Along with deadlifts, squats are a staple exercise for any athlete/gym enthusiast.  The days when we thought Squats were bad for our knees or that lifting heavy weight would make us slow, lumbering and un-athletic have well and truly gone! Squats help us get stronger, jump higher and run faster and are good for knee health when done correctly.

The question I’ve been asked is:

“Which are better, Front Squats or Back Squats?”

The answer, like last week’s Deadlift variations, is “it depends.”

When evaluating the relative risks and benefits of Front Squats vs. Back Squats, you have to take into account the athlete’s sport, strengths, weaknesses and goals. Each lift has pros and cons. To determine which is best for you, keep reading.


How to Squat

Go look it up! 😂 Coaches and trainers are making their whole living on answering that question, so we’ll keep it simple for this article, 😊

Screening for mobility first!

Most importantly, mobility will determine which lift is better suited for an individual. If you can safely perform one lift and not the other, the choice is clear. Before loading up the bar, a qualified coach should screen you to determine if you have proper mobility at the shoulder, upper and lower back, hips, knees and ankles. That’s not to say the other should be avoided, but it does mean that there will be more preparatory work to do in the weaker lift.  Indeed, screening will establish what an individual should do and any programme of training should reflect that.

Front SquatFront Squat, Forty Four, Gym, Lossiemouth, Moary Scotland, Elgin

Front Squats requires significantly more mobility than Back Squats. You need excellent thoracic spine (upper back) mobility to keep your chest up, outstanding wrist flexibility and shoulder mobility to rack the bar, superb hip and groin mobility to squat low with your knees in line with your toes, and fantastic ankle mobility to keep your lower back from rounding.

Very few athletes move well enough to execute a textbook Front Squat from the get-go. That’s a blessing and a curse. The positive: it forces you to improve your mobility and flexibility, which may prevent injury in the long run. The negative: you won’t be able to lift as heavy right off the bat, which will delay strength gains.

Back SquatsBack Squat, Forty Four, Gym, Lossiemouth, Moary Scotland, Elgin

Back Squats require less mobility in the shoulders, hips and ankles, so you can jump into them sooner. That’s great for strength gains, but be careful. The temptation to sweep your poor mobility under the carpet at the expense of lifting heavier weight will be great! Which increases your risk of injury.

Start with the exercise you can perform with better form. If you’ve got the mobility of the Tin Man and you’re not ready for either exercise, start with a simpler variation, like a Goblet Squat.

Muscles Trained

Front Squats and Back Squats work different muscles in different ways because the placement of the bar causes slight changes in motion of the spine, hips, knees and ankles.

Quite simply, Front Squats zone in on the quads and upper back, while Back Squats focus more on the hips, glutes and lower back. Both lifts recruit all these muscles together, but the emphasis shifts from one lift to the other.  Also remember that ranges of movement in both Squats will change their focus.  Shallow depth back-squats will strengthen the lower heads of the quads and deepen glute engagement.  Go deep in the Front Squat and you hit all four of the quads and help your body switch from one muscle to the other as you move up or down.  This requires far more stability from them and the hamstrings.

Muscle groups will matter to bodybuilders, but athletes should care more about movements, not muscles. That’s why getting bull strong in the Front Squat or Back Squat can ramp up your performance.

The Battle for Athletic Performance

Now for the real reason athletes lift weights: to get better at their sport. We know Squatting in general builds powerful muscles that increase speed, power and quickness. But which version of the Squat reigns supreme? Let’s put them to the test:

Hip Extension: Squats build tremendous strength in the muscles that extend the hip, specifically the glutes and hamstrings. These muscles provide the horsepower for sprinting and jumping. Back Squats load up the hips more than Front Squats, because you can “sit back” into them more. So, if you want more powerful hips, get the bar on your back.

Jump Power: Studies show that improving squat strength is closely linked with improvements in vertical jump height. That’s because if you can extend your hips with more force, you can propel yourself higher into the air. Studies show no clear difference in jump improvements between Back Squats and Front Squats.

Sprint Speed: Studies also show that squatting more weight can lead to improvements in sprinting speed. Simply, the more force you can apply to the ground, the faster you can move. But just like jumping, both lifts work.

Looking at this the squat to do is back-squat, right? But wait a minute. We need mobility in sport and if we can produce power in those deeper ranges of movement, then front Squats will have the answers for you.  Remember in Rugby, Football, Hockey and any multi-sprint sport, changes of direction are a key component. Having strength in mobility will undoubtedly help.  Also, if we need to develop quad strength and stability, then front squats, however light the load, is where we would look to develop an athlete.

If you would like any advice on training or programming for sport or aesthetics, then get in touch with us and we’d be happy to help.