The only thing I don't like about the deadlift is that, especially at max percentages, it allows for quite a bit of form breakdown. More often than not, max effort deadlifts are pulled with form that would make most of us cringe. The exception to this rule is Tony Gentilcore, whos' max effort deadlift looks about as pretty as Julie Foucher doing naked muscle-ups with Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. Oh, sure.
Make no mistake about it, my favorite exercise is still the deadlift. However in the last few months, I've had a love affair with the deadlifts' hot friend in the LuLuLemon yoga pants: the front squat. The big reason that I started front squatting so much is because my training partner, Dan, found it easier on his knees. Yup, a full range of motion, ass-to-grass front squat feels better for his knee than a box squat. We still don't really know why, but you can't argue with results.
We ran through a 6-week cycle of Advanced German Volume Training where one of our main lifts was the front squat. We've also been doing a lot of Olympic Lifting, where the front squat is a huge component. We decided to max out not too long ago and we both hit a personal best of 300 pounds. Nothing out of this world, but certainly nothing to scoff at. Unfortunately, the guy taping my PR lift effed it up. Booooooooooo that man!
My favorite thing about the front squat is that it's a self-limiting exercise: when the weight gets too heavy, you can't lift it. There are very few ways to cheat your way through a front squat. The limiting factor of this lift is, almost always, the upper back. Every front squat I've missed has been missed in the hole when my upper back can't support the weight. The up-side to this? Is that every front squat you perform is added volume for your upper back, and we all know that the upper back and it's postural muscles are amongst the most important areas to work on.
When we talk squats, there are really three kinds to mention: squats, front squats, and Olympic squats. The big differences here are knee angle and torso angle. The best representation of this is from Mark Rippetoe's famous book Starting Strength.
Furtherest to the left, we have the front squat, then the high-bar position Olympic squat and finally we have the low bar powerlifting style squat. All of these lifts are shown being done to parallel, not above nor below.
The positioning of the bar in each lift provides different bar paths, leverages and trajectories, which also means different loads are being used. The front squat requires the lightest load of the three, but often feels the most difficult. It's the most knee dominant exercise, which makes it the most quad dominant lift as well. I have found, personally, that this lift has played a big role in increasing my jumping ability.
If you don't have the ability to get into the clean-grip position, use straps or go with the cross-faced grip as a last resort. Don't just accept your forearm/wrist flexibility, however; work on your flexibility so that you can eventually work your way into the full clean grip.
Wendler is well-known for saying that he likes to get a lot of effect with as little weight as possible. This is one of those bang-for-your-buck lifts. You put a lot less stress on your body with 300 pounds than with 405 pounds.
I personally use a pretty close stance for this lift; feet are about hip width apart with my toes close to forward. Comparatively, when I do a low-bar squat, my feet are wider than hip width, allowing me to recruit more glutes/hamstrings. I think it was Boyle who said that the squat wasn't a leg exercise, it was a low back exercise.
I'm by no means abandoning the traditional squat, it's still absolutely one of the best exercises available if you want to get bigger, stronger, leaner, faster or healthier. If none of those things are your goals...well, re-evaluate your goals!
Go lift something heavy!