Some Thoughts on Anterior Loading Movements

As physical fitness and structured personalized training become more of a priority to mainstream American culture a lot of interesting trends continue to emerge. Some trends are great and others lack substance but one trend that is going strong and is here to stay is the trend of anterior loading as a primary resistance training approach. This training approach is by no means new, in fact it’s as old as resistance training itself, but the mainstream culture is starting to discover it and this is a good thing for everyone looking to understand more about effective fitness training. Anterior loading put simply means lifting weights that are placed on or in front of the body. Think front squats, goblet squats, upright rows and things of this nature where the weight is being held in front of the body instead of behind it (posterior loading) like you would see with exercises like a squat (back squat) or good morning.

We tend to do all kinds of movements that are loaded on the backside of the body. We put a bar on our upper back and do lunges. We do the same thing with step-ups, hack squats and a whole host of other movements. But, when we do these same movements with the weight placed on the front of the body, things change quite a lot.

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These are some of the main advantages to anterior loading:

Core responses unique to anterior loading

The Zercher squat requires great core strength and integrity to maintain upright posture. Coupled with the upper back, hip and ankle mobility required for a quality lift, this anterior loaded movement can be a quality exercise selection.

The Zercher squat requires great core strength and integrity to maintain upright posture. Coupled with the upper back, hip and ankle mobility required for a quality lift, this anterior loaded movement can be a quality exercise selection.

If we were to do a back squat and a front squat with the same weight, the core muscles are likely to activate in a different way and potentially to a higher degree during the front squat. I say “potentially” because there is plenty of disagreement on this issue, but everyone agrees that anterior loading activates the core in a quality manner regardless of whether it does so to a greater or lesser degree. Loading the front of the body (anterior loading) causes a tremendous bracing effect to take place in the core in order for the body to maintain proper posture. As fitness professionals we tend to expose clients to anterior and posterior loading, as well as other types of loading, because all have their advantages depending on the goal and using different types of loading provides a well-rounded approach to resistance training.

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Exposes possible mobility shortcomings

Check out the amazing mobility here. Vertical posture demonstrating thoracic spine extension, shoulder flexion, wrist, ankle and hip mobility all put together for an amazing lifting technique.

Check out the amazing mobility here. Vertical posture under load demonstrating thoracic spine extension and great core strength. Shoulder, wrist, ankle and hip mobility all come together for an amazing lifting technique.

Quality mobility is quite possibly the most fundamental need for anyone engaging in resistance training exercise. Movement efficiency and quality must be of paramount importance to any exerciser who expects to train for a lifetime without injury and pain. Ignoring mobility shortcomings sets us up for potential injury and pain and that’s just not something that we want to experience – and it is generally avoidable. Anterior loading movements such as deadlifts, front squats and goblet squats shine a light on potential shortcomings in mobility in the shoulders, thoracic spine, the hips and ankles. Sure, mobility can be assessed with other types of loaded and unloaded movements too, but exercises using anterior loading are very effective for quickly determining what mobility needs a person displays so that they can be addressed in an effort to expand the scope of exercise selection and reduce risk of injury. See my previous article on movement efficiency and risk of injury prevention by clicking here.

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Fast learning curve

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Kettlebells held in the “rack position” during this front squat are a perfect example of high anterior loading.

You will notice that most movements done using high anterior loading (the weight held high on the torso) require you to maintain upright posture throughout the movement in order to perform them properly. The posture in a goblet squat for example tends to be much more vertical or upright than the posture during a back squat. This allows a trainer to very quickly determine if your body is able to perform the movement properly. If you can’t perform a goblet squat or front squat properly, you fall forward and drop the weight, it’s that simple. When there are lifting technique issues during anterior loading movements you can work to correct technique in a short period of time and often within one focused session whereas some other types of loaded movements may require a longer learning curve to get right. The upright postures typically associated with high anterior loaded movements will allow for a shorter learning curve to perform the movements correctly.

These are a few general benefits or advantages of anterior loading. This is not to say that these are exclusive to anterior loaded movements, but that these are a constant characteristic that underlies the purpose for using anterior loaded movements in an exercise program. Mix up your training in an appropriate manner and be sure to include anterior loading regularly to ensure you are getting the most out of your resistance training program.

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