Front Squat Vs. Back Squat: What Are The Differences

The squat is one of the most heavily utilized and effective strength training movements to build power, size and strength. Much like other strength training exercises, the squat has several different variations designed to target and stimulate different stabilizing muscles, joints, and areas. Front squat and back squat, however, are the two dominating squat variations, that can provide valuable differences to your training and performance. We’re going to discuss front squats vs back squats, how to do them, and how incorporating these two powerhouse movements, can help you stimulate muscle growth and strength.

What Is The Front Squat

The front squat is a compound strength training movement. Compound movements stimulate several muscle groups and joints at once, thus, producing compound benefits, hence the name compound movement. The front squat is a squat variation, with the weight front loaded. As opposed to placing a loaded barbell across your traps and shoulder blades, the weight is loaded in what is called front rack position, across your clavicle and collarbone sitting against the anterior deltoid. Therefore, your center of gravity when the weight is loaded and pushed is different than a back squat.

What Is The Back Squat

The traditional barbell back squat is another compound strength training movement, however instead of the bar front loaded in front rack position, the barbell is placed across your trapezius and against your rear delts. Positioning the load differently changes your center of gravity and recruits or stresses different areas of the knees and hips, since the movement pattern is slightly varied.

Squats Muscles Worked

The squat is one of the most common exercises that activates the largest and most powerful muscles in the lower body. The major muscles involved are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and the gluteus maximus. The squat also relies on muscle activity at both the hip and ankle joints and recruits the abdominals and spinal erectors as well. The purpose of the squat is to train the knees and hip and joints, as well as develop strength in the lower back and lower body required to execute basic skills in functional movement and training performance.

Most activities of daily movement require the coordinated contraction of several muscle groups at once, and squatting (a multi-joint or compound movement) is one of the few strength training exercises that is able to effectively recruit multiple muscle groups in a single movement.

How To Front Squat 

Watch this video and read below our front squat how-to.

  • To start, set up a barbell on the uprights of a squat rack. You’ll want this right around mid-chest.
  • Grab the barbell with an overhand grip just beyond shoulder width.
  • As you lift the barbell off of the rack, lift your elbows in front of your torso to form a 90-degree angle at your shoulders, with your upper arms perpendicular to your torso. This is called the front rack position, and the barbell should sit nicely in the groove of your deltoid muscles.
  • Loosen your grip and allow the bar to roll from your palms to your fingers. If this is difficult, you want might want to read how to improve your wrist mobility. It may seem awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.
  • Step back from the rack as you would for a conventional back squat, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and toes pointed forward. Make sure your elbows are high.
  • Your hips will descend back and down, until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your torso as upright as possible, with your lumbar curve maintained.
  • Keep your heels down and the weight balanced, with your knees in line with your toes.
  • Push back up to the starting position
  • Push your weight into your heels, and keep your back straight

How To Back Squat 

Watch this video and follow our back squat how-to.

  • Stance will vary from person to person, however feet should be between hips and shoulder width apart with your toes slightly pointed outward
  • spine nuetral chest open and shoulders back, make sure your heels are firmly planted into the ground as your weight will shift into your heels through the movement progression
  • send your hips back on the descent like you're trying to sit in an invisible chair 
  • bend your knees with your chest open and lifted until parallel with the ground.
  • press through your heels and push straight back up to standing position 

RELATED ARTICLE 9 Squat Tips To Increase Strength And Size

Front Squat Vs Back Squat: Key Differences

Front Squat Vs Back Squat: Muscle Recruitment

Both forms of squats, back and front recruit all the major muscles involved in your lower body; quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and the gluteus maximus. Squats are one of the few compound movements that recruit multiple muscle groups and joints in one single movement and are considered as one of the most effective and efficient functional movements. But, when it comes to squats, back squats get all the glory. While both front squats and back squats are similar, there are slight variations in technique and the muscular movement. The load (amount of weight) you're able to lift will also dramatically differ between front and back squats, due to

Back squat places more emphasis on the posterior chain. Training the muscles in your posterior chain, are important to increase strength, size, explosiveness, and power. Posterior-chain exercises involve the contraction and lengthening of the muscles on the back side of your body, in a chain-like motion.

Bar positioning does not change muscle recruitment involved in front vs back squat. It is believed that that the front squat requires lower muscular force in the low back and that front squats may also isolate the quadriceps more than back squats or induce greater recruitment from the distal quadriceps. However, studies reveal that these common beliefs are not supported by empirical evidence [R,R]

Front Squat Vs Back Squat: Mobility

One of the greatest differences between front squat vs back squat is mobility and joint loading. Front squat places more emphasis on the anterior abdominals, upper back, and quads as opposed to the traditional back squat, which can provide a difference in force and impact on your knee extensors as opposed to back squat which increases load on the knee joint.

Because of the difference of the loaded center of gravity, the back squat creates increased loads on the knee joint and the front squat produces increased knee extensor and decreased back extensor muscle activity. A comparison study of front vs back squats, published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning found that front squats may be advantageous to those with knee problems, for long term joint health. Back squat resulted in significantly higher compressive forces and knee extensor moments than the front squat [R].

Front squats can greatly benefit and improve mobility in your hips, ankles, wrists, upper back and shoulders. Mobility is crucial in high-intensity functional training modalities such as CrossFit, to hep build a better foundation to build more strength, mass, and athleticism. This type of programming methodology typically includes several Olympic and resistance training movements, which include the same movement pattern as the front squat, such as the snatch, or squat clean. Adding front squats to your training program can greatly improve your mobility, building better functional strength and mobility to perform more complex movements. 

Front Squat Vs Back Squat: Lower Back Load

Front squats are naturally easier on your lower back as opposed to back squat, due to poor form. Often times, you can subconsciously use your lower back to power through your squat, instead of activating and recruiting your posterior chain muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

In a small study conducted at the University of Maryland, front and back squat exercises were compared to assess low back injury. The study found that both movements presented low back injury risk, but the sheer force on trunk inclination and lumbar compression had more risk with back squat [R]. Therefore, Front squats are said to be safer than back squats, due to lower chances of recruiting your lower back, to power through the movement.

Front Squat Vs Back Squat: Takeaway

The front squat and back squat both isolate and activate the same lower body muscle groups, such as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. However, placement of the barbell and the center gravity of the load is different. Front squat is anteriorly loaded, creating less stress on the knee joint, while the back squat is rear loaded, creating increased stress on specific areas of the knee and at times the lower back, which can be the deciding factor between training with the front vs the back squat. Both are used heavily in functional training programs and can greatly benefit your functional strength and movement.


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References

Garhammer, J. Sports Illustrated Strength Training New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986. pp. 114-177

Hatfield, FC. Power: A Scientific Approach Chicago: Contemporary Books Inc., 1989. pp. 155-170.

Gullett, Jonathan C; Tillman, Mark D; Gutierrez, Gregory M; Chow, John W A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2009 - Volume 23 - Issue 1 - p 284-292 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818546bb

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