When building strength, barbell squats are one of the most effective exercises you can do. Squats are a compound, full body movement that can help you build strength and muscle when performed with proper form. The barbell squat is one of the most effective exercises to increase raw strength and power because of how it utilises the hips, glute muscles, core, lumbar spine, and quads.
But did you know that there are numerous different types of barbell squats? Though ‘front squat’ and ‘back squat’ are phrases we might regularly hear thrown around the gym, it’s key to understand the difference between the two so that you can utilise them to the best of your ability. At Strength Ambassadors, we’re experts in strength training and know squats like the backs of our hands. That’s why we put together this comprehensive guide to make your life easier and talk you through the key differences between the front squat and the back squat.
What is a Back Squat?
The back squat is a compound, full-body exercise that targets the muscles of the thighs, hips and buttocks. It’s an especially good move for strengthening the legs and butt. The back squat also works the quads, meaning you’ll really feel it in your lower body if you have to step away from the squat rack.
It increases lower body strength and muscle size, improves the coordination of muscles used during dynamic movements, and helps to develop a balanced physique. The squat movement mimics many everyday actions such as sitting down or getting up from a chair, so it highly increases functional strength.
It’s also great for increasing athletic performance across disciplines in activities ranging from football to athletics, where leg strength and power is key.
The back squat is an exercise that will improve your body’s ability to produce power and movement, making you stronger in every activity you do throughout the day. The lift targets your quads, glutes and hamstrings, which will help you pick up heavy stuff, run faster and jump.
How to Perform a Back Squat:
- Approach the barbell rack and grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to create a ‘shelf’ for the bar to rest on the back of your shoulders.
- Smoothly lift the bar out of the rack and step back, with your feet around shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing outwards.
- Feel the floor through your whole foot. Bend at the knees and hips to squat, keeping your core braced. The squat depth you should aim for ideally is when the crease of your hip is below the top of your knee. Keep your torso straight, and avoid collapsing your core or chest.
- To complete the movement, drive your feet into the floor and return to standing position. Walk into the rack to release the bar safely.
What is a Front Squat?
The front squat is a variation of the traditional back squat. The biggest difference between the front and back squats lies in where you rest the barbell. Instead of resting it on your upper back muscles (as you would in a back squat), you rest it on the front of your shoulders – specifically your anterior deltoids – in a front squat.
A front squat requires more balance than a back squat, which means it is a great exercise for increasing stability. The benefits of a front squat are that it helps strengthen the whole body, but specifically recruits the chain of your body’s anterior muscles, engaging the quads and core more than the back squat.
Because front squats require you to hold the weight on the front of your body, this is an excellent exercise to train your core and upper back. Front squats also have an especially great carry over to Olympic lifting due to the initial portion of the lift being very similar to the clean, making them great for boosting athletic performance.
How to Perform a Front Squat:
- Stand at the rack with hands shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar with an overhand grip and make sure it is positioned on the front of your shoulders. Rotate your elbows until they are pointing forward so that you can position the bar in your fingertips with your palms facing up.
- Lift the bar off the rack and step back with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes turned out slightly.
- Let your feet root into the ground, engage your core and pull your ribs down. Your pelvis, spine and head should form a long line.
- Focus on a spot in front of you for added stability before squatting as low as you can while keeping your elbows pointing forwards. Your hip crease should descend below the top of your knee. Push your elbows up if you feel your weight drifting forwards.
- To complete the squat, extend your hips and knees and push through the centre of your feet to return to standing. Genty release the bar back onto the rack.
Front Squats Vs Back Squats: Key Differences
- Where You Rest the Barbell is the main difference between a front squat and a back squat. In a front squat, the barbell should rest on your anterior side, clearing the collarbone to avoid injury. This differs from the back squat, where the barbell is rested on the upper back and shoulder muscles.
- Front Squats Work the Anterior Chain more than back squats, and back squats work the posterior chain more than front squats. Front squats are good for improving strength in the knees, core and quads. Back squats also build strength in the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
- Front Squats Require More Balance than back squats and are therefore better for working on your stability, but back squats may be more suitable for beginners.
Master Front Squats and Back Squats with an Expert Strength Class at Strength Ambassadors.
Though barbell squats can be a scary idea for beginners at first and perfect form can take time and effort to master, some expert assistance to ensure your form and alignment are right is sometimes all you need!
At Strength Ambassadors we know all about our front squats vs our back squats, and we can help you with either. We live and breathe great form, so don’t risk injury trying this alone at home and trust the experts! Whichever squat is right for you, a Strength Training Class at Strength Ambassadors is right for everyone.