Breaking down the front squat into its quarters

I go through phases of finding one out of the three classic movements (the snatch and the clean and jerk separately) most difficult. I am going to talk a bit about the clean today – or more specifically – the front squat part of the clean.

If you have been following the blog, I have previously talked about having a relatively weak front squat that was holding back my clean progress, which led me to do the Smolov squat routine. I had some gains briefly during and after Smolov but they didn’t last and two months later I was still struggling with the front squat, although not all was lost because my technique had improved massively. It was only after Smolov that I realised how ‘un-optimal’ my front squat form had previously been, whereas I used to think it rocked. Lol

So anyway, I have been playing with my front squats a bit more and the last few weeks I have been training its “quarter” movements. Some people have a problem with quarter squatting but, if you are an advanced lifter, the quarter squat has its place. Only when you exclusively quarter squat is there a real problem.

The (One) Quarter Front Squat

What is it?

This is where you stand in the starting position and squat down to above parallel and then stand up again. I like to do this with the safety bars set at the “above parallel” position so that I squat down and just touch them, before exploding up again.

Why have I been using it?

When I come up out of a heavy clean, particularly one where I have really struggled and have used up all my energy(!), I certainly do not want to be failing “at the last hurdle”, so to speak. By this I mean that, by the time I am at parallel, I certainly do not want to fail the lift having expanded all the effort at the hardest point, i.e. the bottom position.

I have been doing quarter front squats with more than maximal front squat weight in order to strengthen the top component of the front squat. Typically I will train this at the end of a front squat session, in 3 rep sets from 100%+ of max front squat weight up until my form breaks down.

Over time, this will make the top portion of the front squat in the clean feel easier. So even if the first pull and initial ascent out of the squat are hard, I should be ok to finish the lift!

The One and One Quarter Front Squat

What is it?

You squat to the deep bottom position as usual but instead of coming up all the way to the top, you stop just below parallel and only then do you ascend all the way up. My personal preference in order to assist the clean is to pause for 1 or 2 seconds at both points – the very bottom and the “below parallel” point.

Why have I been using it?

Basically, to make the bottom component of the squat feel harder than it is. I use a sub-maximal weight (60-70% of max front squat weight) and, again, I use 3 rep sets. This move is very intense if done correctly. The pauses remove the stretch reflex so you are relying on pure strength to get up out of the squat. Should you ever miss the bounce in the clean or end up completely dead stopping in the bottom (eek, please try not to lol), you will lose that stretch reflex so the one and one quarter squat will help build that good strength needed to get out of it should the worse happen!

For me, right now, my weakest component of the clean is not the bottom but that just below parallel point so this exercise is perfect for me in building that core strength in that middle-ish position where I am arguably working the hardest – particularly if the clean has been a tough one or a dead stop one! Most of the time I will catch the bounce but then I will get a little “stuck” a couple of inches above. In order to help it feel less like a grind, this one and one quarter move has been perfect for me.

I hope this helps anyone trying to improve their front squat part of the clean!