Back Squat vs. Front Squat: Which, When, and Why

Back Squat vs. Front Squat: Which, When, and Why

“You’ve gotta squat” can be heard echoing through gyms worldwide. At squatter value, it’s undoubtedly useful advice. Squatting strengthens the unshortened lower soul and builds muscle in the legs, while moreover working the cadre and upper-body stabilizers.

However, squatting isn’t one specific exercise; it’s a unstipulated movement pattern. Telling someone to squat is like telling them to eat. It’s well-intentioned but vague. Many lifters seem that the barbell when squat is the default “squat” and other movements are just variations.

Man in white sleeveless t-shit squatting with a loaded barbell wideness his back
Ivan Kochergin / Shutterstock

While the back squat has plenty of its own advantages, it may not vest on that pedestal. The front squat can hands take the top spot. It offers several benefits the when squat can’t match and just might be a largest overall nomination for many lifters. Here’s a deep swoop into learning which type of squat really belongs in your training program.

Back Squat and Front Squat

Back Squat and Front Squat Differences

Beyond the most visual difference — the barbell’s position — there are several key differences between these two primary squats.

Muscle Recruitment

The bar position during a when squat requires lifters to lean forward, somewhat significantly, during the exercise. This froward lean recruits increasingly of the posterior uniting — glute, hamstrings, and lower when — to maintain a stable upper soul position. The lower back, in particular, is highly zingy during when squats.

While lower when involvement can play a role in towers overall strength, it can moreover be a limiting factor for lifters with pre-existing lower when problems.

In contrast, the front squat significantly recruits the proemial uniting muscles — abdominals, hips, and quadriceps. (1) Considering the barbell is supported wideness the front of the shoulders, the load remains closer to the body’s part-way of gravity without causing any drastic forward leaning.

group of lifters performing barbell squats
Credit: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

This upright torso position reduces lower when involvement while increasing rectal activation. The bar position during the front squat moreover requires increasingly wrist and elbow mobility to hold the bar in place; the when squat typically requires increasingly shoulder mobility to maintain a stable grip on the bar.

Interestingly, lower soul muscle recruitment is increasingly closely related to unstipulated squat depth than very bar position. Achieving a deeper position in the marrow of a squat, whether it’s a when squat or front squat, will recruit increasingly hamstring and glute muscle. (2)

Squatting to a relatively higher position — thighs roughly parallel to the ground or higher — will focus muscular stress on the quadriceps. The front squat has moreover been shown to increase vivification in one of the quadriceps muscle heads, but not the unshortened muscle. (3)

The upright torso position of a front squat may often indulge a lifter to unzip a deeper squat with less overall strain, but many lifters are worldly-wise to reach comparable depths with a when squat.

Joint Strain

In terms of overall joint stress, the when squat is often considered to be increasingly stressful to joint structures in both the upper and lower body. (4)

Because the load is supported wideness the upper when and requires an engaged lumbar spine (lower back) with a forward lean, the low when and hips can be placed under a significant strain.

The shoulder joint may moreover be stressed while supporting the bar wideness the back, expressly for lifters with excessively tight chest or shoulder muscles, or pre-existing shoulder issues.

muscular person performing barbell squat
Credit: Dragon Images / Shutterstock

Joint stress can often be mitigated with unrepealable adjustments to foot placement, stance width, hand position, and squat depth. However, the when squat often has increasingly potential to be rougher on the involved joints than the front squat.

That said, the front squat can stress the wrist joints considering the bar is held in what’s known as the “rack” position, with the palms facing the ceiling and fingers under the bar near your shoulders.

Again, unrepealable adjustments can be made to unbend poor wrist mobility. Lifters can retread their grip, use a crossed arm position, or nail long lifting straps to the bar for an easier grip. But the vital front squat movement and rack position can still potentially strain the wrist joint. The when squat places the wrists in a increasingly stable and less stressful position.

Back Squat and Front Squat Similarities

Despite several physical and performance differences, these two primary squat variations share several benefits.

Movement Pattern

If someone confiscated your barbell and asked you to perform a soul weight “front squat” and “back squat,” the movements would squint pretty much identical. A squat is a foundational movement pattern; “front” and “back” refer strictly to the position of whatever weight you’re using.

It’s what turn of the century lifters used to undeniability the “deep knee bend” — simply limp your legs to unzip a deep squat position. Whether you’re holding a barbell wideness your back, supporting a barbell on the front of your shoulders, cradling a sandbag in your elbows, or holding a dumbbell at chest-level, you’re still squatting.

Both the front and when squat use the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes as zippy muscles to move the weight. The viscera and lower when are recruited as stabilizers to maintain a unscratched and strong upper soul position. The upper back, shoulders, plane the lat muscles to an extent, provide remoter torso stability.

Either squat variation can be performed with a relatively wider stance or a increasingly narrow stance, depending on the lifter’s goals and individual limb leverages. Both can moreover be performed to varying depths and variegated ranges of motion, which will slightly yo-yo the lower soul muscle emphasis.

Technique Differences Explained

While simply shifting the barbell’s position from the front to the when may not sound like a significant change, it initiates a spout of differences which will stupefy technical performance of the lift and, ultimately, the overall results.

Bar Position

The when squat requires the lifter to support the barbell wideness their upper when and shoulders. To prevent the bar from sliding directly lanugo the lifter’s back, the torso is wilted slightly forward and the hands grip the bar on either side. This creates tension throughout the unshortened upper body, while vitalizing the large when muscles, abdominals, and lower when for stability.

The front squat supports the bar wideness the front deltoids (front of the shoulder), typically placed tropical to the collarbones or neck. The rack position requires the lifter to wrench their stovepipe and maintain the bar’s position with their hands, or fingers, on the bar.

This front-loaded position requires the shoulders, biceps, and forearms to support the weight. The upper when is moreover worked isometrically to alimony the bar tropical to the body, and the viscera are significantly zingy to work versus the compressive gravity of the weight.

Body Posture

The wilted torso position of the when squat is necessary to weigh the load, which puts the lower when into a increasingly zippy role as a stabilizer. Unstipulated hip position during the when squat may make it challenging for some lifters to reach a relatively low depth in the marrow position unless they have a upper level of hip mobility.

The front squat, due to the increasingly upright torso position, allows lifters to increasingly naturally “sink” into a deeper squat position in the marrow with relatively less strain on their hips, knees, and low back.

tattooed person performing front squat
Credit: AntGor / Shutterstock

The rack position does require significant upper when strength and the lifter must resist the weight pulling their upper when into a rounded position, while the when squat will typically see lifters falling into a rounded lower when position.

How to When Squat

Begin with the bar set in a rack at roughly upper-chest level. Dip underneath the bar and place it wideness your upper when and shoulders. The bar should not rest directly on your neck or spine.

Grab the bar with both hands facing forward. Pinch your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows under the bar to form a stable “shelf” of muscle to support the load. Stand up to unrack the bar, and take one or two small steps backwards.

Step to the side with one foot to set your stance width. Brace your cadre and push your hips when as you wrench your knees. Alimony your feet unappetizing throughout the unshortened repetition. Reach an towardly depth based on your goals and unstipulated mobility. Aiming to have your thighs parallel to the ground is an constructive compromise for muscle-building and strength gains. (5)

Form Tip: Squeezing the bar in your hands can contribute to total-body tightness and stability. (6) To ensure a tight upper soul and modernize power output, grip the barbell nonflexible surpassing unracking and try to crush the bar during each repetition.

Benefits

  • The when squat is the platonic squat variation for towers overall strength. The overall soul position maximizes leverage and allows significantly heavy weight to be moved.
  • This exercise is sport-specific for competitive powerlifters, as it is one of the movements performed in meets.
  • Because the when squat allows potentially heavier loads to be used, it can be useful for towers size and strength together. (7)

Back Squat Variations

The when squat is, itself, one specific squat variation, but there are several similar variations which offer comparable or unique benefits while reducing potential drawbacks like lower when strain.

High-Bar When Squat

This subtle welding to the when squat shifts the bar position higher on the upper when and traps. The slight transpiration in leverage allows the lifter to maintain a increasingly upright torso, which reduces lower when strain and allows a increasingly natural deep squat in the marrow position.

The vertical torso position moreover encourages a closer stance, which affects squat depth and lower-body muscle recruitment.

Safety Bar Squat

The safety bar is one of the most unique-looking barbells you’ll find in a gym. The extra-thick padding and wilted bar sleeves shifts the barbell’s part-way of gravity, while the forward-facing handles indulge a neutral grip which reduces shoulder strain.

The safety bar squat decreases lower when involvement while increasing vivification of the upper when muscles.

How to Front Squat

Begin with a barbell in a rack slightly unelevated your collarbones. Grab the bar slightly outside shoulder-width, using a palms-down grip. Approach the bar and indulge your stovepipe to bend. Your elbows should point forward as the bar rests on the fronts of your shoulders.

Keep your abs fully engaged and maintain a straight back. Straighten your legs to unrack the bar. Take one or two steps backwards and one step to the side to establish your stance width. Flex your cadre as you stabilize the weight.

Bend your legs and descend as low as possible. Alimony your shoulders pulled when and your upper soul vertical as you lower into the marrow position.

Form Tip: Don’t indulge your elbows to point down. The barbell, and your torso, will follow your elbows — if they skid down, the weight will fall forward and the lift will fail. Alimony your elbows aimed as straight-ahead as possible to ensure a strong and stable soul position.

Benefits

  • This movement allows intense lower soul training with limited stress on the lower back.
  • The front squat is sport-specific for many competitive strength athletes, including Olympic weightlifters and CrossFit athletes.
  • This exercise is moreover well-suited for unstipulated sports athletes who need a lower soul strength-building exercise with limited knee strain. (8)

Front Squat Variations

While the front squat can be performed with several grip variations (basic rack position, cross-arm, or using straps), there are other constructive front-loaded squat variations which may be increasingly towardly for unrepealable lower soul workouts, depending on the lifter’s goal.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat combines the front-loaded, lower back-sparing benefits of a front squat with the simple versatility of a single dumbbell or kettlebell.

The movement is often used to introduce the squat movement pattern to beginners, modernize lower soul mobility, or as a warm-up for increasingly experienced lifters. However, with sufficient load, intensity, and volume, the goblet squat can be a serious muscle-builder.

Zercher Squat

Named without a popular American weightlifter from the 1930s, the Zercher squat is performed with the barbell supported in the crooks of the elbows rather than in the hands. This removes some of the elbow and shoulder mobility requirements of a front squat, but can sometimes be simply uncomfortable due to the pressure of the weight on the elbows.

Because the barbell is plane closer to the hips and the body’s part-way of gravity, you can maintain an extremely rigid and upright torso. This nearly eliminates lower when strain and heavily recruits the rectal muscles. The Zercher squat has significant carryover to competitive strongmen/strongwomen, who often compete in events while delivering front-loaded odd objects.

Programming the When Squat and Front Squat

Choosing the most constructive squat variation will depend primarily on your training goal. Individual mobility restrictions, such as pre-existing when pain or hip or toddle issues, may moreover influence programming.

Sport-Specific Training

While many strength sports require athletes to perform specifically a when squat or specifically a front squat in competition, such as powerlifting Olympic weightlifting, respectively, both movements can be used in a training phase.

Competitive strongmen/strongwomen and CrossFit athletes can goody from incorporating both movements into their training, since their competitions are increasingly diverse and they may need to perform either (or both) specific movements during a contest.

For Strength

When it comes to squatting for strength, the when squat reigns supreme. The when squat recruits the most total muscle from head-to-toe (or, increasingly specifically, from feet to traps) and coordinates leverage and technique to indulge massive weights to be moved.

That’s why it’s one of the big three powerlifts — considering it’s an platonic movement for assessing (and building) strength. For context, the highest when squat of all time is in the ballpark of 1,100 pounds while the heaviest-ever front squat, by comparison, is closer to 800 pounds.

For Muscle

Squatting is considered a foundational exercise for beginners looking to build a wiring of strength, as well as muscle. It’s moreover a time-tested staple in bodybuilding leg workouts. As a leg-building exercise, the when squat is increasingly than adequate. It puts multiple soul parts, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, through muscle-building time under tension. (9)

However, relatively few experienced bodybuilders protract training the standard when squat, and instead fit the front squat or a variety of other squat or deadlift variations into their leg routine to increasingly efficiently target specific muscle groups and emphasize individual soul parts.

Choose the Right Tool for the Job

To make a long story short (too late)… what they say is right — you do gotta squat. But despite what the powerlifting-inspired coaches tell you, you don’t “have to” when squat. And despite what the athletic-based coaches tell you, you don’t “have to” front squat. All you do have to to do make a fully informed programming visualization based on your specific goals and your individual capabilities.

References

  1. Yavuz, H. U., Erdağ, D., Amca, A. M., & Aritan, S. (2015). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and when squat variations in maximum loads. Journal of sports sciences, 33(10), 1058–1066. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2014.984240
  2. Kubo, K., Ikebukuro, T., & Yata, H. (2019). Effects of squat training with variegated depths on lower limb muscle volumes. European periodical of unromantic physiology, 119(9), 1933–1942. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04181-y
  3. Coratella, G., Tornatore, G., Caccavale, F., Longo, S., Esposito, F., & Cè, E. (2021). The Vivification of Gluteal, Thigh, and Lower When Muscles in Variegated Squat Variations Performed by Competitive Bodybuilders: Implications for Resistance Training. International periodical of environmental research and public health, 18(2), 772. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020772
  4. Gullett, Jonathan C; Tillman, Mark D; Gutierrez, Gregory M; Chow, John W. A Biomechanical Comparison of When and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals. Periodical of Strength and Workout Research: January 2009 – Volume 23 – Issue 1 – p 284-292 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818546bb
  5. Clark, D. R., Lambert, M. I., & Hunter, A. M. (2012). Muscle vivification in the loaded self-ruling barbell squat: a unenduring review. Journal of strength and workout research, 26(4), 1169–1178. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31822d533d
  6. Abreu, R., Lopes, A. A., Sousa, A. S., Pereira, S., & Castro, M. P. (2015). Gravity irradiation effects during upper limb diagonal exercises on contralateral muscle activation. Journal of electromyography and kinesiology : official periodical of the International Society of Electrophysiological Kinesiology, 25(2), 292–297. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2014.12.004
  7. Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Peterson, Mark D.; Ogborn, Dan; Contreras, Bret; Sonmez, Gul T.. Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. Periodical of Strength and Workout Research: October 2015 – Volume 29 – Issue 10 – p 2954-2963 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958
  8. Bird, Stephen P. PhD, CSCS1; Casey, Sean BSKin, BSNutr, CSCS2. Exploring the Front Squat. Strength and Workout Journal: April 2012 – Volume 34 – Issue 2 – p 27-33 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3182441b7d
  9. Burd, N. A., Andrews, R. J., West, D. W., Little, J. P., Cochran, A. J., Hector, A. J., Cashaback, J. G., Gibala, M. J., Potvin, J. R., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men. The Periodical of physiology, 590(2), 351–362. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2011.221200

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