Front Squat Vs Back Squat: What Does the Science Say?  

A vector image of a man doing a sumo squat - it is the main image to the article "hack squat reverse"

The front squat vs back squat debate is one that has waged for seemingly aeons; but which is truly the best in scientific terms? 

This is a good question, and it is one that we now have the answer to thanks to numerous studies and EMG data from multiple different sources.  

Let’s get right into it and take a look at front squat vs back squat from a scientific lens. 

Let’s settle the score between these two big leg lifts. 

Differences Between the Back and Front Squat 

Specific Muscle Activation 

While both squats engage the lower body muscles, the distribution of muscle activation differs.  

The Front Squat places greater emphasis on the quadriceps, whereas the Back Squat targets the glutes and hamstrings to a higher degree.  

Understanding these differences can help you choose the squat variation that aligns with your specific goals. 

Hypertrophy 

When it comes to muscle growth, the Back Squat has been shown to elicit greater overall muscle activation, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.  

However, the Front Squat front squat muscles worked are exactly the same as the back squat, with the main difference being that more emphasis is put on the quads when front squatting.  
 

Low Back Pain 

Individuals with low back pain may find the Front Squat more tolerable due to the more upright torso position and reduced spinal loading.  

The Back Squat can put more stress on the lumbar spine, potentially exacerbating low back discomfort in some individuals. 

Similarities Between the Back and Front Squat 

Strength 

Both the Back Squat and Front Squat contribute to building lower body strength. They are compound exercises that challenge multiple muscle groups simultaneously, leading to overall strength gains. 

Knee-Dominant Movement 

Both variations involve knee flexion and extension, making them predominantly knee-dominant movements.  

However, the Front Squat places greater demand on the quadriceps and places less stress on the posterior chain compared to the Back Squat. 

Back Vs. Front Squat Technique 

Barbell Location 

In the Back Squat, the barbell rests on the upper back and shoulders, supported by the hands and upper back muscles.   

In contrast, the Front Squat involves a front rack position where the barbell is placed across the front of the shoulders, supported by the fingertips and the anterior deltoids. 

Positioning and Posture 

The Back Squat typically allows for a more inclined torso angle, emphasizing hip hinge mechanics.  

In the Front Squat, the upright torso position places more emphasis on maintaining an erect posture and engaging the core muscles. 

How to Do the Back Squat 

  1. Set up the barbell at an appropriate height on a squat rack, ensuring it’s secure. 
  1. Approach the bar and position it on your upper back, gripping it slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  1. Step back, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, toes slightly pointed outwards. 
  1. Engage your core, brace your abdominals, and maintain a neutral spine. 
  1. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and bending your knees, descending into a squat position. 
  1. Aim to lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below, maintaining proper back squat form and balance. 
  1. Drive through your heels, extend your hips and knees, and return to the starting position. 

Benefits of the Back Squat 

  • The Back Squat is a highly effective exercise for developing lower body strength and power. 
  • It targets a wide range of muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back. 
  • The Back Squat can promote overall muscle hypertrophy, especially in the glutes and hamstrings. 
  • It allows for heavy loading, making it suitable for strength-focused training. 
  • The Back Squat can improve bone density and joint stability. 

Back Squat Variations 

High Bar Back Squat 

Placing the barbell higher on the upper back targets the quadriceps to a greater extent. 

Pause Squat 

Adding a brief pause at the bottom of the squat enhances strength, stability, and control. 

How to Do the Front Squat 

  1. Position the barbell on the front of your shoulders, crossing your arms to create a shelf or utilizing a front rack grip. 
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, maintaining an upright posture and engaging your core. 
  1. Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back, keeping your torso as upright as possible. 
  1. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below, maintaining proper front squat form and balance. 
  1. Drive through your heels, extend your hips and knees, and return to the starting position. 

Benefits of the Front Squat 

  • The Front Squat places greater emphasis on the quadriceps, making it an excellent exercise for targeting the front of the legs. 
  • It promotes core strength and stability due to the front-loaded position, engaging the abdominals and spinal erectors. 
  • The Front Squat enhances shoulder and wrist mobility, improving flexibility and posture. 
  • It helps develop the clean grip position, a fundamental technique used in Olympic weightlifting. 

Front Squat Variations 

Goblet Squat 

Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest, the goblet squat is a suitable alternative for beginners or individuals with limited equipment. 

Front Rack Split Squat 

This variation combines the benefits of the Front Squat with unilateral training, promoting balance, stability, and single-leg strength. 

The Back Vs. Front Squat — When to Use Each 

For Strength 

If maximal strength is your primary goal, the Back Squat allows for heavier loading and greater overall muscle activation. It can be a key exercise in strength-focused training programs. 

For Muscle Growth 

Both the Back Squat and Front Squat can contribute to muscle hypertrophy, but the Back Squat is generally more effective due to its greater activation of the posterior chain muscles. 

For Sports Performance 

Consider your specific sport and movement patterns. The Front Squat may be more applicable to sports that require an upright torso position, such as Olympic weightlifting or activities involving front-loaded movements. 

For Rehab 

The Front Squat can be a useful alternative for individuals recovering from low back pain or certain injuries, as it reduces spinal loading and emphasizes core stability. 

For Beginners 

Starting with the Goblet Squat or mastering the Front Squat can provide a solid foundation before progressing to the Back Squat. 

What Are The Benefits Of Front Squat And The Back Squat 

Less Spinal Compression 

Both the Front Squat and Back Squat variations can place less compressive force on the spine compared to exercises like the Deadlift. However, the Front Squat may be even more forgiving for individuals with a history of spinal issues. 

Improvement To Core Strength 

Both squats engage the core muscles to stabilize the spine during the movement, leading to improved core strength and stability. 

Improvement To Knee Stability 

Strengthening the quadriceps and surrounding muscles through squats can help improve knee stability and reduce the risk of injuries. 

Improvement To Overall Athletic Performance 

The combination of lower body strength, power, and stability developed through squats can enhance overall athletic performance, improving abilities in sports and activities. 

Increase In Hip Mobility 

Squats require a good range of motion in the hips, and consistent practice can lead to improved hip mobility, which translates to better movement mechanics and reduced risk of injuries. 

The Bottom Line 

Whether you prefer the Back Squat or the Front Squat, both exercises offer a range of benefits.  

Consider your goals, individual strengths, and any specific considerations when choosing the squat variation that best suits you.  

Remember to prioritize proper technique, gradually increase weight and intensity, and seek guidance from a qualified professional if needed.  

Front Squat Vs Back Squat – FAQs 


Is Front Squat Harder Than Back Squat? 

Yes, front squats are harder than back squats. 

This is because your upper body has to play much more of a role in stabilisation.  

What Are The Benefits Of Front Squats? 

The benefits of front squats are increased quad growth, less stress on joints, and variation.  

Do Front Squats Improve Back Squats? 

Yes, front squats do improve back squats. 

This is because front squats target the same muscles as back squats, albeit in different ways.  

Is A Front Squat Harder Than A Back Squat?  

Yes, a front squat is harder than a back squat. 

This is because your upper body has to work much harder to maintain an upright posture.  

Do Front Squats And Back Squats Work The Same Muscles?  

Yes, front squats and back squats do work the same muscles. 

The only real difference is that front squats target quads more while back squats target glutes more.  

Can Front Squats Replace Back Squats?  

Yes, front squats can replace back squats. 

Both squats target the same muscle groups and are great lower-body muscle-builders.  

Should You Add Front Squats To Your Routine?  

Yes, you should add front squats to your routine.  

Although, if you plan on doing the front squat and back squat same day, then you should make sure you are only doing 5 overall sets of squats.  

Should You Perform A Front Or A Back Squat?  

Whether or not you should perform front squats or back squats is up to you.  

If you are asking yourself “are front squats safer than back squat”, then the answer is likely going to be front squats. 

Front squats put less stress on the joints and are easier to bail on.  

Although, back squats are more efficient at putting on lower-body muscle and strength, so this is something to keep in mind.  

Front Squat Vs Back Squats?  

The main differences between the front squat and back squat are that the front squat puts less strain on the joints, is easier to bail from, and targets the quads more. 

Back squats, on the other hand, allow you to lift more weight and are generally better for putting on lower-body muscle mass and strength.  

Are Front Squats More Effective Than Back Squats? 

No, front squats are not more effective than back squats.  

Front squats use less weight than back squats, meaning they do not put muscle on as efficiently as back squats.  

 
What’s Better Between The Front Squat Vs Hack Squat? 

Both the front squat and hack squat are great exercises, and neither is better than the other. 

If you want to target glutes more, go for the hack squat. If you want to target quads more, go for the front squat.  

What’s Better Between The Front Squat Vs Goblet Squat? 

Both the front squat and goblet squat are great exercises that target similar muscle groups. 

However, for general strength and size, front squats are going to be better than goblet squats due to the fact that they allow you to lift more weight and are easier to load.  

We hope this article will help you.  

While the front squat vs back squat debate might not be as clear-cut as you would like, it’s important to understand that this is a multi-faceted question and the answer will be different for different people.  

For more fitness help, head over to MovingForwards

See you next time!