Kettlebell Front Squat: Muscles Worked, How To and Variations

Kettlebell Front Squat Guide

You might be thinking, “Isn’t this the same as the goblet squat”? While there are a lot of similarities in how they’re performed, they are not the same thing. The main difference between the kettlebell front squat and goblet squat is the former is typically done using two kettlebells whereas the goblet involves using one. 

There are a few other differences, however, we’ll get to that in a little bit.

The kettlebell front squat is a really good functional fitness exercise, but it’s going to also build your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles. If you train with kettlebells, this one is a must-have!

In This Exercise:

  • Target Muscle Group: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings 
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, and function/athleticism
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Equipment: Kettlebell
  • Difficulty: Intermediate

Kettlebell Front Squat Muscles Worked

The kettlebell front squat is a compound, multi-joint exercise that works several muscle groups. This makes it a time-saving, and more functional movement that will offer better carryover to performing everyday activities, participating in athletics, and not to mention, strengthening your joints, and entire body.

Kettlebell Front Squat Muscles Worked

We’ve included brief descriptions of muscles worked during this exercise.

Gluteus Maximus

This is the largest and most superficial muscle that makes up majority of the size, shape and appearance of the butt and hip muscles. It’s one of three main butt muscles including the medius and minimus. 

The gluteus maximus plays a big role in performance and aesthetics. The butt primarily extends and externally rotates the thighs and it plays an important role in helping us to maintain an upright posture.

The kettlebell front squat will blast your glutes!

Quadriceps

The quadriceps or quads for short is the large group of muscles that make up most of your upper leg mass. It has four heads; rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedialis.

These muscles help to flex the hips and extend the knees during movements such as squats. They’re also important for posture, walking, and the function of the spine and pelvis. 

Kettlebell front squats are one of the best exercises you can do to build muscular and strong quadriceps. 

Hamstrings

The hamstrings is a three-headed muscle group consisting of semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. 

This muscle group is located on the back of the upper leg opposite the quads and functions to extend the hips and flex the knees. It’s important to note that the short head of the biceps femoris only crosses the knee joint and not the hip like the other two muscles.

The hamstrings play an important role in standing but also explosive activities such as sprinting and jumping. 

Additionally, this three-headed muscle is active during the gait cycle to resist knee extension, plus it stabilizes the knee joints and has other functions too. 

Adductor Magnus

The adductor magnus is the largest of the muscles that make up the adductor group of muscles in the medial compartment of the thigh. While it assists during adduction of the thigh (limb moves toward center of the body), the adductor magnus also helps with hip extension and medial rotation. It has anterior and posterior fibers that help it act on the front and back of the leg.

Calf muscles 

The calves are the lower leg muscles consisting of the gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger of the two muscles and the most noticeable when you walk. 

It’s the very visible muscle right below the knee that has two heads; medial and lateral and it gives the lower leg a lot of its shape. It joins with the soleus to form the Achilles tendon near the lower portion of the leg.

Then you have the soleus; a large muscle located deep to the gastrocnemius.

The calf muscles plantarflex (point the toes down) the foot and ankle. They are also important for posture, and athletic movements. Although they do have an uneven ratio of fast and slow-twitch fibers.

The gastrocnemius is composed of mostly fast-twitch fibers that make it better suited for quick and explosive movements. The soleus contains more slow-twitch fibers and is, therefore, better suited for endurance-type activities. 

Tensor Fasciae Latae

The tensor fascia latae (TFL) is a thigh muscle that works with several muscles to assist in the movement and stabilization of the hip and the knee. Along with the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, the TFL internally rotates and abducts the hip. It also works with the gluteus maximus to abduct the hip via the iliotibial (IT) band. 

The TFL also assists the rectus femoris in the flexion of the hip, and assists in pelvis stability while standing and walking.

Core muscles 

The core or midsection consists of many different muscles including the rectus abdominis, or abdominals, the obliques, deep core muscles, and spinal erectors. 

The abs are the most superficial, creating the six pack appearance. These muscles function to perform actions such as a crunch that involves curling the ribcage and pelvis toward each other. 

The obliques are located on either side of the abs and are responsible for rotation or twisting the torso. Then you have the deeper core muscles such as the transverse abdominis and internal obliques that help to draw the belly button to the spine and stabilize the trunk. This creates a rigid core which is important for safe heavy lifting and even playing sports for example. 

Then you have the back extensors that allow us to stand up straight from a bent-over position and lean backward.

How To Do The Kettlebell Front Squat

The kettlebell front squat is by no means a hard exercise to perform, however, it requires more technique compared to the goblet squat. Note: You should have a basic understanding of how to do a goblet squat and kettlebell double clean before doing this kettlebell front squat. 

  1. Place your kettlebells on the floor in front of you in a ready-to-grip position. As an alternative, you can set the kettlebells on a high platform such as a box or counter to make it easier to get the kettlebells into position. 
  2. Find your stance about hip to shoulder-width.
  3. If starting with the kettlebells on the floor, grab both kettlebells, swing them back and clean them into the front rack position. This is done by simultaneously extending the knees and hips, spinning the kettlebells around the wrists and pushing the elbows underneath the wrists. The kettlebells should sit on the upper arm and forearm. If starting from a platform, lift the kettlebells into positions and then find your stance. 
  4. Your elbows should be directly under your hands and close to the ribs, and not flared out to the sides or pushed forward. Maintain a neutral, tall spine before you descend into the squat. 
  5. Keeping a good posture, squat down until the upper legs are slightly below parallel to the ground. It’s okay if the knees pass the toes as this is going to help you keep your balance and really activate the quads. 
  6. Stand back up and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. 

Here’s a great video example of how to do the kettlebell front squat. 

Kettlebell Thruster: Muscles Worked, How To, Benefits and Variations

Kettlebell front squat tips/what not to do

  • It’s important that you focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement. That’s why we recommend first learning and perfecting the goblet squat before progressing to the front squat variation. 
  • The elbows should be directly under the wrists. Do not push them up in front of you like you’d do for a barbell front squat. 
  • The knees can pass over the toes. This will ensure you maintain balance and can perform the exercise comfortably. 
  • Try to focus on keeping the weight over your mid foot. 

Kettlebell Front Squat Benefits

Let’s talk about the benefits of doing the kettlebell front squat. 

Build size and strength

Beginners and intermediate exercisers will especially benefit from the size and strength gains you can make with this exercise. You can gradually increase the weight of the kettlebells and the number of reps to keep creating a growth response and develop your strength.

Improve your functional fitness

When it comes to building functional strength and stability, exercises similar to the kettlebell front squat are cream of the crop. If you want to be more athletic, functionally strong, more coordinated and better overall, you should be performing movements that involve the total body with no assistance from machines. 

Train lifting posture

We like front squat variations because they reinforce good lifting posture. Holding the kettlebells in the front rack position is a great way to remind yourself to keep your chest up and shoulders back. 

Great progression from the goblet squat

While this is a great exercise overall, it’s also a good way to progress from the goblet squat and is a good option for those who may not feel quite ready to get under a barbell. Beginners often need to start small and gradually build their way up using weight training equipment and this exercise fits the bill.

Little setup/minimal space needed

All you need is two kettlebells and a little space to perform the movement. This also makes the kettlebell front squat convenient and a go-to when you don’t want to hop in a squat rack or train with a barbell. It’s also a good leg exercise alternative in a busy gym where using other equipment is more difficult. 

Kettlebell Front Squat Drawbacks

There are a few possible drawbacks to the kettlebell front squat. 

Requires a little experience 

You should be able to do a goblet squat and clean two kettlebells to the front rack position. This requires mobility, flexibility, proper lifting form, balance, and stability. With some training, you should be doing this exercise in no time. 

Can be hard to use big and heavy kettlebells

It’s easy to see how it could be challenging to get two big kettlebells into position to do this movement. See how far you can challenge yourself by gradually increasing the weight but understand that the kettlebell front squat may not be the best option for all out strength effort. 

Kettlebell Front Squat Variations

It doesn’t get much better than the kettlebell front squat for what it offers and how convenient it is to do. But we think you’ll also like these variations. 

1. Dumbbell and barbell front squat

Of course, you can use dumbbells to do this exercise if you do not have kettlebells or if you just prefer using dumbbells. You’ll probably be able to use more weight this way too. 

The barbell front squat is also always a good option. It’ll allow you to move the most weight and therefore, build the most strength too. The only thing is it’s much harder and more involved. 

2. Goblet squat

Kettlebell Goblet Squat Muscles Worked

While the kettlebell front squat can be used as a progression from the goblet squat, it’s still an exercise we recommend. Maybe you feel like you need some more training or want to improve your lifting form before progressing or adding more weight to your kettlebell front squat. 

Learn about the goblet squat in this exercise guide

3. Banded front squat

Resistance bands are an amazing training tool because you can replicate compound lifts but without having to handle any weights. Therefore, you can do it at home too. 

And don’t think that means it’s going to be any easier. If you use enough resistance, the exercise will be extremely challenging. 

The most common way to do this variation is to stand on the band and lift the top part of the band to the front rack position. You’d then perform front squats using the same technique. 

Single kettlebell front squat

If you’re up for the challenge, you can do the kettlebell front squat using just one kettlebell. The one big benefit we can think of by using this variation is that it’ll really challenge your core muscles and lateral stability. This has application to athletic activities and is a great option for athletes to be more well-rounded.

You want to ensure that your shoulders are level and fight against the resistance of the kettlebell to maintain proper lifting form.  

How To Incorporate The Kettlebell Front Squat Into Your Training Regime

The kettlebell front squat makes for a great variation that anyone can benefit from. Here are a few ways to include it in your training routine. 

Circuit training

We can’t think of a better home for this exercise than in a circuit training program. This sort of workout consists of doing several exercises back to back with little to no rest in between. 

Supersets

The kettlebell front squat would make a great other half for a superset. Simply pick one other exercise that trains an opposite muscle such as hamstrings curls (or whatever you want) and do a set back to back with no rest in between. Rest for 90 seconds and repeat the superset two more times. 

Standalone leg punisher

If you have limited equipment or have to get it in a quick and effective leg workout that benefits your entire body, the kettlebell front squat is perfect in our opinion. 

Knock out 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps and you’ll be golden.

CrossFit style workouts

If you do CrossFit then you’ll likely benefit from this exercise. Add it somewhere into your weekly workouts to take advantage of the functional benefits. You can even create your own complex using kettlebells to perform a sequence of movements. 

The Kettlebell Front Squat Is a Powerful Total-Body Exercise

If you need something a little more advanced than the goblet squat, are not ready to do barbell squats, or you need to spice up your workouts, try the kettlebell front squat. It’s a muscle and strength builder but is also a functional fitness exercise that has many great benefits that make it worth adding to your workouts. 

Use this guide to learn proper form execution, benefits of doing movements like this, what variations you can do, and how to get the best results from this exercise by including it in your training regime. 

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