Don’t Let Front Squats Hurt Your Wrists

How much do you love when people complain?  You don’t, do you.  It’s annoying to hear the same complaints over and over again, regardless of what they’re about.  It may be people complaining about their jobs, about not getting good grades in school, about why Pia Toscano should still be on American Idol, or about how they’re not getting the results they want in the gym.  If you hear it more than a few times, it quickly becomes annoying.

While we can’t bring Pia back, there are some things that you can control.  If you can make the changes on your own, you won’t have to complain about it!  More importantly, you’ll enjoy it more, or at least you’ll hate it less.  When it comes to front squats, either option is acceptable, as long as you do them.  The most common reason people complain about front squats is because they suck; they’re freakin’ hard to do!   Other than that, a lot of complaints are made about wrist and shoulder pain, which may be to do a lousy set up.  When this is the case, there are a few changes you can make to set up better.

Holding the bar is an issue for many people new to front squats.  Maybe it hurts your wrists; maybe it hurts your shoulders.  Maybe you just don’t know how to hold it!  The clean grip is usually decided on as the most secure way to hold the barbell, as it provides the most support for the barbell.  However, if you don’t have adequate wrist and shoulder flexibility, of if you’re being a sissy worried about your wrists and elbows like some baseball players, then you know that it’s not the most comfortable position.  Before you switch to a cross-over grip, make sure you’re holding the bar the correct way:

Most importantly, you shouldn’t be holding on to the bar.  Rather, you create a ‘shelf’ for it across your chest, supporting the bar with your shoulders.  In fact, you should be able to hold the bar across your chest just by keeping your arms up, without your hands.  When your hands are indeed on the bar, they serve to help stabilize the bar on your clavicle; they’re not actually supporting it.  As you can see from the video below, the bar is sitting across my chest and shoulders, and only my fingertips are on the bar.  In fact, it’s perfectly possible to do squat without my hands on the bar at all!

If you’re not quite ready to squat hands free, and the clean grip doesn’t tickle your fancy, I have a solution of you before you decide that the cross-over grip is the solution to your difficulties.  You know those wrist straps that contribute to your weak grip strength and make you look badass on that lat pulldown?  Well, use them for something other than their purpose, and create handles on your barbell!  Look how simple it is:

Using these new ‘handles’, you can front squat with body positioning similar to the clean grip, even though you might lack the mobility in your shoulders and wrists to rack the bar in a comfortable clean grip position.  I’ve included a video below of strength coach Jaime Rodriguez of his front squat set-up, and you can see his solid set-up, and that he’s hitting depth on every rep.

While the cross-grip is certainly an option, I think it should be a last resort.  First, check out your set-up: Are you holding the bar with your chest and shoulders, or in your hands?  Is it supported with your fingertips, or are your hands wrapped around the bar?  If you check out these positions first, I’m sure that you’ll begin to ‘clean’ up your technique.  If you’re absolutely incapable of comfortable holding the bar, then try out the wrist straps.  You’ll find it’s more comfortable, and it helps provide a great cue to keep your chest up as you squat.  If you don’t have access to wrist straps, then the cross-grip is also going to work; I just don’t like it.

If you have any other solutions to clean up front squat technique, or ways to alleviate painful set-up, please leave them in the comments below.  The front squat is one of the best bilateral exercises to include in your programming, and it’s something I’d suggest you include in your programming.  If you’re having trouble with your set-up, or haven’t begun to front squat in the first place, give it a try!

8 Replies to “Don’t Let Front Squats Hurt Your Wrists”

  1. It’s uncomfortable at first like many exercises, but over time your flexibility will increase. So the key here is simply to begin with a light weight – just the 20kg bar – and low reps, and build up over time. Begin with 2 sets of 3 of 20kg. Work up to 5 sets of 3, when you can do that, add a rep a time until you’re doing 5 sets of 8. After this you can start adding weight.

    Using this method I got a young woman who could only do 3 knee pushups and had not performed a bodyweight squat since she was a toddler to be able to front squat 75kg – took about 6 months. A man took the same time to front squat 70kg, but he began 50kg overweight and is still at least 20kg overweight, so he’s squatting a bit more in practice.

    I wouldn’t mess around with straps and things like that, too complicated. Just start with the empty barbell and a couple sets of a few reps, build it up over time. It feels weird at first, but everything feels “weird” to some people except sitting on the couch eating chocolate watching Oprah.

  2. From my personal experience squats are the best lower body exercise, but things can easily go wrong if you are not very careful. A common mistake is to begin the movement by bending your knees, which can easily pull you out of position. You have to lower your body by moving your hips back and down and then bending at your knees and waist until your upper legs are (nearly) parallel with the floor. Also, don’t let your knees track past (beyond) your toes. Some extra tips & tricks:

  3. Thank you for this. Despite what a lot of bros think, folks who get into lifting after a lifetime of repetitive stress to fingers/wrists either from computer or other (in my case, piano as a kid and then computer later) are dealing with previous injuries. I have worked on my wrist flexibility but simply have nerve damage in my left hand that extreme angles makes worse. I had been using clean grip as much as possible and some plain wrist straps helped a bit but still not ideal. I was about to try cross grip but it just looked unstable (as an otherwise somewhat wobbly person regardless). I just ordered some straps and am looking forward to making front squat even more accessible.

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