However, the front squat does pose some additional challenges as it requires a higher level of mobility and body awareness than many other squat variations.
Mobility restrictions in the wrists, shoulders, hips, and ankles can limit the benefits a lifter has to gain from front squatting due to not being able to get into or maintain the correct position.
Mobility restrictions can also diminish a lifter’s enjoyment of training this movement causing frustration, discomfort, or even pain and injury.
Below I’ll explain the mobility requirements to be able to set up for and perform the front squat safely and correctly and provide 18 exercises that you should include in your routine.
The 17 best front squat mobility exercises are:
- Lat Self Myofascial Release
- PVC Pipe Rounded Back Lat Box Stretch
- PVC Single Arm Lat Stretch
- Eccentric Chin-Up Lat Stretch
- Quadruped Weight Over Wrist Stretch
- Wrist Self Myofascial Release
- Thoracic Sit-Ups on Foam Roller
- Prone Floor Thoracic Extensions
- Squat Hold With Over Head Press
- Foam Roll Prayer Stretch
- Banded Hip Distraction
- Pigeon Stretch
- Internal Hip Rotation Stretch
- Banded Ankle Distraction
- Eccentric Calf Drop
- Bottom of Squat Hold
- Front Squat
Front Squat Mobility: The Shoulders
The most common limitation for an athlete to get into a good front rack position and therefore perform a front squat with good mechanics is due to tightness and restriction in the lats and shoulder.
The good news is there are many ways to quickly and effectively release tight lats, allowing for an immediate improvement in front rack positioning.
To test if your lats are tight you can use the seated wall lat test:
- Sit with your back against a wall.
- Hold a broomstick or PVC pipe, hands outside of shoulder with your palms facing down.
- Take your arms straight to an overhead position towards the wall and check your position.
- Repeat with palms facing towards you.
- Compare if the range of motion is less. If so, you have tight lats.
1. Lat Self Myofascial Release
A good place to start if you have tight lats is with soft tissue mobilisation, also known as myofascial release.
Start with a foam roller and progress to a lacrosse ball. Lying on the floor or against a wall, hold your arm overhead and place the foam roller under your armpit, roll up and down the length of your upper body.
Repeat with a lacrosse ball for a deeper release. Work on each side of the body for 2-5 minutes, focusing on areas where you feel the most tension.
2. PVC Pipe Rounded Back External Rotation Box Stretch
A very similar stretch can be used to improve thoracic extension, however in this instance, the back is not rounded. The rounded back helps to provide extra stretch of the lats which run over the length of this area.
- Holding a PVC pipe, get into a kneeling position in front of a box or bench.
- Place your elbows on the box and check your elbows are closer together than your hands. Hands holding the pipe will be facing in towards you.
- Round your upper back and sit your butt onto your heels, pulling your hips underneath you.
- Hold this position for 2-5 minutes.
3. PVC Single Arm External Rotation Stretch
This stretch very closely resembles the front rack position and with the use of the PVC pipe or broomstick enables you to increase the amount of stretch.
Over many years of coaching I have found this to be one of the fastest and most effective stretches for improving front rack positioning.
- Place your hand palm up on the outside of your shoulder, with a gap between your thumb and first finger.
- Place the pipe between your thumb and finger and grip tight.
- Reach for the pipe with the opposite arm moving across the body and under the armpit and grab the pipe.
- Grip the pipe firmly with both hands and use the opposite arm to drive the pipe upwards to increase the stretch.
- Stretch for 2-5 minutes, checking in and increasing the amount of torque with the pipe as you start to release.
After stretching one side, get into a front rack position with the pipe, stick or barbell and test your elbow position by keeping the bar down with your chin and forcing your elbows up high.
If your lats are tight there will be a significant difference between the side you have stretched compared to the unstretched side. Repeat the stretch on the other side to even up your front rack position.
4. Eccentric Chin-Up
Another effective way to stretch a muscle is under tension in an eccentric or lengthening contraction.
- Using a chin up grip, palms facing inwards, start at the top of a chin up.
- Lower your body down to a slow five second count eccentric contraction.
- Once at the bottom of the movement, remaining hanging in from the bar for further stretch. Repeat 5-10 times.
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Front Squat Mobility: The Wrist
In the front rack position, the bar rests on the lifter’s palm with a closed hand if mobility allows. An open hand is acceptable and a bar resting on the fingers is common practice.
This position places a high demand on the wrists. Restricted wrist position can not only hinder an optimal front rack position but also cause a lifter discomfort or pain due to the extra pressure placed on the wrist.
To improve positioning and prevent wrist pain, a good wrist warm-up and mobility sequence before and after squatting can help. Restricted wrist mobility can easily be assessed by performing the prayer test.
- Place the palms of your hands and fingers together, fingertips facing upwards.
- Push your hands against each other.
- You should be able to get your hands and fingers perpendicular to your forearms at 90 degrees.
5. Quadruped Weight Over Wrist Stretch
- In a quadruped position (all fours), place both palms on the ground, fingers pointing forwards and gradually transfer your body weight over the top of your wrists.
- Hold the position for a few minutes.
- A variation of this stretch is having your fingers pointing towards you instead of away.
- Perform either or both variations of the stretch with locked elbows.
- The stretch can be done dynamically, rocking backwards and forwards or as a static hold.
6. Wrist Self Myofascial Release
- Using a box or hard surface, place a lacrosse ball under the wrist, while pulling wrist and fingers back.
- Using rolling motions, find any tight or tender spots under the wrist or down the forearm.
Front Squat Mobility: Thoracic (Mid-Back)
The front squat is the most upright squat of all the squat variations and requires and improves an athlete’s thoracic extension and strength.
Many people will experience a reduction in their thoracic extension due to postures commonly adopted in everyday living, such as being hunched over a computer station, driving a car, smartphone and tablet use and more.
The nature of the front squat, where the load is placed in front of the body, requires thoracic extension as well as strength to be able to achieve the front rack position and maintain an upright torso throughout the range of motion of the lift.
Another way to think about this position is to maintain anti flexion (i.e. doing everything possible not to round forward). The following mobility and strength exercises help to improve thoracic extension progressively over time.
7. Thoracic Sit-Ups on Foam Roller
- Place the foam roller under your upper back and perform at least ten rolls forwards and backwards.
- The arms and hands can help to take some body weight or held across the chest in a bear hug for a different sensation or for increased pressure, raised overhead.
- After this initial warm-up rolling, place the foam roller at the top of the back and perform 5-10 small sit-up motions, while pushing your back down into the foam roller.
- Work your way down the thoracic spine, performing the sit-up motions vertebrae by vertebrae.
8. Prone Floor Thoracic Extensions
- Improving thoracic extension is not just about increasing mobility, but also about building strength and strength endurance.
- To get the most out of any thoracic extension mobility drills, they should be coupled with a thoracic extensioning strengthening exercise.
- A simple but effective exercise that can be performed is lying prone on the floor, forearms beside your head, chin tucked, lifting the head off the ground and maintaining an isometric hold for 3-5 breaths, 10-15 repetitions, for 2-3 sets.
9. Squat Hold With Over Head Press
- Lower yourself into the bottom of the squat.
- Grab and hold a plate or similar weight in front of you.
- Drive the plate straight up with your arms, extending the thoracic spine.
- Hold and maintain the anti-flexed position for 2-5 seconds.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
10. Foam Roll Prayer Stretch
The prayer stretch is a great exercise option as it will not only improve thoracic extension, but also help stretch tight lats.
- In a kneeling position, place the edges of your hands on the foam roller in front of you.
- Create pressure onto the foam roller and roll out in front of you.
- Your arms will extend overhead as the roller moves forward, stretching the lats and taking the thoracic spine into extension.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 dynamic rolls or hold the stretch for 2 minutes in extension.
Front Squat Mobility: The Hips
A hip mobility restriction can limit an athletes ability to squat to depth or to do so smoothly and pain free.
Hip mobility can be restricted by reduced external or internal rotation or both.
A seated or lying hip mobility test can help determine where the restriction is and therefore which hip mobilisation strategy can best help.
Testing Hip Mobility:
Hip internal and external rotation can be tested in both seated and lying positions.
In the seated assessment, the knee is supported while the assessor takes the ankle outwards to assess internal rotation, and inwards to assess external rotation.
In a lying prone position, the leg and knee are supported by the floor while the assessor takes the ankle outwards to assess internal rotation or inwards to assess external rotation.
Hips can be assessed one at a time or both together. There may be differences between the left and right sides.
11. Banded Hip Distraction
The banded hip distraction is a great hip mobility exercise to start your hip mobilisation sequence with as it helps to create space in the hip joint, preventing or reducing hip impingement and allowing for free movement within the hip ball and socket joint.
- Fix a thick resistance band to an immovable object and place the band right up at the top of the hip crease.
- Walk yourself out into a lunge with the banded leg in front and the band perpendicular to your lunge position.
- Lower your body and rest on your hands or lower on forearms for a deeper stretch.
- Have an assistant stand on the band to increase the tension and hip distraction sensation.
- Hold the position for 2 minutes each side.
12. Pigeon Stretch
The pigeon stretch is a hip external rotation stretch. There are many versions of this stretch which can be performed on a box, on the floor or seated.
For the Box Version:
- Place one shin along the edge of a high box, approximately hip height.
- Keep the ankle and knee in line as much as possible.
- Place your hands on the sides of the box and hold for support.
- Carefully drop your body weight down to accentuate the stretch.
If Using the Box Is Too Much, Take a Seated Position:
- Place your ankle across the opposite knee.
- Use your hands to push the knee down.
Stretch Can Also Be Performed on the Floor:
- Place one leg in front, and align the ankle with the knee as much as possible and extend the back leg behind your body.
- The hands can be used to support your body weight or help improve the stretch by holding the ankle and knee.
13. Internal Hip Rotation Stretch
Internal rotation of the hip is often overlooked by athletes looking to improve their squat mobility and depth.
For the Easiest and Most Scaled Version of This Stretch:
- Lie on your back with your legs extended in front of you.
- Allow the toes to drop inwards towards each other, taking care to ensure the rotation is happening at the hip joint.
For a Deeper Stretch:
- Bend both knees to a 90 degree angle.
- Keep ankles in line with each knee and allow the knees to drop inwards, either one at a time or both together for an accentuated stretch.
Front Squat Mobility: The Ankles
The front squat requires that a lifter’s ankle mobility be such that a lifter can not only achieve squat depth but do so with proper squat mechanics which includes the knee being able to travel forward over the ankle joint.
Front squats require a greater amount of ankle mobility than back squats and even more than box squats. A mobility restriction in the ankle joint can be caused by a restricted joint or tightness in the calf muscles.
To test your ankle mobility and determine the cause of any restriction, perform a knee to wall test. This will test your range of motion, identify what if any restriction you have, which will help you determine which exercise is best for you.
Ankle Mobility Knee to Wall Test
- Place your front foot 10cms from the wall.
- Without lifting your heel and with your knee travelling over your toes, bend the knee forwards.
- The goal is to be able to touch the wall with the knee. If you are not able to, you may have a restriction.
A pinching sensation in the front of the ankle and or the knee needing to cave inwards to touch the wall during the knee to wall test signals a restricted joint.
In this scenario, the shin bone (tibia) is not able to glide efficiently over the bones that sit along both sides of the ankle joint (talus bone). A tightness sensation or heel lift signals tight muscle and fascia of the calf muscles.
14. Banded Ankle Distraction
A banded ankle distraction can help create space in the ankle joint to allow for less restricted movement or reduce pinching sensation;
- Step into a thick resistance band and place it around the bottom of your ankle joint, under the malleolus of ankle bones and over the talus bone or front of the ankle.
- Walk the band out to create tension.
- Drop into a lunge with the banded ankle in front.
- Push the knee forwards and back for 20 repetitions, holding for 5 seconds each.
- This exercise is best performed at every training session or even daily.
15. Eccentric Calf Drop
Tight calf muscles can be stretched using an eccentric or lengthening contraction:
- Stand on a plate or box with your toes and some of your feet on the surface and your heels over the edge.
- Let your heels drop down as low as possible.
- Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds 3-5 sets.
16. Bottom of Squat Hold
Spending time in a position compressing the angle between the shin and foot can help improve ankle mobility.
- Lower yourself into the bottom of the squat, keeping your heels on the ground.
- Shift your body weight over one ankle and lean your bodyweight forwards, aiming to close the distance between the shin and your foot.
- Spent 2 minutes over each ankle.
- Some lifters may prefer to hold additional weight in their hand or on their thigh over the joint for an increased stretch.
17. Front Squat
The final must do exercise for improving front squat mobility is to perform front squats themselves. Before and after training include the mobility exercises in this article but also train the front squat.
Performing reps without being mindful of position, for example; allowing the elbows to drop, chest to fall forward, heels to lift or knees to deviate, will not lead to mobility improvements.
If you are working hard to improve your front squat mobility, take extra care to be intentional with your front squat set-up and movement, aiming to have your body in the best set-up possible and maintaining your position through the full range of motion with intention and cueing.
If you cannot squat to depth yet, squat to the best depth you are able to, keep working on your lower body mobility. If you cannot yet get into the best front rack position, consider the following recommended alternative exercises to still obtain the thoracic, core and lower body benefits.
Alternative Front Squat Exercises
Where an athlete is still working on improving their upper body mobility in order to be able to create and maintain a good front rack position, the following exercises are useful to be able to perform movements very close to the traditional barbell front squat:
- Goblet Squat
- Zombie Squat
- Cross Arm Grip Front Squats
- Strap Assisted Front Squats
Check out our complete guide to front squat alternatives.
If an athlete is unable to create a safe or effective front rack position using a barbell, they may be able to achieve a successful front squat using a different piece of equipment such as a dumbbell or kettlebell.
The object is held in the front of their body just as the barbell is in front squats. The athlete can use the object to counter balance themselves to stay upright working on their thoracic extension and a front squat movement pattern.
Related Article: Goblet Squat vs Front Squat: Differences, Pros, Cons
In the zombie squat, an athlete extends their arms straight out in front of their body at an elevated height so that the barbell sits across their front deltoids.
In this position the athlete is able to perform the squat, working on their thoracic extension, core and quads similarly to a front rack front squat.
Cross Arm Grip Front Squats
Instead of placing the barbell in their hands or finger tips, an athlete can set up the barbell across their shoulders and cross their arms over the barbell, placing their fingers over the top for stability.
The elbows must still be high for the bar to remain in position but there is no shoulder mobility required to do so. An athlete will be able to get all the benefits from the front squat in this position especially at lighter loads.
This modification may make it difficult to progress to heavier loads and will not improve shoulder and wrist mobility needed to transfer over to other movements such as the clean and power clean.
Strap Assisted Front Squat
Strap assisted front squats are another great option for those who do not yet have the wrist or shoulder mobility for a front rack position.
The straps allow for increased stability of the barbell and greater loads over cross arm grip front squats.
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About The Author
Carli Dillen has been a Strength and Conditioning Coach since 2007 after earning her degree in Sport and Exercise Science and Human Physiology. She completed further post graduate studies in Movement Neuroscience in 2010 and opened her first gym in 2011. Her sporting achievements include winning 3 World Championship Gold medals in Taekwon-Do, as well as representing New Zealand at 4 IPF Powerlifting World Championships, winning a bronze medal in deadlift in 2017. You can connect with Carli on Instagram