The best exercise for improving my squat has been the front squat. I learned them during my Olympic lifting years, but reinstated them in my powerlifting regimen after speaking with Mr. Sam Byrd.
Of course the most important way to improve the squat is to just squat and squat heavy! But for me the front squat has been huge. This is because of the nature of the exercise. Because the front squat forces you to not lean forward, you are forced not to allow your lower back strength to take over the lift. It forces you to squat with the knees forward loading up the quads. This is key for me because I have fairly long legs and had always had trouble not letting my back take over during heavy back squats. Front squats force the quads to do the work. Also holding a barbell racked across your chest and shoulders will provide enormous work for the upper back–erectors and traps. I like to use the front squat in the 5-8 rep range to really build the quads with high volume. Maxes are ok too but I feel reps carry over to the back squat best.
For me I know that when my front squat numbers go up my back squat inevitably will too. In fact my squat tends to be about 200 pounds higher than my front squat! In sleeves I’ve front squatted 525×3 and back squatted 716×3. With wraps I hit 615 right before an 815 back squat.
I like to perform the front squat to a full depth with a moderate stance. I rack the bar by shrugging my shoulders forward as far as possible and gripping the bar bodybuilder style by crossing my hands over the bar near the center knurling. On the first few warmups I’ll pause, sitting in the hole at the bottom, tightening up the posture of my upper back and hip flexors. This type of stretching really prepares you to move well under the top weights.
When I train these I try to never go for reps I’m not certain to complete as that leads to bad form at best, plateauing at worst. Making small progressions on these will add up to big gains quickly. Either train them as a second lift after back squats or on their own day altogether.Dan Green is one of the top names in powerlifting today. The Raw Total World Record Holder with 2030 (belt and sleeves), Dan is the dominant force in the 220 weight class. Dan is the founder of Boss Barbell Club in Mountain View, CA where he trains team sport and strength athletes. Facebook, YouTube