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Back Squats vs. Front Squats: Which Is Better?

Author:

I am a Board-Certified Physical Therapist and National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.

Back squat

Back squat

The Squat Is the King of All Exercises

No matter how you want to look at it, in the world of fitness, compound movements are king—with the squat being the best one. In fact, if this were boxing, the squat would be the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion. Science is constantly evolving, always trying to improve our way of life and the way we do things. There was a time when it was thought that squats were bad for the knees and doing them frequently would slow you down. This couldn't be further from the truth—as long as you use proper form, that is.

The front squat is a squat variation that is supposedly equivalent to or even better than the original back squat at gaining overall strength and developing muscle quickly.

This article will discuss in-depth the pros and cons of both the back and front squat. While the front squat may be a useful exercise for advanced lifters, the back squat is still the better exercise because it's easier to do, and you can use heavier weights.

Front squat

Front squat

1. What Is the Proper Technique/Form for Back and Front Squats?

Back Squat

As I stated previously, the squat is a full-body compound exercise.

  1. Proper execution of the back squat starts with you in the rack, with the bar resting on your upper back/traps.
  2. Make sure your legs are shoulder-width apart and your hips and knees are bent. The knees are pushed straight out, staying in line with your feet while moving the hips back; the lower back should remain neutral, not rounded; the abs and lower back muscles will stabilize you while your legs are in motion and the shoulders, upper back, and arms balance the bar on your back.
  3. Squat down until you break parallel (meaning your hips are below your knees).
  4. Stand back up, locking your hips and knees at the top of the movement.

Front Squat

The form for the front squat is almost identical to that of the back with the exception of the bar resting on the front delts rather than the upper back/traps. The positioning of the bar can be challenging, which makes this movement a little more difficult.

There are different variations of gripping the bar. You can use the Olympic style grip (requires more wrist flexibility) or the cross arm grip, use lifting straps, or hold the weight out in front of you, not resting on your shoulders. The last way is for advanced and stronger veterans.

  1. In the front squat movement, the hips move more vertical rather than front and back, the torso stays more erect/upright, the elbows are high, and the knees are slightly forward.
  2. Squat until your butt gets to your heels. Push through the heels/feet, extending hips and knees simultaneously until you are locked out.
  3. Return back to the start position.

Due to the difficulty of grip variations and the requirement for more mobility of the front squat, the back squat is easier to do.

Advantage: Back squat.

These are the muscles worked in the front squat.

These are the muscles worked in the front squat.

2. Which Muscles Are Worked by Squats?

Back Squat

This is one of the few exercises that work muscles in both the upper and lower body. Although both movements are similar in form, they work different muscles in distinct ways due to the placement of the bar which causes adjustments in the motion of the hips, knees, spine, and ankles. Squats primarily focus on the gluteus maximus (booty), hips, and lower back.

Front Squat

This variation requires a lot more mobility. You need exceptional upper back strength to keep your chest up, phenomenal wrist and shoulder mobility, and even better hip and ankle mobility in order to squat low and prevent your lower back from rounding. Front squats apply more stress to the quads and upper back.

Both lifts recruit all these muscle fibers together, however, the emphasis will deviate based on your lift. You can hold more weight on your back then you can on your front shoulders and wrist.

Advantage: Back squat

Remember that proper form is essential in both variations of the squat.

Remember that proper form is essential in both variations of the squat.

3. What Impact Do Squats Have on Your Muscles?

I will start off by saying that squats are absolutely safe for your knees if you have proper form. I cannot stress this enough. Some people have this crazy notion that if they perform half squats/partial squats, it's somehow better for your knees. This is a myth. Partially squatting hardly incorporates the strengthening of the glutes and hamstrings, which are both knee stabilizers.

Proper form will actually build healthier, stronger knees. The back squat will put additional stress on the lower back than it's counterpart. However, in any squat movement, it is imperative to keep your lower back/spine neutral. Allowing the lower back to round or overarch compresses your spinal discs and can result in herniated discs, especially if heavy weights are being used.

It really doesn't matter what variation of the exercise you do, because either of them can be detrimental to your lower back, knees, hips, shoulders, groin, and ankle if done improperly.

This would be a draw.

The Verdict

It's no mystery that the squat improves power, speed, and quickness. There are numerous benefits to doing both movements. The front squat would actually be more beneficial to a sports athlete because of the mobility factor. Nonetheless, you will be limited to the amount of weight you can hold on your shoulders with the front squat.

Former eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman has squatted more than 800 pounds on his back. I don't care who you are, how big you are, or how many performance-enhancing drugs you're taking, there is no way you're going to front squat 800 pounds.

The back squat is more suitable when lifting with heavy weights, which will likely result in larger muscles and strength gains. It's also easier to do. Any variation of the squat is going to rank among the top when it comes to muscular development and fitness benefits, but the back squat is still king. However, both of them should be somewhere in your leg work out routine.

Variations of the Squat

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 06, 2015:

Great, my workout is ready to elevate to squats, thanks

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 05, 2015:

For those who will try it, you gave good explanations of, and good reason for the squat. I admire the squatters and you, for encouraging it. Voted Up!