6 Reasons to Love Front Squats

Let’s cut to the chase here: front squats are incredibly underrated.

Though they often have more to offer than their back-loaded cousin, they’re not quite as popular, but I’m hoping this article can change that.

Before we dive in, let me preface by saying a front squat is any anteriorly-loaded squat variation.

That means any squat that involves holding the weight in front of the body, and includes but is not limited to: barbell front squats, goblet squats, landmine squats and sandbag squats.

With that out of the way… let’s get to it!

1. Front Squats Are (Usually) Easier to Perform

Yes, you read that right: front squats are easier to learn and perform than back squats.

Having a weight in the front acts as a counterbalance, which means lifters with poor balance, stability and/or body awareness will generally have an easier time getting to proper depth.

There’s a reason why the goblet squat is most coaches’ preferred tool for teaching the squat pattern: it takes some effort to mess it up.

That being said, front squats – specifically the barbell variation – do require more ankle, hip, shoulder, and wrist mobility.

The front rack position of the barbell also feels rather alien to those who have never held a bar that way.

If that sounds like you, consider trying other variations such as a kettlebell goblet squat or landmine squat, which won’t require as much upper back and wrist mobility.

2. Front Squats Are Easier on Your Lower Back and Knees

If you’ve ever done front squats, you may have noticed you end up in a relatively more vertical position.

One of the striking differences between the back and the front squat, aside from the position of the bar, is torso angle. Front squats will always put you in a slightly more upright position compared to a back squat.

This translates into less shear stress on the vertebrae of the lower back (1).

Though axial compression forces will still be present, shear stress is responsible for most of the flexion-based injuries you see happening in the weight room.

Also, compressive forces on the knee are much lower in the front squat compared to back squats.

If you’ve got an iffy back and a lousy pair of knees but can front squat with no pain, consider making them your focus lift for lower body strength and hypertrophy.

3. Better Posture And a Stronger Upper Back

Speaking of strength and hypertrophy: front squats can (and will) absolutely annihilate your upper back.

Holding a heavy load on your front deltoids is a great way of strengthening the muscles involved in good posture (think traps, lats, rhomboids and serratus anterior).

These muscles, unsurprisingly, are some of the most neglected in training. When you combine that with a sedentary lifestyle (which includes hours upon hours of sitting hunched over a desk), you’ve got a recipe for back disorders, shoulder issues, joint degeneration and a bunch of other awful ailments that go beyond the scope of this article.

Needless to say, we could all benefit from showing our upper back muscles more love.

4. Get Stronger With Lighter Weights

You may have heard that the front squat hits your quads harder than a back squat.

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not quite how it works.

Researchers have proven time and again that muscle activation does not differ between back and front squats (2)(3).

The good news, though, is that you are able to get the same muscle activation you’d get from back squats with a relatively lighter load in the front.

Whenever you can achieve the same training effect with a lighter load, go for it – your joints will thank you in the long run.

5. Front Squats Are More “Functional”

How often do you squat with a strange load on your back? I’d imagine not very often.

Front squats allow you to train one of the main fundamental movement patterns in a way that can actually be replicated in daily life.

Next time you crouch down to pick up, say, a hefty baby, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’re inadvertently doing one of the most complete functional movements there are.

Which brings me to my last point…

6. Build a Bulletproof Core With Front Squats

Due to the load position, front squat variations will light up your anterior core like nothing else. If you don’t believe me, do a few heavy sets to proper depth and get back to me the next day.

In order to maintain a vertical torso and prevent the bar from dumping you forward, you need to brace, and brace HARD. This makes the font squat a lovely core exercise, though it mostly tends to be revered for its quad-building abilities.

Though the ‘core’ muscles, namely the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, external obliques and erector spinae are all heavily recruited in both back and front squat variations, the front squat does elicit slightly higher external oblique activation (4).

If core strength isn’t your forte yet, you may want to consider implementing additional exercises to strengthen your midsection.

Ditch the crunches and leg raises and instead opt for plank variations (both static and dynamic), as well as anti-flexion exercises like deadlifts and loaded carries.

To your strength,

Coach B.

 

References

1- Russell, P. J., & Phillips, S. J. (1989). A Preliminary Comparison of Front and Back Squat Exercises. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport60(3), 201–208.

2- Gullett, J. C., Tillman, M. D., Gutierrez, G. M., & Chow, J. W. (2009). A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research23(1), 284–292.

3- Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2016). A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyography Amplitude in the Parallel, Full, and Front Squat Variations in Resistance-Trained Females. Journal of Applied Biomechanics32(1), 16–22.

4- Nesser, T. W., & Fleming, N. (2016). Activation of Selected Core Muscles during Squatting. Journal of Athletic Enhancement, 05(01).

About The Author

Barbara M.

Since 2013, Barbara has been helping women of all fitness backgrounds get stronger, leaner and more confident, both inside and outside the gym.

Her passion lies in educating, empowering and encouraging women to find out what they’re capable of, and more.

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