Squatting is one of the best ways to burn fat, build muscle and increase strength. There are a number of different ways in which to undertake a squat exercise. These range from Bulgarian split squat, dumbbell squat, goblet squat right through to the more traditional barbell squat. Any variation of a squat is a compound exercise working a number of muscles at the same time. In this article we will discuss the barbell front and back squat and how they are different.
Neither the front nor the back squat could be considered a superior exercise over the other. Choosing would depend on objective and ability. The back squat will work more of the posterior chain whereas the front squat is better to target the quads and core muscles.
If you are beginner to squatting, choosing between the two variations would depend on your current ability. Starting out with front squatting could be a good option for encouraging good form. This is because with back squatting it’s easier to round the back, especially when the weight gets heavier.
Greater activation of the core during front squats means you are forced to adopt a more upright position, keeping the back straight with the chest high. This in turn allows for greater squat depth. That being said, having well developed stabilization muscles would be important to ensure you can retain an upright position during the squat.
However, if your goal is to simply squat as much as you can, you’ll achieve greater squat numbers with the back squat. The positioning of the barbell allows for more weight to be loaded and for the that weight to be closer to the centre line of gravity. To learn more about why you should be squatting we provide an overview of the movement here
FRONT SQUAT VS BACK SQUAT
The front squat allows for a greater range of motion compared to the back squat. It won’t allow for muscle overload in the same way but, will better work the quads and is more demanding to core muscles. Conversely, a back squat would be better for posterior chain development, largely the glutes.
Another difference between the two is that there is much less pressure on the spine with the front squat. This is because the majority of the weight load sits on the anterior muscles (muscles to the front of the body) thereby making the front squat much more back friendly. If you’d prefer to keep the majority of the weight load off of the lower back, then front squats could be the better choice.
ARE FRONT SQUATS MORE EFFECTIVE THAN BACK SQUATS
If your objective is to better isolate the quadriceps, then the front squat would be a better option than the back squat. Consider that you would likely squat less weight when compared to a back squat resulting in slower muscle growth and strength gains.
During the front squat, the position of the torso is more upright. This in turn allows for the athlete to effectively sink lower down thereby achieving a deeper squat. This encourages more quad activation and is better for overall strength improvements to the joints.
IS A FRONT HARDER THAN A BACK SQUAT
Whatever kind of squat you undertake, one thing is key and that is form. In all cases of a squat, form must be perfect. This is to ensure you better target the muscles during the exercise and reduce any chance of injury.
It is not necessarily true that a front squat is more difficult than a back squat. If you have excellent quad development with a strong core but a weakness to glutes, hip adductors and hamstrings you may find the front squat easier to execute.
If you have a balanced physique with similar development across posterior and anterior muscles you may find that the front squat is a little more difficult to undertake when compared to a back squat.
During the back squat the weight is positioned at the centre line of gravity, with the barbell resting along the upper trap muscles. When lowering into the squat position, the weight is equally distributed and is essentially pushing you into the ground.
By comparison, with a front squat the weight is slightly in front of the centre line of gravity. This means the weight is trying to pull you forward, hence why you are forced to use your stabilization muscles considerably more just to stay in an upright position throughout the exercise. Staying upright is important to prevent the barbell from rolling away from the front shoulder muscles. That and keeping your elbows parallel to the floor at all times.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE FRONT SQUAT COMPARED TO THE BACK SQUAT
Even though both the back squat and front squat are important during your workout as they emphasis different muscles, the front squat does offer a number of benefits which could make it your preferred squat variation.
LESS SPINAL COMPRESSION
As we touched on above, there is much less pressure on the spine during a front squat with most of the weight being loaded onto muscles at the front of the body. If you do have a weakness to your back muscles, front squats could be more suitable.
IMPROVEMENT TO CORE STRENGTH
As front squatting will engage a significant amount of stabilization muscles, this will inevitably improve core strength and posture over time.
IMPROVEMENT TO KNEE STABILITY
This would be as a direct result of having stronger and better developed quads. Good knee stability is important for day to day activities and helps to prevent any knee injuries.
IMPROVEMENT TO OVERALL ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
A general improvement to quad strength can offer carry over to other forms of training such as sprinting and plyometrics.
INCREASE IN HIP MOBILITY
As the range of motion with front squatting is better and allows for deep set squats, this helps to improve hip mobility thanks to working the hip flexors. Poor hip flexion can be caused by something as simple as sitting for long periods. Good hip mobility is vital to help keep back aches and pains away and to keep overall mobility in tip top form.
When it comes to doing the front squat and back squat, we believe it is important to incorporate both into your strength training. Even though the back squat is commonly touted as the best way of squatting, neither should be crowned as the better version. The different benefits offered by each of the movements makes them both worthwhile.