The front squat has always been a staple exercise in Olympic weightlifting programs, as it serves as the base for the catch position in a clean. However, the front squat has recently gained traction in both the powerlifting community as well as training programs for the general population. The front loaded nature of the lift necessitates a more upright posture, putting more stress on the quads and less stress on the spine while creating a demanding core stability challenge. Unfortunately, the bar positioning, can be difficult to learn and can feel quite awkward, which explains why many lifters shy away from it. Make no mistake about it, the benefits of the front squat are innumerable in terms of athletic transfer, core strengthening, quad-building, and improving back squat and deadlift strength.
The Glute Lab recently conducted some experiments to get to the bottom of the mind-muscle connection. We wanted to see how an internal attentional focus without changing form would alter muscle activation during various exercises. We found that focusing on the targeted muscle did indeed affect muscle activation, not only in the targeted muscle, but also in synergist muscles. HERE is the data for these experiments.
Bodybuilders have been preaching about the importance of the mind muscle connection for years. For example, here are The Hodgetwins discussing it (these guys are hilarious):
However, there is an abundance of research indicating that focusing on factors outside of the body (external attentional focus) is more beneficial to performance than focusing on factors inside of the body (internal attentional focus) during exercise.
The military press is a classic strength training exercise that has stood the test of time. Not only does the lift build strong and muscular shoulders, it transfers favorably to the bench press, and it actually works a lot of muscles you wouldn’t always think of when considering the strengthening effects of the military press.
That being said, when it comes to upper body training, the military press is one of most poorly performed exercises. Most lifters go too heavy, forcing themselves into excessive lumbar hyperextension, with the resulting lift looking more like a standing incline chest press.
The bent over row is the go-to exercise for building a big strong back that demands respect. Form on this lift will differ depending on the lifter and style, but those who are serious about their back training typically perform some variation of this movement. Not only does the bent over row increase size and strength of the lats, rhomboids, and traps, but also the erectors, and to some degree, the glutes and hamstrings. When done correctly, it will teach proper hip-hinging mechanics and help protect the lower back, which is a commonly injured area for gym rats. Many powerlifters believe that bent over row variations can transfer favorably to the deadlift.