The Front Squat VS. The Back Squat

Posted on 06-Sep-2016 by kripa Jalan

There’s no substitute for the good old squat. The king of movements helps build stronger muscles, which eventually translates to increased speed, power, and agility.  Although we usually categorize a squat as a leg exercise, it’s really more of a compound movement. It targets more than one muscle group. Due to the compound nature of this movement, the body secretes the growth hormone, which helps cut body fat and build lean muscle mass. Moreover, it mimics natural movements and is consequently functional. Take the basic movement of sitting down and standing up. That’s just a squat for you. So whether your aim is gaining muscle mass, cutting body fat or just moving better in general, squats will help be your ally.

If you’re familiar with lifting strategies, you’ll know that there are a number of variations of a squat. There’s overhead squats, back squats, front squats, zercher squats, hack squats, amongst others. All these movements involve a barbell. The main difference sets in with the position of the barbell. The placement changes the mechanics of the squat. They each focus on different muscle groups. You may think it’s just a squat at the end of the day. So why are there so many different variants of one movement? Which one is the best? So let’s take the two most prominent ones and tackle them; the front squat and the back squat.

Truth is one is NOT superior to the other. Picking the one that’s right for you will largely depend on your training goals, joint mobility and flexibility.

Both these movements recruit some of the major muscle groups in the lower body:

  • Abdominals
  • Adductors
  • Gluteals
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

Major Target Area: The High Bar Back Squat & Front Squat are quad dominant, while the Low Bar Back Squat is posterior chain/glute dominant.

Weight Lifted: Back squats can be performed with heavier weight as compared to front squats, because the latter also comes with posture and flexibility constraints. The upper back and chest need to be straight and up and the shoulders and wrists should be mobile enough to support the front rack position. However, that doesn’t mean that if you lack this flexibility you can ace a back squat. In general, the better your mobility and flexibility, the better your movement.

Goals: If you’re following a powerlifting program, then back squats should be a priority. However, if you’re into Olympic lifting, front squats would aid in improving  other movements like Cleans.

Safety: As far as form is concerned, one might assume front squats are safer, due to the lesser tendency to lean forward and perform a good-morning like squat. However, a back squat performed with a tight core and good technique is just as safe and effective.

Bar Positioning: Back squats (low bar or high bar) place the bar on the upper back or trapezius.Front squats place the bar on the front of the deltoids, placing the elbows and wrists at full extension.

Knee Safety: Contrary to what some of us may have heard, squats don’t damage our knees… If done with proper form. Doing any movement with bad form and ego lifting is bad for all your joints. Our knees were built to squat. Years of bad movement and a sedentary lifestyle may have caused mobility issues, but those can be combatted, with correct positioning and mobility work. Both back and front squats work towards strengthening the knees to reduce the risk of ligament tears.

Common Mistakes:

  1. Letting your heels come off the ground/Coming up onto your toes: Your heels need to be firmly fixated, flat on the ground.
  2. Not hitting depth: Anything above parallel (hip joint in line with the knee) is a no rep. That’s a cardinal sin, the deeper the squat, the greater the activation in the glutes. It’s harder, but that’s what’ll make you stronger.
  3. Knee Positioning: Don’t let your knees cross the plane of the toes. Focus on pushing them out, rather than forward.
  4. Back Positioning: Your shoulders should be pulled back, chest upright, spine neutral and you must maintain this position at all times.
  5. Core: Keep your core tight and engaged at all times, that will help with the back positioning.
  6. Head Positioning: Your chin should be up and in line with your spine.

So start squatting already!

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