Maximize Your Front Squats and Leg Strength with Accommodating Resistance
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Front squats are an incredible exercise for taxing the legs particularly the upper thighs and quads. However, because of the unique loading method that involves placing the bar on the anterior portion of the body instead of the upper back (i.e. back squat), they also provide a strong stimulus to the core and upper back. Employing accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains on front squats may help maximize the various benefits to an even greater extent while helping to eliminate some common problems. Here are a few of my athletes and clients including Leslie Petch and Ike Onike demonstrating 3 different variations.
On a side note, I’m frequently asked what type of bands I recommend for movements like this. Although there are numerous bands on the market the one’s I’ve recently been using with great success (including those in the video) are from Dr. John Rusin. These bands provide some of the smoothest and most calibrated tension I’ve used. I highly recommend these as each package comes with multiple pairs of various tensions. Similarly if you’re looking for an exercise band with handles, ankle straps, and door attachment (for movements like rows, chest presses, bicep curls, shoulder raises, overhead presses, and more) check out the product from Circuband. They’re also adjustable making them one of the most versatile bands on the market. These are two of the best band products in the fitness industry so definitely check them out.
With that said, there are 5 reasons why combining accommodating resistance with front squats is so effective.
1. Optimizes the Strength Curve
Like many compound movements including upper body presses, squats, and deadlifts, the bottom positioning of the front squat is typically the weakest and the top is typically the strongest. Using accommodating resistance allows us to overload the top/strongest position and deload the bottom/weakest position by matching the strength curve of the exercise to that of the specific movement pattern. For many lifters this variance between the top and bottom of the front squat is even more extreme than most lifts due to the semi-awkward nature of the anterior loading. In essence you can make the argument that the front squat is the ideal exercise for applying accommodating resistance.
2. Makes The Front Squat Even More Quad Dominant
The top half of any squat tends to place more emphasis on the quads and less on the posterior chain. In addition, when it comes to emphasizing the quads during a squat pattern, front squats are at the top of the list. Because accommodating resistance places more tension on the top half of the squat, combining this with the front squat loading protocol represents the ultimate combination for crushing the quads as the top half of the movement is maximally overloaded.
3. Provides A Greater Stimulus to the Core and Upper Back
As previously mentioned, front squats are also an incredible stimulus for targeting the core and upper back. However, most of the stimulus is at the bottom half of the movement as the top half does not provide as much tension to the core and upper back. By overloading the entire movement through accommodating resistance (rather than just the bottom half), the core and upper back receive intense stimulation. In fact the total tension at the top of the front squat should be significantly greater than the lifter's typical 1RM. Simply put if a lifter typically handles 200 pounds on their front squat, when using accommodating resistance the bottom may still be equivalent to 200 however the top may be in excess of 275 lbs. Forcing the body to handle these supramaximal loads in the stronger phases of the lift turns the movement into a true full body exercise.
4. Maximizes Acceleration for Athletic Performance
More and more coaches and athletes are taking advantage of front squats by incorporating them into routines aimed at improving athletic performance and power output. Unfortunately, many lifters unintentionally decelerate the movement once they’ve moved past the sticking point. Employing accommodating resistance ingrains the idea of accelerating and exploding through the entire lift as a means of blasting through the added tension at the top. If the lifter doesn’t use compensatory acceleration (the intention to lift with maximal speed and velocity) the lifter will feel like he or she runs into a brick wall midway through the movement.
5. Makes the Bottom Less Awkward
Most lifters consider the bottom portion of the front squat the most awkward as the bar has greater tendency to want to roll off the shoulders the lower you go. As a result it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep the elbows up the deeper you descend particularly if you keep the hips set back as you should on any squat including a front squat. Deloading the bottom portion of the lift and overloading the stronger top position helps eliminate this problem while still providing a heavy training stimulus. In addition the nervous system will be hyper-activated at the top of the movement due to the heightened tension thereby making the bottom feel much lighter and more manageable. Simply put, once the lifter reaches the bottom, keeping the elbows up and chest out will feel significantly less challenging as the nervous system will have been calibrated to handle a heavier load.
As with any exercise accommodating resistance can be applied in the form of band resistance by anchoring the bands from the floor, band assistance or reverse bands (anchoring the bands at the top of a rack), or chains (placing chains on the collars of the barbell). Each variation has its own unique attributes and should be periodically incorporated into an athlete’s training routine.