The use of a load in front of the body has been used for many years by coaches and rehabilitation professionals to help develop general core strength, and even more specifically for the squatting movements. Whether it be a front squat, goblet squat, zercher squat, or sandbag front squat, all these front loaded movements provide an significant amount of core development.
One that has not been mentioned though, is the kettlebell front rack squat. This is one of my favorite exercises to give to patients and athletes to help develop core strength and stability. The kettlebell front squat teaches individuals how to dissociate/differentiate core stability and joint motion of other surrounding joints such as the hips. It trains them how to stabilize the core muscles independent of the hip articulation that must occur for the squat.
LET US FIRST LOOK AT HOW THESE FRONT LOADED MOVEMENTS HELP WITH CORE STRENGTH AND STABILITY.
As we examine the image above we see a variety of different muscles that influence our core. What is not seen here are the deep core muscles that play significant roles such as the diaphragm, pelvic floor, psoas, and spinal erectors.
These core muscles can be activated alone through various corrective exercises, but at some point the client or athlete may need to be challenged through external loads. These loads not only strengthen the muscles but also groove the correct pattern for movements such as the squat or hip hinge during the kettlebell swing. The ultimate goal is to teach the body how to move correctly throughout various movement patterns and loads subconsciously.
How is this achieved through front loading squat movements?
Gray Cook has been a leading force in the field of movement, rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning for many years now. Back in 2013, I came across a term through one of their Functional Movement Screening training courses, referred to as Reactive Neuromuscular Training. In short, Reactive Neuromuscular Training uses outside loads to turn on an automatic neurological response, and more specifically increase muscle tone in a desired muscle group to influence movement patterning.
In the image above we see how the kettlebell is in front of the individuals shoulders, which forces a shift in his center of mass forward.
In order to react against this change in center of mass, the core, and more specifically, the muscles that comprise the back of the core automatically increase their response to prevent the individual from falling forward and maintain and upright position.
In an effort to balance the increase of muscle tension in the back, the front chain core muscles will also increase their activity.
Dr. Stuart McGill refers to this as a “pillar of strength” surrounding the lumbar spine protecting it during dynamic movements. When this surrounding pillar is activated during these types of Reactive Neuromuscular Training, the body will then feel safe to perform complex movements, as well as allow other joints such as the hips to move through full range of motion safely and effectively.
This “pillar of strength” also creates a solid barrier by which our diaphragm can efficiently push pressure down as it draws air into our lungs. This completes the forces needed for proper core strength and stability, and is a great way to train our breathing patterns. Gray Cook, states “if you cannot breath in a position, you don’t own that position, and you can’t survive in that position.”
The lack of core strength and stability is typically the most common rate limiting factor that prevents individuals from being able to control their body through exercises. Thus, any front loaded squat patterning can be an effective exercise to improve core strength and stability.
Why I love the front rack position above all others.
As we can see the external load is still in front of the center of mass of the body. The position at which this is held though is slightly different from other front loaded exercises and in my opinion slightly more difficult. Comparatively we see here an independent load for each hand, which offers a different sense of instability to the body as each side has to react independent from the other side and react to how the other arm is influencing the rest of the body and core. All other front loaded movements use an external load, which is shared between both sides of the upper extremity. In addition, we also have to option of removing one kettlebell, to a single KB rack position.
The single rack front squat offers a completely different element of instability to the core musculature and whole body. Now that we have an offset weight not only in the front but also to the side, our mid section has to adapt in a whole new dynamic to maintain an upright posture. This also challenges the arm that is supporting the kettlebell because there is not a counter weight on the other side to balance out the system.
This position is also another great tool, to first and foremost, highlight any asymmetries in our system, and then also be used as tool to balance those asymmetries. This might be shoulder strength or even core strength from left to right.
So, if you are looking for another tool to add to your repertoire for core strength and stability, along with all of the other lower body and upper strength benefits we did not even highlight, I suggest you grab a kettlebell, clean it up into the front rack position and squat away.
As always please consult with your coach or health care professional with any modifications or weight suggestions that may fit for you in this stage of your training.
Do not forget to swing that kettlebell as well!
“HEALTH THROUGH MOVEMENT”
Dr. Antonio Gurule DC, CSCS
Enhanced Movements Chiropractic and Wellness Center
1817 Highway 42 Suite A, Louisville, CO 80027