The squat can be a challenging exercise for anybody to tackle, one of the most common questions regarding back squats vs. front squats is: which one do I choose? The answer is not always so simple. Of course if you ask a weightlifter, they will say front squats; if you ask a powerlifter, they will say back squats. Both back squats and front squats can be beneficial to any athlete, but which one is best?
Back Squats vs. Front Squats
**Before you can decide, you need to understand what the difference is first.
The back squat requires that you load the barbell on your upper back (either high bar or low bar). This requires you to load the posterior chain (hips/lower back) more.
If you look at your average back squatter, you will always notice that there is some forward lean in his/her torso. By leaning forward more your body can engage the hamstrings, glutes and lower back much better compared to remaining completely vertical.
This allows the lifter to lift more weight. So naturally, most people prefer to back squat.
Powerlifters mostly train the low bar squat style, which allows them to lean forward even more, thus, creating even greater posterior chain activation.
The front squat requires you to load the bar on the front of your chest instead of your back. This places more of the load on your quads and less on the hips.
If you look at an elite level olympic weightlifter, you will notice how huge their quads are. This is because weightlifters have to train heavy front squats as a regular part of their training.
Front squats require you to push your knees forward over your toes. In order of the knee to remain stable, the vastus medialus oblique (VMO) gets taxed heavily.
The biggest drawback to this exercise is since you are not using as many muscle groups as the back squat, then you cannot lift as much weight. This is why most people don’t enjoy front squats quite as much.
Which One Do I Pick?
Okay, now you have an understanding of the two, great! Now which one do you choose to do? This all depends on what your training goals are.
Since this is the hardest one to answer, well start with this one first. The general athlete comprises middle school/high school and early college athletes. Most of these athletes are new to strength and conditioning programs, or they only do strength and conditioning for a brief time and the motor engrams wear out for the lifts.
With all of that said, I believe that front squats are the best choice for the general athlete. Considering that most athletes this age that I know absolutely hate training anything lower body. So for the brief time you have them, you might as well increase their mobility and keep them safe on the field.
Remember earlier how we talked about how front squats strengthen the VMO. This muscle helps to keep the knee stable and prevent knee valgus during running and jumping motions. If they learn and develop the motor engrams necessary for this, before their season starts with front squats, then they will be less likely to get injured.
The average joe, most likely, wants to add some muscle and lose some weight. Since the only way to add more muscle is to lift heavier weight, back squats should suffice for the average lifter.
Remember, average people are not training to compete in some athletic event. Most average joes have a day job and a family. So training is not their number one priority.
Additionally, most average lifters do not possess the adequate mobility necessary to perform the front squat. In fact, most average lifters do not even want to put the effort in to learn the front squat. Most just want to feel a good “burn” and go home for the day. Which is fine, there is nothing wrong with that. Not everybody considers lifting to be their top priority.
The professional lifter/athlete has a different scenario. These guys/gals must keep their bodies in tip top shape in order to keep there career. These guys are more than dedicated, they are determined.
For the pros, they should do both the back squat and front squat. They should start with the back squat first and then use the front squat after they have gained a sufficient amount of strength from the back squat.
Remember, the back squat uses more muscle groups than the front squat. More muscle groups equals more weight on the bar and the more weight on the bar, the more strength the lifter gains.
Professionals probably have to run, jump and land properly. The front squat teaches proper jumping and landing mechanics in order to prevent injury. With the added strength from the back squat, the front squat can be performed with heavier weight and thus train the VMO to handle higher forces.
Both exercises can also be used in relation to an injury or rehabilitative issue. As long as the issue is not too serious. If you have an injury or issue with a particular part of your body, then you should consult with your physician first before trying any exercise regimen.
If a lifter has sustained an injury to the knee, then they should perform back squats and just sit back more to place more of the load on the hips. This should be done with light weight and form should be the main focus instead of intensity.
The best squat variation for athletes with knee irritation is the low bar back squat. Used by powerlifters to gain mechanical leverage over the weight, this exercise places the most weight on the posterior chain compared to any other squat variation.
If the athlete has a problem with the hip musculature, then front squats should be your go to exercise. When done properly, the front squat places less stress on the spine and hips and more on the quads and knees.
As an added bonus, the front squat will also help to strengthen the upper back. Typically when an athlete gets an injury they remain sedentary in order for their body to recover. This raises the risk for a kyphotic posture to develop, which can lead to a host of other problems. The front squat helps to counteract kyphosis.
If there is an injury to the low back, then neither back squats nor front squats should be performed. The lower back is a very sensitive area and one that should be protected at all costs.
Choosing between back squats and front squats can seem like a daunting task. If you understand each exercise though, then it becomes a much easier decision.
The way I look at it though, as long as your doing some kind of squat, you are doing all right in my book.