Thigh exercises: the front squat
Weight training to improve thigh strength
Major muscle groups involved: quadriceps (thigh) and gluteus maximus (buttocks).
Benefits: a great exercise for the major knee and hip extensor muscles. With good technique, athletes can gain strength in the quads and glutes. The movement relies on good flexibility and posture, so learning to perform it well will improve you in these respects. The lower back, in particular, will develop stability as a result of front squat practice. The front squat is also part of the ‘Clean’ movement, an Olympic lift exercise, and learning it will certainly improve your Clean technique.
Who should do it? I would recommend the front squat most for athletes in running-based sports because the quadriceps muscles are being trained in conjunction with the hip muscles, echoing the way they are used in running and jumping.
Start position (below left)
Stand in front of the bar, feet hip-to-shoulder-width apart, and take it from the rack or bar stands with a shoulder-width grip. Place palms under the bar and push your elbows up and forwards, so that it rests on the top of your chest and across your shoulders. It is very important to push the bar upwards so it rests on your body, otherwise you have to hold the bar in place, which is very difficult with heavy weights. Stand upright with the bar resting solidly on your shoulders. Fix your eyes forwards and lift up your sternum, so you feel your shoulder blades pinched slightly in your upper back. Your posture and bar will be secure in this position.
Downwards movement (below right)
With your eyes facing forwards, slowly squat down, bending from the hip and the knee, keeping your back straight and your chest up to ensure good posture. As you go down, you will feel your weight move into the back of your foot as if you are about to sit on a low stool. The extent of your squat will depend on your strength and flexibility, but the aim is to get your knees to bend to an angle of 90Ý. In this bottom position your heels must be on the floor, your back straight (chest out) and your knees in line with your feet. If your back flexes, your knees go in or out, or your heels come off the floor, you should limit the range of movement in order to maintain correct technique.
Push down into the floor through your heels, keeping your knees aligned with your feet, and drive your hips up and forwards. This powerful movement uses the gluteus maximus and quadriceps most effectively, and as you do it you should feel strong. Return to the start position with your eyes forwards and your posture erect.
Some athletes struggle with wrist and shoulder mobility to position the bar correctly across the top of the shoulders. Stretching these areas before the lift will help you achieve the correct position.
PP recommends that you learn all exercises in the presence of a qualified coach and on the advice of your coach or therapist.
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