Kettlebell Front Squat Versus Godzilla

I got some really good feedback from the Front Squat blog and here’s an email that I wanted to share (dont’ worry – I got permission to share it).

But the gist of it is this, how does the Kettlebell Front Squat compare to Godzilla – which is of course the monster known as the “Barbell Back Squat.”

In it, the author, CK, had some great questions on Kettlebell Front Squats. Here they are and my answers are underneath…

“Dear Geoff:  Sorry, but I guess I’m a bear of very little brain, re: this.

First, 2-handed d-bell weight never equalled b-bell weight for me. So why use k-bells to increase gross leg strength? Use a b-bell!

Me neither, but the loading is different on the body with KBs than barbell. Not only that, the way we perform the KB FSQ is all the way down, or as close as possible. Most trainees only perform half squats. So, with increased range of motion comes increased “gross leg strength.”

Second, racked k-bell squats are roughly equivalent to b-bell squats with the weight in front of the shoulders, and that *never* permitted as much weight use as did a squat with the bar across the shoulders, behind the head. Or is it different for you?

It’s different for me. If we use a KB rack, the elbows are tucked in and down close to the sides, unlike a bodybuilding type crossed-arm BB FSQ or  a clean grip BB FSQ. If anything, a KB FSQ is very similar to a BB Zercher Squat. But yes, in terms of absolute load via weight on the bar on the body, back squat rules. But, as I mentioned earlier, there are many variations of the back squat, and in terms of work, it can be argued that larger ranges of motion produce more work…

For me, kbells are about repeated ballistic movement with an offset mass, as in swings and snatches. Rowing with a kbell ain’t materially different from a dbell, when I do rows. Also, I’m not sure of the benefits of windmills vs. sidebends. Sidebends place no risky stress on shoulder joints.

Yup, they are for me too – I love KB ballistics – especially the doubles.  Windmills, when performed correctly are EXCELLENT shoulder exercises. They work the living daylights out of the lats, pecs, and triceps, not to mention the delts and bi’s, all of which act on the shoulder joint. Not to mention the traps – all 3 portions – upper, middle, and lower… But, they have to be performed correctly. They’re also great for strengthening the hips and hamstrings.

But as I said, I’m a bear of very little brain, and am a decrepit 67 years, to boot.  Best,  “CK”,  Somerset, NJ

CK has been in the Iron Game a long, long time and is obviously a thinking man. He brings up excellent points that have a ton of merit.

So play around with the Kettlebell Front Squat and compare it to your barbell squats both front and back and even Zercher and compare and contrast them. See if one can benefit the other. Like I mentioned in my last post, I’m working with some – uh-oh – almost gave the exercises away – but let’s just say, I am able to compare it to my barbell FSQ and by using it, have improved my mobility – instantly…

Feel free to drop me a line and let me know about your experiences with the Kettlebell Front Squat. I can guarantee you this though, the more comfortable you are with this exercise, the better the rest of your double kettlebell work will be.

Gotta run…

8 comments… add one
  • Betsy Collie, RKC II Oct 13, 2009 @ 19:59

    I agree. The first Double Kettlebell exercise I introduce to my clients and members is the Double Front Squat for obvious reasons. Although it will call you out on bad form pretty quickly on the other hand it also solidifies everything you do right between the upper body, and lower body. When done correctly, this movement under double load literally joins everyuthign together and works your abs, lats, glutes, quads, hams everything. Strength gains you got it with FSQ, mobility you got it with FSQ. And safety with FSQ under heavy load without startle reflex, only with the kettlebell baby! My advice to newbies with the double front squat, Do not load too heavy the first time with two bells. Work into the load gradually and with good form on every rep for no more than 5 reps.

  • Josh Oct 14, 2009 @ 2:34

    I agree with CK. I train with the kb. and find it a great conditioning i.e. strength – endurance tool. I do mostly swings and snatches. I also agree with you Geoff as to the value of windmills and TGU. With that said, there is too much mystification of the kb. out there. If you are looking for max strength, than the kb. is not the way to go – for practical and economic considerations. The kb. is a tool, not a religion.

  • Piers aka "CMRD Bones" Oct 15, 2009 @ 16:13

    I found this post very interesting and also Josh’s comment on it. I only have one KB in any given size, so I have not tried much double work, due to limited opportunity. I also hate travelling to gyms and do not own a barbell, so count me out there.
    But this post raises the interesting thought of how to define “gross strength”. Maybe the larger poundage of a b-bell back squat could be pointed at, but perhaps the potential for ROM strength in a given activity (ie. Martial arts) encouraged by KB movements could also be called “gross strength”?
    Strength seems to me to be wholly defined by the situation in which it is displayed, maybe rendering the comparison moot without a 3rd activity in which performance increase can be objeectively displayed.

  • Janet Oct 19, 2009 @ 0:20

    Kbell front squats allowed me to return to weighted squats, which I love. I was having pins and needles down my arm into my hand with any barbell squats and my chiropractor told me to get the weight of my thoracic spine as I have disc degeneration in my neck and upper TS.

  • GEOFFN Oct 22, 2009 @ 0:39

    Josh – Yeah, there is a lot of mystification about the kettlebell out there, but that’s because I think a lot of people just don’t know how to use it. Here’s the bottom line about absolute/max strength: It’s measured by the exercise. Can you perform a Bottoms Up Press (BUP) with a dumbbell? No. Is the KB BUP a max strength exercise? Can be. Is it an assistance exercise? Can be. Will it make you stronger all over? Absolutely! Will it improve your barbell press? Most likely. But you are right – it is a tool. However, regardless of cost – it is one of the better ones – top 3 in my book…

    CMRD Bones – You are spot on – strength is relative to the situation! Just because you can bench press 700lbs (I can’t), doesn’t mean you can roll up a frying pan, bend a wrench, or hang from the edge of a cliff with one hand like a rock climber. Case in point: I have a very good friend who outweighs me by 50lbs. My overhead pressing strength, both in relative and absolute terms is better than his. But, his grip strength makes me look like a little girl. He bends, rips, rolls, and tears stuff that I can only watch him do. There’s too much confusion about what “maximum strength” is. The answer is “yes” it is all maximum strength.

    Janet – That’s GREAT news about the squats. I know exactly how you feel… Keep up the smart work!

  • phil Oct 22, 2009 @ 1:20

    Re: BB FSQ vs. KB FSQ
    Prior to KB training my squat work was exclusively BB FSQ rather than back SQ. Fewer injuries, more quad emphasis.
    A last set of 225lb BB FSQ X3 reps; 132% BW (170) were not uncommon.
    KB FSQ 2X70, 144lb 1X5;1×4 84%BW is a very tough grind.
    While foot stance (wider stance for KB’s) and depth (full depth with KB’s)
    were different, I am surprised at the challenge of KB FSQ over BB FSQ.
    In my efforts with ROK grind block I am using 2X52 since I don’t have 62’s and can’t snatch 2X70, 2×52 x 5×5 are a big challenge! My personal observation is that KB FSQs are the superior exercise for my fitness goals. I am interested in your “secret exercise.

  • Ron Hamilton Oct 22, 2009 @ 12:46

    I see you referring to godzilla squats? I may no them by another name, please explain. Thanks Ron

  • Tyciol Jan 17, 2010 @ 20:19

    Comparing back vs. front squats is already a huge sort of debate, I’d rather compare a kettle front to a bar front.

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