He did, however, admit that probably most lifters in China keep their knees in the same direction as their feet during a Squat, but this was never something he paid attention to and so he cannot say for sure.
Back Squats were preferredCoach L did not feel that training the Front Squat was a priority for weightlifters.
He explained that Front Squats were only chosen over Back Squats when they wished to reduce the workload on the legs in a particular workout, or to train the positioning and technique of the movement if it was a glaring weakness for the lifter.
Otherwise, Back Squats were preferred. Front Squats are always trained in sets of three repetitions or less.
Torso strength plays a tremendous role in the Front Squat – Coach L specifically pointed to the obliques and upper back.
The exercises he recommended include side bends, Seated Good Mornings [Video], GHD Hyperextensions, Rack Supports, partial Front Squats from pins, Jerk drives, and push press. As a side note, these are all common exercises that I saw being performed by the majority of the lifters there.
Here is a video showing some of these exercises.
Not the best angle, but you can see some of the common accessory exercises done on a frequent basis: Jerk Supports in a power rack; Hyperextensions; Seated Good Mornings. Accessory work was always done with 6 sets
This can be done with 60kg heavier than Jerks and are often done following Cleans, Jerks, or Front Squats for 10 sets of 3-5 reps. This is used to strengthen the posture as well as train balance in the dip and drive
Use of Belts
only use the belt when you lose tightness in the backI asked Coach L about the use of belts during Squatting and his suggestion was to only use the belt when you lose tightness in the back.
The belt should be tightened such that you must completely retract your abdomen in order to buckle the belt, but not too tight to the point where breathing becomes uncomfortable.
The Chinese prefer belts made of leather, rather than nylon and velcro, because the leather belts are proven to be effective throughout the history of the sport and it is unnecessary to introduce new equipment to replace things that are already effective.
- Rack position – elbows down and out, shoulders relaxed, upper back arched
- Torso position – slightly forward, full back tight
- Bottom position – tension from the shoulders and arms to support the bar
- Recovery – stand up naturally and with a tight back, knee positioning is not important
Secondary exercises for Front Squat:
Bodybuilding Exercises for Front Squat: