They say you shouldn’t have a favorite kid, but in the world of DVRT even I have my favorites. Now, having favorite exercises can be problematic if you aren’t defining why they are your favorite drills. For example, if you your favorite exercise is simply one that makes you feel strong and makes you feel good about your performance that’s all well and fine, but that doesn’t mean it will mean very much to anyone else.
As a coach, my favorite exercises usually were ones that allowed me to work with a wide varied of people and achieve a lot of their and my goals at the same time. When it comes to the squat, I think my overall favorite squat is the our Ultimate Sandbag front loaded squat. Now, you probably aren’t surprised that my favorite squat would be an Ultimate Sandbag one, but remember, I created the Ultimate Sandbag to solve specific issues with my clients not just because I wanted to squat with a sandbag.
So, why is our Ultimate Sandbag front loaded squat my favorite and how is it different than let’s say a barbell front squat or a goblet or double racked kettlebell squat? They can look similar and we live in this age where we don’t appreciate how subtle looking differences can create pretty profound outcomes in the results we get in training. Let’s examine this a bit closer.
Many people would assume that a barbell front squat and our Ultimate Sandbag front loaded squat are pretty darn similar. Having learned barbell front squatting both at the Olympic training center from the U.S. Olympic lifting director at the time, Lynn Jones, I have been around some pretty amazing coaches teaching the front squat. The most profound difference is that with the barbell, the weight actually sits on the frame of your body, you aren’t really holding the weight. This is one of BIG reason one can barbell front squat more weight (which is deceiving because your body doesn’t have to work as hard when the whole body is supporting the weight) than you can front load squat with the Ultimate Sandbag.
While if you give me the option between a barbell back squat or front squat, I’ll take the front squat every time, it isn’t the same because of this reason. Having this difference also means that we can’t create any tension against the weight we are holding. The specific tension techniques we use against the Ultimate Sandbag in the front loaded position doesn’t just get our core to work more, but gives us what is known as proximal stability.
This core stability has been shown in research over and over again to improve our mobility in areas like our shoulders and hips while also improving the strength our arms and legs can produce. Think of our core (as the name implies) as our foundation for movement so if we have instability here we have compensations above and below. Creating this stability goes so far in helping people learn HOW to squat better and allowing people to develop strength and muscle through a greater range of motion.
While we are talking about barbell and Ultimate Sandbag differences, we probably should bring up the Zercher squat as well. When I started DVRT in 2004 I actually was calling our front loaded position the Zercher Ultimate Sandbag squat because I had used that same position with a barbell, so I get it! However, the more and more I worked with the Ultimate Sandbag the more I realized they weren’t the same thing!
The barbell doesn’t change its dimension every, the Ultimate Sandbag does and this can change the dynamics of any of our DVRT movements quite drastically. In fact, the dimension (how our Ultimate Sandbags have not only different weights, but physical sizes is a unique and profound attribute of that most overlook) can change how heavy a movement like a front loaded squat can feel.
The reason that our Power Ultimate Sandbags are a bit “fatter” is so that we can use that dimension and load with people in the beginning stages of squatting that could use that dimension to create more stability and not have such an overwhelming load to them. See, there is a lot more thought to our Ultimate Sandbags than most people realize.
What about kettlebells? Aren’t goblet squats where anyone should begin with their squat training? Don’t get me wrong, I have great appreciation for the goblet squat, but it has some obstacles too it as well. If you actually want to get the feedback that helps build a better squat with the goblet squat, then you need some load! Not like a little, but a somewhat challenging load.
I know, I know, I see photos too all the time of coaches giving clients tiny little kettlebells to goblet squat and let’s be honest, the squats look terrible. That is because we don’t achieve that proximal stability with a light weight, unfortunately, too many coaches don’t know that is a key concept of actually benefitting from the goblet squat. When we go to the type of weight that is appropriate for the goblet squat we can often run into an issue with the lifter having a harder time holding the weight than actually squatting the kettlebell.
In both the kettlebell goblet squat and Ultimate Sandbag front loaded squat we are holding the weight, but not NEARLY the same way. With the front loaded position we need load too, but because of the way we can create tension against the Ultimate Sandbag we can make it more so almost become part of our body and holding the weight doesn’t become as problematic and we can get that important proximal stability.
Finally, compared to a double kettlebell racked squat you can probably see where some of these big differences are going to come about. For one, while we can grip the kettlebells tightly and drive our elbows in our ribs for some stability, the feedback to the core is not nearly as profound. The placement of the weight is also very different which is why you won’t see someone front load squatting a 150 pound Ultimate Sandbag often, but 200 pounds of kettlebell weight isn’t that unusual (remember than dimension discussion?).
Double rack squats don’t work as well to get new lifters to learn the squat as does the front loaded squat which is also why I the front loaded squat ends up being my favorite. You will notice too I am choosing the front loaded position over MANY of our Ultimate Sandbag squat options too because of how easy it is to teach someone to move well during the squat and to build strength at the same time.
People often overlook the front loaded squat because it seems too simple to achieve all these goals. I would argue that is what gives it such power, it isn’t complicated and it is highly effective. While it isn’t complicated, there are nuances to getting the most out of it which physical therapist, Jessica Bento and I break down below!
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