The back squat is a great exercise, but it’s not great for everyone. In many cases, the front squat is a better choice for most tall lifters. Having the bar front loaded allows you to maintain a more upright torso position and sit deeper into the lift.
Unfortunately, back squats can easily become ugly when tall guys try and force themselves to hit depth. A combination of unfavourable leverages and poor mobility result in a back breaking squat-goodmorning hybrid. All this does is place undue stress on the lower back, reduce the quadriceps recruitment, and put you at an increased risk of injury.
This problem is especially common in lifters with long limbs relative to their torso. There are many tall people who can squat just fine, but if your torso is short you have to lean forward a lot to hit depth. Just look at Layne Norton’s squatting style to see this in practice.
You can lift big weights this way, but you also can get hurt. If you find yourself having to lean forward excessively to complete your squat then you would probably benefit from switching to an exercise better suited to your structure. The front squat fits the bill perfectly for tall/long-limbed lifters.
The front squat means the weight is front loaded (duh!). The weight acts as a counterbalance. It shifts the centre of mass slightly—this is what allows the more upright body position. It also acts as an instant technique feedback. If you lean forward you will dump the bar.
The front loaded positon is almost an auto-correcting way to load because you instinctively know there is no way to retrieve the situation if you lean forward. With a back squat, however, you can compensate and it is this compensation that causes so many back injuries.
More than the Sum of Its Parts
Paused reps are an incredibly useful training strategy to build strength, muscle, technique, and stability. So, to make your front squats even more effective pause your reps at the bottom of each lift for a couple of seconds.
A bit like the front-loaded position being a great technique cue, paused reps help increase body awareness and reinforce where you need to be in space to execute the lift optimally. Tall guys often lack stability at the bottom of a squat.
For want of a better phrase, there are too many moving parts as they hit depth. Because their torso is constantly shifting forwards it gives them a lot to control. Shorter, more natural squatters don’t have to deal with this to the same degree. Their torsos are almost bolt upright and rigidly controlled.
Tall lifters, however, tend to find their weight shifting forward or back. As you can imagine, this limits the weight they can lift. It also increases the risk of a missed lift and worst of all, injury.
Spending a block of training dedicated to paused reps can massively increase stability, reduce missed lifts, and injury risk. Paused front squats are a phenomenal tool for boosting stability. Spending a few seconds at the bottom of each rep improves your ability to stay tight at full depth. In time, this means you will be able to transmit more force to the bar, lift more weight, over a greater range of motion, and with better form.
I have also found the loaded stretch they offer in the full-depth position to be an effective mobility drill. As previously mentioned, one of the biggest problems with squats for tall guys is hitting depth. It’s no secret that tall guys tend to struggle with mobility.
Like any other training outcome specificity rules. Mobility issues can only be solved by training for increased mobility. This doesn’t mean you have to do a laundry list of mind-numbing physical therapy style exercises though.
I find that stuff boring! I’m sure you are the same. I’m not motivated to do it, so guess what? I half-ass it (or skip it all together) and I don’t make progress. Instead I prefer to use a more time efficient strategy which also helps boost my strength and muscle mass. That’s why I program paused reps.
Incorporating them into your training means you can get an effective stimulus for the muscles, improve technique, enhance mobility, refine your form. Even better, it means you don’t have to do much (if any) of the fluffy “prehab” drills.
Paused squats are a particular favourite of mine. I am a tall, long-limed, naturally skinny guy. So are most of my clients. Paused squats can do wonders for people built like us. To illustrate this point, I’m going to take the example of a lanky guys squatting with an empty bar or with a weight around their 10 rep max.
With the empty bar squats often look really ugly for tall guys. As they progress up in weight, however, their form tends to improve. Why? Because the weight on the bar forces them into a loaded stretch. To take advantage of this, I find having them pause gets even more technique improvement. It is a fantastic mobility, stability, and muscle building technique.
In light of all these factors, I believe paused reps are a superb tool for tall guys. Combined with the advantages of the front squat I think it’s a no-brainer to incorporate them into your training!
Wait, There Is More
So far, I’ve listed several different benefits of paused front squats. I’ve got one more for you. The pause reduces momentum. Less momentum means the muscles have to work harder. That’s what we want. The harder a muscle is trained, the bigger the magnitude of response. In short, this creates a bigger growth signal to the body.
In the video below my client, Ahmed, demonstrates how paused front squats can work for tall guys.
The front racked position requires the upper back to work hard to stabilise the shoulder girdle. The added time under tension created by pausing means these muscles will fatigue on high rep sets and mean your form breaks down.
To deal with this I suggest you keep your reps in the 4-8 range for these and pause for anything from 1-4 seconds in the hole. Use this as the main lift of the day and then do higher rep work on exercises like leg presses or hack squats to supplement your heavy paused squats.
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