Q&A Front Squat Issues

Q: I’ve got most of your products and look forward to getting the newest one coming out soon.  I have one question and hope you can help me.

Front squats cause my lower back to ache and tighten up when performing.  I do the squat to stand drill and have a tough time getting my chest up and my butt down. 

What is causing the issue with my mobility, and what should I do to keep my lower back out of the front squat?  I do all of the static stretches you recommend, but maybe I need to do some of them more.

Here is a video of me doing a couple of reps of front squats.  I hope this is what you were wanting.  I hurt my lower back about a month ago doing deadlifts.  I did front squats prior to the deadlifts.  I haven’t done either since.  I did this last night just to give you an idea of my form.

Thanks so much

J

A:  So there are quite a few things we can discuss here.  Let’s start with the big one first.

Your technique needs work.  As you can see, you’re squatting straight down – this is going to murder your knees and lower back over time.  Think about initiating from the hips – you’re not going to sit back as much as you would in a back squat, but right now your knees and quads are taking everything.

While it’s hard to tell from the video (without having static posture pictures), it also looks as though you’re in a sway back position.  Essentially, your low back is going to take the brunt of almost every exercise, because your external obliques and anterior core stabilizers aren’t strong enough to do their share of the work.  Definitely check out my core training pieces on the articles page.

As well, you also demonstrate an exaggerated thoracic kyphosis.  When you’re overly kyphotic and you try to squat, you’re always going to over-emphasize extension through the lumbar spine. I’d imagine this happens when you deadlift as well.  You’re going to need to work on this – try foam rolling, static stretching and mobility drills for the pecs, lats, etc. to open up the anterior chest, while performing extra upper back work.

If possible, I would actually lay on a foam roller for extended periods of time during the day to get some of your t-spine extension back.

There’s a lot to address here, but this should be a starting point. To recap:

  • Improve your squat technique. Lift the chest prior to squatting, and focus on sitting back versus down.
  • Get your external obliques stronger. Focus on half-kneeling core exercises, or anything that strengthens the obliques.
  • Improve your thoracic extension. Foam rolling, mobility, static stretching, and behavior modification should all be included.

It’s not an easy fix, but that’s would I would do.  Good luck!

All the best

Mike

(Lead Photo Courtesy of Florida Today)

12 Comments

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  1. Mike- Great article-I’d love to see more like this….Also, J, give us an update video in a few months.

    J-to help me learn to sit back and down I did countless reps of just sitting on a bench while keeping my shins perpendicular to the ground.

  2. I find that doing front squats off a box really helps with learning to sit back. You literally want to visualize your hips breaking and your butt going back before your knees bend (in reality it’s all happening simultaneously, but the visualization helps). Also, I find that a clean-style grip with the elbows out front really helps my form, and gets my chest up.

  3. Hey Mike, when you say lay on a foam roller for periods of time, do you mean in a T position to your body, or parallel to it? Since you are talking about extension, most likely in the T position?

    • I’ve actually used both, Kyle. If you go with the roller lengthwise along your spine, place your hands at the 10 and 2 position (relative to your head) with your palms up. Great pec stretch, too.

      Good luck!
      MR

  4. Great info!

    I’d say that your trying to fit this exercise to your body, and don’t seem to have the prerequisite mobility/ possibly stability.

    Ever though of trying goblet squats instead for a phase?

    Would you use this in replace of front squats Mike or would you try to fix the front squat?

    • He could try Goblet squats, but I think for now it’s more of a squat PATTERN issue than the TYPE of squat he is doing.

      I would just try and cue him into a better pattern first and foremost and see what happens.

      MR

  5. Great info, Love it!!

    Mike when you say that J has sway back posture, I see kyphotic posture in T-spine only. Question #1: does all T spine kyphotic posture involve sway back posture too. Question #2 Can T spine Kyphosis be exaggerated by doing front squats by the way of loading in front and in static posture without load person looks just fine? Is this possible?

    When I instruct people in squats I tell them to sit on toilet.

    Thanks

    • A sway looks like a bow – the feet and shoulders are ok, but the hips are pushed forward like the apex of a bow. In that vein, yes, most people have some degree of excessive kyphosis to go with their sway.

      As far as the loading and the kyphosis goes, it’s not the fact that they’re using a front squat – it’s the fact that they’re trying to stabilize and they’re rectus abdominus dominant. Therefore, they will “Crunch” down to stabilize, making their kyphosis worse.

      Cue them to lengthen the torso/spine, or press up into the bar. This will help.

      MR

  6. J – I noticed that no comment has yet been made about your anterior pelvic tilt / tight hip flexors. If you want to be able to correct your spine and to sit back in your hips, you have to regain proper length/strength of those hip flexors. You’re avoiding them at this point. Foam rolling will not be enough – find a good manual therapist to get them going again (they’ll find some tight hip rotators on you too). When you rise from your squat, you’re relying on your passive stabilizers to hold you up at the end of your squat (ie. you hyper-extend your knees and your lumbar spine which makes it look like you’re a swayback, but you don’t have a true swayback spine). Recipe for serious joint breakdown. Learn to corkscrew your legs/spread the floor with your feet so that you maintain tension and can’t hyper-extend your joints – and as Mike’s recommended, get your core fired up! Squats are technical. Taking time to move well will save you – please don’t load dysfunction. Thanks for sharing your efforts with everyone – it shows you understand the importance of moving well.

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