“You need to squat” is something you’ll often hear if you go to gyms regularly. At face value, it’s undoubtedly helpful advice. Doing a squat strengthens your leg muscles and your core and upper-body muscles.
Squatting is a general movement pattern and not just one specific exercise. Telling someone to squat is like telling them to eat because everyone should do it. It’s well-intentioned but vague. Most people who lift weights think that the barbell back squat is the standard way to squat and that other squats are just different versions.
Although the back squat has various benefits, it may not deserve such high praise. The front squat can easily take the top spot. The hack squat provides several benefits that the back squat cannot match, making it a better choice for many lifters. Here’s a look at which type of squat is most beneficial for your training program.
How to Front Squat
Start by placing a barbell in a rack slightly below your collarbones. To begin, stand with the barbell positioned over the balls of your feet, using a shoulder-width, palms-down grip. Approach the bar and allow your arms to bend. Place your hands wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar and, keeping your back straight and your core engaged, bring the bar up to the front of your shoulders, letting your elbows point forward.
Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your back straight to maintain good form while working out. Straighten your legs to unrack the bar. To establish your stance width, take one or two steps backward and one step to the side. Flex your core as you stabilize the weight.
Bend your legs and descend as low as possible. Squat down keeping your shoulders pulled back and your upper body upright.
Tip: Don’t allow your elbows to point down. If your elbows drift down, the weight will fall forward, and the lift will fail. Keep your elbows as straight ahead as possible to maintain a solid and stable body position.
The muscles worked most in this exercise are the quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals, spinal erectors, upper back, and shoulders.
Front Squat Variations
The goblet squat combines a front squat and a single dumbbell or kettlebell. It is a versatile and easy-to-use exercise.
The movement can help beginners learn the squat movement pattern, improve lower body mobility, or be a warm-up for more experienced lifters. The goblet squat can help build muscle if you do it with enough weight, intensity, and repetitions.
The Zercher squat is named after an American weightlifter from the 1930s. The weightlifter would support the barbell in the crooks of their elbows rather than in their hands. This exercise is easier on the elbows and shoulders than a front squat but can be uncomfortable because of the pressure of the weight.
The barbell being closer to the hips means the body’s center of gravity is closer to the barbell, allowing for a highly rigid and upright torso. This will enable you to avoid lower back strain and better recruits the abdominal muscles. The Zercher squat is a good exercise for strong men and women who often carry heavy objects in competitions.
How to Back Squat
Begin with the bar set in a rack at the roughly upper-chest level. Lower yourself beneath the bar, so it is placed across your upper back and shoulders. The bar should not be placed directly on your neck or spine.
Grab the bar with both hands facing forward. To create a stable “shelf” to support the load, pinch your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows under the bar. Place your feet hip-width apart. First, stand up to unrack the barbell, take one or two steps backward, and recheck the position of your feet hip-width apart.
To set your stance width, step to the side with one foot. Start by bracing your core, pushing your hips back, and bending your knees. Keep your feet flat throughout the entire repetition. Choose a depth that is appropriate for your goals and level of mobility. A good technique for building muscle and gaining strength is to drop down far enough so your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Gripping the bar tightly can help improve your stability and form. To have a strong upper body and be able to lift more weight, squeeze the barbell tightly before you start lifting it and try to hold onto it as tightly as possible during each repetition.
The posterior chain consists of the muscles along the back of the body, including the erector spinae, a large muscle group that runs from the base of the skull to the sacrum. The back squat focuses on the posterior chain and the muscles along the back of the body, including the erector spinae. Some of the main muscles this exercise targets are your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Additionally, it works your spinal erectors, upper back, abdominals, and shoulders.
Back Squat Variations
High-Bar Back Squat
The bar position is shifted higher on the upper back and traps.
The change in leverage means the lifter can keep their torso more upright, which reduces strain on their lower back and lets them squat more naturally deep in the bottom position.
The position of your torso also affects how deep you squat and which muscles in your lower body are used.
Safety Bar Squat
The safety bar squat is a variation of the traditional squat that allows you to increase activation of the upper back muscles while decreasing lower back involvement.
Front Squat Benefits
If you want to build your quads, front squats are an excellent choice for your workout routine. The reason some bodybuilders build their leg workouts around front squats is that it helps with the development of their quads. If you want to train for Olympic weightlifting, the front squat is crucial in completing a clean and jerk. This exercise will give you the strength and technique you need to succeed in weightlifting.
One of the benefits of front squatting versus back squatting is that it is safer for your lower back as your torso is in a vertical position.
A common issue when people are back squatting is that they cannot maintain a neutral lumbar spine. If people lean their torsos too far forward or let their hips rise faster than their shoulders as they come up out of the bottom of the squat, it can put a strain on the little muscles and discs in the lumbar spine.
The front squat is a position in which your vertebrae are stacked, and your torso moves straight up and down, which avoids shear forces that could cause injury.
A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that front squats may place less torque at the knee and hip than back squats, suggesting that they may be better for athletes with knee or hip injuries. The researchers found that the back squat placed significantly more compressive forces on the lumbar spine and concluded that front squats might be the better choice for lifters with knee problems, such as meniscus tears, as well as for long-term joint health.
Back Squat Benefits
The back squat is considered the “king of all exercises” because it is essential for those interested in getting strong or focused on powerlifting. The back squat is more comfortable to balance than the front squat, so you have the stability to lift greater loads.
Though the science isn’t precise, most coaches argue that the back squat recruits more overall musculature than the front squat, drawing heavily on everything from your shoulders and back to your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, in addition to the quads and core.
Although you will see strength gains more quickly with back squats, there is a greater risk of a lower-back injury.
For general population clients who are only interested in having healthy, well-shaped, and strong legs, many trainers avoid the back squat entirely and instead focus on front-loaded squat variations, such as front squats, landmine squats, and goblet squats.
If you don’t Powerlift or do activities that require back squat strength, you don’t have to do the exercise.
What’s the difference between a front squat and a back squat?
The squat is a lower-body exercise in which the lifter descends to a squatting position with the barbell across the back of the shoulders, then rises to an upright position. The front squat is performed with the barbell held across the front of the shoulders in the so-called “rack” or “clean” position. Your deltoids will support the weight when squatting with the bar in front of your shoulders. In a back squat, the bar rests across your trapezius and rear delts, so the weight is loaded on the backside of your body. This is the opposite of a front squat, where the weight is loaded on the front side of your body.
With front squats, you use more of the muscles in the front of your body, including your quadriceps and core muscles. Unlike other squat exercises, the back squat emphasizes the large muscle groups in the back, glutes, and hamstrings.
The location of where you grip the bar during this exercise will impact how you move. Back squats are a hip-dominant movement. The exercise is easier if you lead downward with your hips because your torso is less inclined to lean forward.
The weight in front squats is loaded in a way that doesn’t allow for much leaning, so you have to maintain a more upright position. If you lean forward when you squat with the bar in front of you, like you do when you are back squatting, you will lose your balance and drop the bar. This makes the front squat a more quad-dominant movement.
The front squat and back squat only differ slightly. Both exercises work your entire body. Your shoulders, abdominals, and back must engage to support proper form as your legs go through a full range of motion. Most people would argue that squats are the most functional and challenging exercise.
The back squat is more harmful to joints in the upper and lower body than other squats.
The load supported across the upper back can strain the hips and lower back if the spine is not properly engaged.
The shoulder joint can be put under a lot of strain when you have to support the bar across your back, especially if you have tight chest or shoulder muscles or already have shoulder problems.
Improper joint stress can often be fixed by changing your foot placement, stance width, hand position, and squat depth. The back squat can put more strain on the joints than the front squat.
The front squat may stress the wrist joints because the bar is held in the “rack” position, with the palms facing the ceiling and fingers under the bar near your shoulders.
Some adjustments can be made to help people with poor wrist mobility. You can adjust your grip while lifting, use a crossed-arm position, or attach long lifting straps to the bar for an easier grip. Although the front squat and rack position can strain the wrist joint, they are still basic movements. The back squat puts your wrists in a stronger and more comfortable position.
Programming the Back Squat and Front Squat
The squat variation that will be most effective for you will depend on your training goal. If someone has mobility issues, such as back pain or problems with their hips or ankles, it may affect what kind of exercise they can do.
Many strength sports require athletes to perform a back or a front squat in competition. However, both movements can be used in a training phase.
Both competitive strongmen and CrossFit athletes can benefit from incorporating both movements into their training since their competitions are more diverse. They may need to perform either (or both) specific movements during a contest.
The back squat is the best to do if you want to increase your strength. The back squat is one of the best exercises for recruiting the total muscle from head to toe and coordinating leverage and technique to allow massive weights to be moved.
The power lifts are essential because they show how much strength a person has. The highest back squat of all time is around 1,100 pounds, while the heaviest front squat is closer to 800 pounds.
Squats are a great way to build strength and muscle if you’re starting to work out. It’s also a time-tested staple in bodybuilding leg workouts. The back squat is an effective leg-building exercise. The workout routine puts multiple body parts, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, through muscle-building time under tension.
Though many beginner bodybuilders train using the standard back squat, relatively few experienced bodybuilders continue using this method. Instead, they tend to use the front squat or a variety of other squat or deadlift variations that more efficiently target specific muscle groups and emphasize individual body parts.
In other words, you should squat if you want to be healthy. Many coaches will tell you that you need to back squat to improve your performance, but this isn’t necessarily true. Despite what coaches who focus on athletics tell you, you do not have to front squat. You only need to decide on your programming goals and capabilities.
Choose the right tool for the job.