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What's the Better Exercise? Squats vs Front Squats

Updated on March 15, 2017

The Squat is a Full Body Compound Exercise

The King of All Exercise Movements

No matter how you want to look at it, in the world of fitness, strength training/weight training and developing muscles, compound movements are king. The squat is the reigning champ of all compound movements. In fact, if this were boxing, the squat would be the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion. Science is constantly evolving, always trying to improve our way of life and the way we do things. There was a time when it was thought that squats were bad for the knees and doing them frequently would slow you down and you would become less/un- athletic. This couldn't be further from the truth, as long as you use proper form that is. There seems to be a new variation, movement, exercise or apparatus that is supposedly equivalent or even better than the squat at gaining overall strength and developing muscle quickly coming out the wood works on a regular basis. The squat has taken on all contenders and still reigns supreme. The front squat is a variation of the squat that is taking its shot at the title. Let's explore the pro's and cons of both movements and see which comes out on top.

The Front Squat Movement

Technique/Form

Squat

As I stated previously, the squat is a full body compound exercise. Proper execution of the squat starts with you in the rack, with the bar resting on your upper back/traps. The movement starts with the legs shoulder width apart and bending the hips and knees. The knees are pushed straight out, staying in line with your feet while moving the hips back, the lower back should remain neutral, not rounded, the abs and lower back muscles will stabilize you while the legs are in motion while the shoulders, upper back and arms balance the bar on your back. Squat down until you break parallel (meaning your hips are below your knees). Then squat back up, locking your hips and knees at the top of the movement.

Front Squat

The form for the front squat is almost identical to that of the back squat with the exception of the bar resting on the front delts rather than the upper back/traps. The positioning of the bar can be challenging which makes this movement a little more difficult. There are different variations of gripping the bar. You can use the Olympic style (requires more wrist flexibility), cross arm grip, with lifting straps, or you can old the weight out in front of you, not resting on your shoulders. The last way is for the advanced, stronger veterans. In the front squat movement, the hips move more vertical rather than front and back, the torso stays more erect/upright, elbows high, knees slightly forward and squat until butt gets to your heels. Push through the heels/foot, extending hips and knees simultaneously until you are locked out and back to the start position.

Due to the difficulty of grip variations and requirement for more mobility of the front squat, the back squat is easier to do. Advantage Squat.

Front Squat

Dumb Bell Squat

The Muscles Worked

Squat

The squat is one of the few exercises that work muscles in both upper and lower body. Although both movements are similar in form, they work different muscles in distinct ways due to the placement of the bar which causes adjustments in the motion of the hips, knees, spine and ankles. Squats primarily focus on the gluteus maximus (booty), hips and lower back.

Front Squat

The front squat requires a lot more mobility. You need exceptional upper back strength to keep your chest up, phenomenal wrist and shoulder mobility and even better hip and ankle mobility in order to squat low and prevent your lower back from rounding. Front squats apply more stress to the quads and upper back.

Both lifts recruit all these muscle fiber together, however the emphasis will deviate by lift. You can hold more weight on your back then you can on your front shoulders and wrist. Advantage Squat.

Back Squat

Proper Form is Essential

Benefits; Pros & Cons

I will start this off by saying that squats are absolutely safe for your knees if you proper form. I can not stress the correct form enough. Some people have this crazy notion that if they perform half squats/partial squats, that it's somehow better for your knees. This is a myth. Partially squatting hardly incorporates the strengthening of the glutes and hamstrings, which both are knee stabilizers. Proper form will actually build healthier, stronger knees. The back squat will put additional stress on the lower back than it's counterpart. However, in any squat movement it is imperative to keep your lower back/spine neutral. Allowing the lower back to round or over arching (keep a natural arch) compresses your spinal discs and can result in herniated discs, especially if heavy weights are being used. It really doesn't matter what variation of the exercise you do, any of them can be detrimental to your lower back, knees, hips, shoulders, groin and ankle health if done with improper form.

Both the exercises can be equally dangerous to different parts of the body if not performed correctly. So there really isn't an advantage here. This would be a Draw.

Variations of the Squat

Which Variation of the Squat do you do Most?

See results

Body Weight Squats

The Verdict

It's no mystery that the squat improves power, speed and quickness. There are numerous benefits to doing both movements. The front squat would actually be more beneficial to a sports athlete because of the mobility factor. Nonetheless you will be limited to the amount of weight you can hold on your shoulders with the front squat. Former 8 time Mr Olympia Ronnie Coleman has squatted more than 800 pounds on his back. I don't care who you are, how big you are or how many performance enhancing drugs your taking, there is no way your going to front squat 800 pounds. The back squat is more suitable to heavy weight, which means it's more probable you will get larger muscles and strength gains. The back squat is easier to do and much heavier weights can be used. Any variation of the squat is going to rank among the top when it comes to muscular development and fitness benefits, but the back squat is still king. Both of them should be somewhere in your leg work out routine anyway.

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great, my workout is ready to elevate to squats, thanks

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      For those who will try it, you gave good explanations of, and good reason for the squat. I admire the squatters and you, for encouraging it. Voted Up!