Using Front Squat For Building Quads (Complete Guide)

using front squat for building quads

Building bigger quads is a byproduct of choosing the right movements to target the quads, consistent workouts, and training with enough intensity and volume to inspire growth.

The front squat is one movement that allows you to target the quads more directly because you ensure greater degrees of knee flexion (bending on the knees) and a more upright torso. By doing front squats properly, you shift more of the load onto the quadriceps than a standard back squat.

If you are serious about using the front squat for quad growth and development, then this article will walk you through what to do step-by-step.

I’ll cover:

  • How to Do a Front Squat
  • Benefits of the Front Squat
  • Common Front Squat Mistakes
  • How to Program Front Squats
  • Front Squat Variations for Bigger Quads

What Muscles Does the Front Squat Work?

Front squats work primarily the quadriceps and the glutes. Like most squats, the more the knees bend, the more the quads have to work to stand up out of the squat. This is exactly why many lifters choose the front squat for quads.

The front squat is a unique squat variation as it forces a lifter to stay more upright as they squat down, increasing the loading demands on the quadriceps due to more knee flexion (i.e. bending on the knees) than most back squats. 

The glutes are also targeted as they work to straighten the hips at the top of the movement (i.e. hip extension). 

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How To Do a Front Squat

Below is a step by step guide on how to perform the front squat with a barbell. 

You can also do a front squat with a Smith machine if you do not have access to a barbell or want more stability.

1. Secure the Barbell in the Front Rack Position

The front squat is done by placing a loaded barbell on the top of the shoulders (front of the body). 

You can achieve this position by either taking a front rack position (barbell on the top of the shoulders with the elbows pushed up in front of you) or an arms crossed position (arms crossed and securing the barbell, with the barbell on the top of the shoulders).

2. Squat Down Without Leaning Too Far Forward

Once you have secured the barbell on the top of the shoulders, perform a squat. 

Due to the positioning of the barbell in the front rack (explained above) you need to make sure your torso stays upright and you allow the knees to bend while not allowing your torso to lean too forward.

3. Stand Up Without Letting Hips Shoot Back

At the bottom of your squat, you should have the knees bent with your hips underneath you. 

Your heels should be down, and your torso should be upright. 

To stand up, think about straightening your knees and lifting your chest upwards, without allowing the hips to shoot backwards. 

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4 Benefits of Front Squats

benefits of front squats

Below are four benefits of performing front squat for quads on a regular basis in your workouts.

Targets the Quadriceps More Than Back Squats

When done properly, the front squat shifts more of the loading used on the quads than when doing a back squat. During the back squat, the hips and back are used more as the lifter is able to lean forward and use their back and glutes to assist in the lift.

In the front squat, the lifter cannot lean forward as much or else the load will fall forward off the front rack. This means that the lifter needs to stand up and stay upright, using primarily the quadriceps.

Helps Build a More Vertical Squat

As mentioned above,the front squat is done with a more vertical squat patterning (i.e. squatting more up and down rather than hips back and force as you squat). 

A vertical squat pattern is not only better for quadriceps development, but also decreases the stress placed on the lower back and hips.

Builds Core Strength

Most heavy squat movements build core strength, however the front squat is especially challenging on the core as you are forced to keep the obliques and abdominals contracted or else the torso collapses and you are not able to stay upright.

The front rack position (i.e. load on the front of the body) often reinforces pelvic stability (the pelvis is not tilted excessively to result in arching the lower back). This means that while you are squatting, your abdominals and obliques are working overtime to keep the pelvis and spine in proper alignment.

Improves Clean and Jerk

If you are someone who likes to perform weightlifting movements like clean and jerks, the front squat is a great squat exercise to specifically strengthen your clean. 

Most weightlifters will perform front squats 1-3 times per week in training programs, and use the front squat to build quad strength, improve positioning for deep cleans, and reinforce a strong core, back, and legs.

4 Front Squat Mistakes To Avoid

Below are four common mistakes to avoid when performing front squat for quads.

Barbell Sliding Off Your Shoulders

One common mistake people make during the front squat is not being able to keep the barbell from sliding off the front of the shoulders. 

This is often a result of poor shoulder, lat, and triceps flexibility, as it can be tough for some people to be flexible enough to get into the front rack position (elbows up, bar racked on the front of the shoulders). 

If you struggle with this, try taking a crossed-arm front rack position, with your elbows up in front of you. The barbell should be positioned on top of the shoulders and your arms crossed, with your hands securing the barbell in place. 

If you still have issues, you may be learning too far forward. If this is the case, try elevating the heels with a small plate which can help you stay more upright in your squat.

Upper Back Rounding Forward

During the front squat, do not allow the upper back to round. This is often an issue of either a poor front rack (see above) or weak upper back muscles. 

To fix this, you need to address your front rack set up and/or go lighter to work on form.

If you are not able to attack the quads with as much intensity due to this common mistake, you may want to add in some other direct quad training exercise like the leg press, hack squat, or leg extension machines.

Hips Shooting Back As You Squat

If your hips shoot back as you front squat (either during the lowering or standing up phase), you will shift more of the load to your back and hips, rather than isolating the quadriceps. 

This is often an issue with using too much weight (your body is smart and will shift weight as it needs to stand up). It may also be due to poor mobility in the upper back, knees, or hips. 

Wrist Bending Back Too Much

This is really only an issue if you are using a non-arms crossed front rack position (barbell on top of the shoulers, elbows pushed up under the bar, while still holding onto the barbell). 

Many times, lifters will not be flexible enough to keep the hand gripping the barbell in the front rack. While it is not wrong to open the hand up and have the barbell in the fingers instead of the palms, it can place a lot of pressure and strain on the wrists.

If this is an issue, try adding more stretching for your triceps and lats, and over time force yourself to keep a fuller grip on the barbell. If you are limited and cannot progress your front squat with that grip, then try using an arms crossed position instead.

How To Program Front Squats For Quad Hypertrophy

how to program front squats for quad hypertrophy

Programming front squats for quad hypertrophy is often no different than programming other squat variations for muscle growth. 

When looking to program front squats for the quads, you may want to choose one day where you lift heavier in the 5-10 rep range for 3-5 sets, and then choose another day in the week to perform a higher rep range (10-20 reps) for a few sets.

For lower rep sets, you can use any of the variations below, as long as you make sure to still keep good form and not allow the lower back and hips to get too involved in the lift (which happens when you lean forward).

When performing higher reps, it is important to not allow your form to break down, which is often something that happens during the front squat when fatigue sets it. You can use Smith machine front squats to help you focus on keeping your technique on point during higher rep sets.

Front Squat Variations To Help Build Bigger Quads

Below are four common front squat variations you can perform to help you build bigger quads. All of the exercises below, with the exception of the Smith machine front squat, can be found in the Fitbod app.

Box Front Squat

The box front squat is a front squat done with a box underneath you, stopping you at a certain depth. This can be helpful if you struggle to find proper depth, or if you want to stick to certain ranges of motion.

To perform the font squat, place a low box under you as you squat, touching the box with the hips and then standing up. Make sure that your depth is at least parallel, however going lower will increase the amount of knee bending and can increase quadriceps usage.

Smith Machine Front Squat

The Smith machine front squat is a great front squat variation because it takes out some of the stability demands and allows you to focus solely on the loading and moving the weight. This is good for higher rep sets or for beginners who may struggle with form. 

Perform a Smith machine front squat just like you would a barbell front squat. Stand within the Smith machine, and set the bar on the front of the shoulders. With your feet hip width underneath you, squat down and stay as upright as possible.

Pause Front Squat

The pause front squat can be done to increase the stretch and time under tension on the quadricep muscles during the front squat. This can be a great way to increase muscle demands without needing to use more weight.

To perform the pause front squat, you will add a pause at the bottom of the squat, then stand up after a 2-3 second pause.

Kettlebell Front Squats

The kettlebell front squat is a front squat varian that can be done when you do not have access to a barbell or Smith machine. The kettlebells act independently of one another, which increases the demands on the upper body and core to stabilize the loads. 

This may mean you are more limited by upper body strength rather than your quad strength, so if you find that is the issue, you may be better off doing a barbell or Smith machine.

To perform the kettlebell front squat, you will need to grab two kettlebells, one in each hand, and hold them up by your shoulders. 

With the kettlebells resting on the outsides of your shoulers, and upper chest up, squat down and stay upright as possible. Once you have squatted low, stand up, making sure that your chest stays up and the kettlebells don’t slide off the body.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Front Squats Better Than Back Squats for Building Quads?

As with most exercises, it depends. Both front and back squats are powerful quad building exercises. For best results, you will want to include both front and back squats into your quad growth program, as they each offer benefits that the other may not. 

Front squats, when done properly, do place more of the loading on the quads, however loading is generally less than the back squat. If someone is doing back squats, they can still shift a lot of the loading to the quads and get serious muscle growth if they stay vertical in the squat (see above).

Do Front Squats Build Big Quads?

Yes, when done properly front squats can build big quads. Bigger quads are built by direct quad training, which can be done by performing any squatting movement that has the knee bend in deep ranges of motion

If however, front squats are done with poor form or the lifter cannot find a comfortable position with the bar in the front of the body, front squats may actually not be the best exercise for someone looking to build bigger quads. Instead, try machines like leg presses, hack squats, and leg extensions as you will be able to push the training intensity and not be limited by flexibility.

Does the Front Squat Isolate the Quads?

Yes, front squats isolate the quads when they are done properly. If you are performing a front squat and you are not keeping your chest up and hips underneath you, you may find that the front squat isn’t as targeted as you may like. 

To best isolate the quads during the front squat, focus on staying upright as possible and do not allow the hips to shoot back as you sit down and stand up. The lower you can squat, the more knee bending will occur, which is the key ingredient to isolate the quads.

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

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About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.