Barbell Front Squat Women Female How To

Barbell Front Squat For Women: Overview, Proper Form, & Tips

The barbell front squat is one of our favourite squat variations for women. It’s a great choice because while it hits the quads and glutes, it’s also a full-body exercise that hits the anterior core, upper back, and shoulders as you stabilize the barbell on your shoulders. The BB front squat will help to develop not only an attractive female body but an athletic one too. Let’s take a closer look:

Barbell Front Squat: The Overview

Muscles Worked

The barbell Front Squat is a full-body compound lift that works these muscles in order of importance:

  • the quads (front of thighs)
  • the glutes
  • entire posterior chain (the back side of your body)
  • postural muscles such as the spinal erectors and front (anterior) core (abs, obliques, etc.)
  • upper back and shoulders (to stabilize the barbell)
Women's weight gain transformation (before and after photo)

Barbell Front Squat Video Demonstration

The key to this exercise is making sure that the barbell is sturdy. Whether you’ve chosen the traditional front squat grip, the crossed arms, or you’re using straps—it doesn’t matter. What does matter is making sure that it’s stable.

Here’s Marco coaching Marielle on how to do the barbell front squat with proper form:

Barbell Front Squat Proper Form Breakdown:

  1. First, set up the squat rack with the J-cups slightly below your shoulders and the safety arms low enough that you can do a full squat without your shoulders going past them (but not so low that you can’t use them as safeties properly.)
  2. Load up the barbell equally with an appropriate weight.
  3. Place two (or three) fingers under the knurling on the barbell, and lift your elbows forward and up to get into position.
  4. Get underneath the barbell by bending your knees a bit.
  5. When the barbell is sitting properly on your shoulders, stand up straight, lifting the barbell off the J-cups.
  6. Take two steps back to get away from the J-Cups.
  7. Your stance should be shoulder width, with your toes pointed out a bit.
  8. Get tall, take a deep breath, and start the descent.
  9. Go as deep as you can in the range of motion you have. (Don’t force ROM that you don’t have. If you do this, your lower back will start to bend and tuck downwards, called a butt wink, causing a sore back.)
  10. At the bottom of the movement, press through your whole foot sometimes called the tripod foot (heel, ball of big toe, base of little toe) and stand back up. 
  11. Breathe out as you push.
  12. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as it says on your workout programming.
  13. When you’re finished, take two steps forward, and push the barbell against the squat cage/rack so that you can hear a sound and resistance.
  14. Only then do you do a little squat to lower the barbell back onto the J-Cups.
  15. When you feel J-Cup holding the barbell, you can safely leave the squat rack/cage.

How To Hold The Barbell For The Front Squat—Mastering The Grip

There are three types of front squat grips:

  • The traditional “clean” two-finger grip (we recommend this)
  • The crossed-arm grip
  • Using straps to hold the bar

The traditional clean grip is the best option, but at first, many women lack the flexibility needed in both the fingers and to get the elbows up high enough to create the “shelf” for the barbell to rest on.

It is worth doing some stretches beforehand and throughout the week to get that flexibility, as it is the most stable grip. (Marco showed some good ones for the elbows and the wrists in the video from the top at around the 1:00 minute mark.)

Two stretches to make the clean grip better: one for the elbows, to help you get your elbows up to make the “shelf.”

Elbow Stretch For Front Squat Grip

The second stretch is for the wrists to help you get your two fingers back for the “clean” hand grip position.

Wrist Stretch For Front Squat Barbell Grip

You can watch the video above for even more instruction and context.

Common Barbell Front Squat Mistakes

Doing High-Reps

While you can build muscle in the 4-40 rep range, this lift is best used with a medium rep range, in the 5-10 rep range. If you start doing high-reps because it’s challenging for the upper body and shoulders, you’ll find that your elbows start to drop over time, and it can make the exercise more dangerous (because you’ll need to dump the weight onto the safeties.)

Setting Up The Stance Wrong

You don’t want to stand super-wide or narrow stance. Shoulder width is ideal, with the toes pointed slightly out.

Not realizing this lift is painful at the beginning

The barbell sits right on top of your shoulders and across the front of your upper body, and that can be painful. It is normal to see some redness on your body after, and even some scratches on your neck from the barbell knurling. Some barbells have a centre knurl for back squatting (so it sticks to your back), and that can be painful against your neck. See if your gym has a barbell without centre knurling. Don’t worry, your body will toughen up, and it’ll get easier after a few times.

Choosing Too Heavy Of A Weight

Luckily no one cares how much you front squat, so this isn’t really an ego lift. But lifting too heavy can still happen. When someone picks too heavy of a weight, chances are they’re not going to do the whole range of motion that they could have. Because the weight is in front, you can squat more deeply. That’s one of the main advantages. So don’t shortchange that benefit by choosing a weight so heavy you can’t squat the whole way down. So lighten the weight, and choose a weight that you can all the reps with pristine form.

Using The Barbell Front Squat In A Workout

Use A Small To Moderate Rep Range

In research, to optimize for muscle growth and muscle size, you want to choose a weight that you can do 4–40 repetitions with. However, with the barbell front squat, it’s better to stay in the smaller rep range due to getting tired in the upper body. The best range seems to be in the 5-10 rep range.

If you find yourself not able to do 5 reps, use a lighter weight. If you can do more than 12 repetitions, use a heavier weight. That will guarantee that the workout is helping you gain both muscle size and muscle strength and not making endurance adaptations.

Challenge Yourself But Stop Shy Of Failure

Ideally, you’ll stop your set when you’re just about to fail and have a rep or two left in you. But if you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know exactly how hard you’re pushing yourself. Normally, we recommend exploring what failure feels like, but because squats are heavy and they involve your spine, it’s not the best idea for beginners to do this. Err on the side of lifting too light, and if it’s too light, count it as a warm-up. Keep working up, and you’ll know when the weight is right for your goal reps.

Start With Two Sets, and Add More When Needed

Start with just a couple of sets, then over time, add more sets as you get stronger. We recommend doing two sets in the first week. Practice your form, find the right weights, and take your time learning the movement.

Next week, if you aren’t too sore at the start of each workout, try adding a set to each exercise. If that goes well and you feel ready for more, add another set next week. You can do around 3–6 sets per exercise. Most people will do best with 3–4 sets. If you ever start to feel worn down, or if you’re coming back after a long break, start the cycle over again, going back to just two sets per exercise and rebuilding from there.

Rest 1-2 Minutes Between Sets

How long you rest between sets of squats isn’t that important. Whether you rest for 2 minutes or 10 minutes, you’ll still stimulate a similar amount of muscle growth. The important thing is that you rest long enough to catch your breath, ensuring that your cardiovascular system doesn’t limit the performance of your muscles. We want to challenge your leg muscles, not just your heart (though your heart will get a good workout, too!).

The main reason to rest for just a couple of minutes is to keep your workouts shorter. You don’t want to spend all day in the gym. But if you need more rest or get interrupted partway through your workout, no problem. Just pick up where you left off.

If you want to blast through your workout even faster, you can do the lifts in a circuit/superset. Do a set of front squats, rest a minute, then do a set of lowered chin-ups in the squat rack, rest a minute, then do your second set of front squats, and then do your second set of lowered chin-ups. That way, you’re still giving different muscle groups plenty of time to recover between sets, but you’re doing another exercise during the rest period.

Free Routine For Female Beginners: The Barbell Front Squat With Full Body Workout

If you don’t have a workout, you might be interested in our full Bony to Bombshell program. A sample beginner’s workout for women, with some priority given to the barbell front squats (doing the exercise first), could look like this:

  1. Barbell Front Squats: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  2. Raised Push-Ups: 2 sets of as many reps as you can.
  3. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  4. 1-Arm Dumbbell Row: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  5. Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
  6. Bonus Glute Work: 2 sets of glute bridges or hip thrusts

Frequently Asked Questions About The Barbell Front Squats

Here are some of the most common questions we’ve gotten from women about the barbell front squat:

Q: For the front squat, how heavy should I lift with?

A: The standard Olympic bar is 45 pounds. If you’ve been doing the dumbbell Goblet squat for a while and you’re ready to challenge yourself with something new, you can start with just the barbell.

If that feels too easy, then you can start adding some weight to the bar. Remember, ease into weight. Add a little bit, test it out. If it feels too easy, that’s another warm-up set. It is better to do trial and error with too light of weight than to throw on something too heavy and struggle and put yourself at risk of injury. Don’t let your ego choose. Pick a weight you can handle properly.

Q: How often should I front squat?

A: That depends on your goals, but we’re also big fans of this lift, so it’s one we include in the Bombshell programming a lot, so we might be a bit biased. If you want to master it, you can do this one a couple of times throughout the week. Because this lift is heavier and is a full-body compound lift, it can exhaust some of your stabilizer muscles. This is great for getting an athletic body that looks balanced, but it can also take the power out of some of your other lifts because you’re a bit fatigued. So pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you’re dreading the idea of working out, you may be doing this one too much.

If your goal is just to get general quad and glute growth, you’ll want to pair that exercise with other lower-body exercises for balanced growth. Think of things like dumbbell Romanian deadlifts and glute bridges.

Q: Can I do the barbell front squat at home?

A: Of course, if you build a home gym. I do the barbell front squat at home, but I have a squat rack, a barbell, safety arms, etc. If you’re at home and you don’t want to build a barbell gym, you can get all the benefits and then some with the Dumbbell Goblet Squat. It’s the same lift, more or less, but with less weight due to using one kettlebell or dumbbell.

Q: How can I modify the barbell front squat? What are some variations?

A: The front squat is already a more advanced variation of the dumbbell Goblet Squat. So if you want to simplify the lift, you can switch to the goblet squat. If you want to go heavier, you can do the barbell back squat. But there are some other variations of squats you can do. Let’s take a look.

BB Front Squat Alternative—Barbell Back Squat

With the front squat, the weight is in front. This allows you to stay more upright and squat more deeply. Being more upright will put more of the weight on your quads and allows you to hit some of the side muscles of the glutes because of the larger ROM.

With a barbell back squat, the weight goes on your back. Taking the weight off your shoulders allows you to load the barbell up heavier, allowing you to stress your legs more. However, with the barbell on your back, you won’t be as upright. This means it’ll work your hamstrings and glutes a bit more, as it ever so slightly adds in more of a hinge motion on top of the knee bending. Here’s Marco and Marielle:

BB Front Squat Alternative—Dumbbell Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a classic because you get all the benefits of the barbell front squat without all the set-up time, the scratches on your neck, and the sore shoulders. However, the downside is that you can’t lift as heavy. If you haven’t done the goblet squat yet, we’d recommend starting with this variation first and switching to the front squat once you’re having a hard time holding the dumbbell (because it’s becoming heavier to work your legs.) Here’s Marco and Simeon demonstrating it. If you want to take a deeper dive on this variation, see our article here.

BB Front Squat Alternative—Double Dumbbell Front Squat

This is a fun alternative that has little to no set-up time and can be a good progression between the goblet squat to the bb front squat or if your home gym only has dumbbells.

Clean the dumbbells up and into the rack position, and then it’s a regular squat pattern from there. Here’s Marco demonstrating this one:

What Next?

Add some barbell front squats into your lifting routine, and your quads, glutes, and general posture will be thanking you. If you liked this article, you’d love our muscle-building newsletterWe’ll keep you updated on all the latest muscle-building information for women. Or, if you want us to walk you through the process of building muscle, including teaching you the lifts, giving you a full workout program, a complete diet guide, a recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Bombshell Program.

Jared Polowick, BDes, CPT, has a degree in design from York University and is a certified personal trainer. He co-founded Bony to Beastly, Bony to Bombshell, and Outlive.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's also a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and performance, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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