Barbell Front Squat vs Back Squat: Head to Head

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Last updated on February 7, 2023

The squat is generally regarded as the king of lower body exercises. If your goal is to develop power and size in your quads, hamstrings and glutes then, according to the conventional wisdom, you have got to be back squatting hard and heavy on a regular basis. Yet there are those who contend that the back squat is not the best way to do the exercise in order to get massive leg gains. They claim that the front squat is a better way to go.

Which one of these claims stacks up?

Read on to find out in our front squat versus back squat comparison.

The Back Squat

The back squat builds basic strength in the legs, core muscles and hips. This type of strength is fundamental to success in sports and provides the basis for a fit, athletic physique. Squats also develop running speed, acceleration and jumping ability.

The back squat develops power and strength in the basic athletic position – knees and hips flexed, back straight and chest out.

Squatting variation options include goblet squat, dumbbell squats, split squats, zercher squat, box squat, bodyweight squat and band squats.

Back Squat Pros

Back Squats allow you to push a lot of weight. The bar placement over your back is a more natural and ergonomically advantageous position than positioning it across the front of your body across the clavicles. This ability to push more weight will allow you to build strength and power more effectively than in you were doing the front squat with a lighter weight.

So, if you are a powerlifter or a person whose main goal for doing the squat is to lift the maximum amount of weight, then the back squat is the exercise for you.

Back Squat Cons

The back squat places a heavy weight on your back. It bears directly down on your spine. The pressure on your spine when you have that weight on your back accelerates the natural curvature of the spine. This squeezes and distorts the intervertebral discs of the spine. When you consistently load hundreds of pounds of weight on your lumbar spine, week in and week out, you are going to end up with problems – guaranteed!

Anther common problem when people are back squatting is the tendency to round the back. This is just as common with ‘experienced’ squatters as it is with beginners. This back rounding greatly increases the pressure on the intervertebral discs.

Another common problem with the back squat is the tendency not to squat down far enough. Many people have a fear of squatting while lifting heavy weight on their back which causes them to only go down a pitiful percentage of the distance that they should be doing.

The Front Squat

The front squat requires holding the bar position across the top of your chest and shoulders. This shift moves the emphasis of muscle stimulation from the glutes at the back of the lower body to the quadriceps at the front.

Front Squat Pros

The front squat puts you in a more upright position than the back squat. The tendency to round the back which occurs when you perform the back squat does not occur when you do the front squat. In fact, you are forced into a far more upright position.

Most people think that the back squat is the best option for stimulating the four muscles of the quadriceps. Most of them have never done the front squat. When they do they will realize that the shift of the bar to the front of the body dramatically increases the stimulation of the quads, especially the rectus femoris. This is one of the benefits of the front squat.

So, if you are performing the squat primarily as an exercise to build muscle in your quadriceps, then the front squat is the way to go. This may seem like a novel idea, however one of the most famous trainers of all time, Vince Gironda – , was advocating front squats fifty years ago. In fact, if you trained at Vince’s gym, you were forbidden from performing back squats at all!

When you perform the front squat you will also find that you are naturally squatting lower than when you are performing the back squat. In fact, if you are wanting to go all the way down into a full squat on every rep, you can cue yourself by touching your elbows to your knees on every rep. But when you do the back squat, you do not have a similar cue to let you know that you are down low enough.

Front Squat Cons

The front squat is a pretty uncomfortable exercise to do. It takes some getting used to positioning the bar across your front upper torso. Many people have a fear of not being able to balance the bar when they begin to load it with weight.

You will not be able to lift as heavy when you perform the front squat as compared to the back squat. So, you will not be able to build as much power and strength when you do the front squat.

Front Squats vs The Back Squat: Which is Best?

When you put the front and back squat head to head, you find that each is better for a different purpose. If your goal is build strength and power while developing the glutes, then the back squat benefits you.

However, for focused development of the quadriceps, you should do the front squat. Our recommendation is to perform both exercises in the same workout. We have also provided you with front squat and back squat videos so you do them with the correct squatting technique.

You can find further articles written by qualified trainers on our site. So if you looking for a training plan or exercises to improve your size and strength gains, muscle growth, stamina or strength and conditioning please read our articles further. We have many workouts that will meet your fitness objectives including bodyweight training, strength and hypertrophy workouts.

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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