Front Squat or Back Squat: Which is Better?

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Front Squat or Back Squat

A point of discussion in weightlifting will always be squatting. Coaches love debating the topic of squatting because squatting is so important to the sport of weightlifting. Heck squatting is important to all sports, and it’s probably the most functional movement on earth making it super important to all people. Today’s article is looking at the front squat versus the back squat. The article is mostly talking about the importance for weightlifting, but a lot of the discussion will interest all athletes and all people that workout.

When it comes to squatting there are two variables to look a:

1. Back Squatting recruits the most fibers. The two main aspects of squatting that affect fiber recruitment are range of motion and load. Most people can back squat about 10% more than they front squat, so it has the advantage on the load. When it comes to range of motion, it is person specific. I can naturally front squat much deeper than I back squat.

2. Front Squatting is more specific to the sport of weightlifting. Obviously it mimics the catch to the Clean. If done correctly, the athlete can work on the position and overall mobility for the Clean & Jerk. Front Squats are normally easier on the back due to their upright position, and they tend to target quads more.

Both squats are very useful. Is one better than the other? Personally I hate all of the absolutes going around without any scientific research to back any of the claims. Personally in a perfect world, I like to use a variety of the two, and I like to use different variables of each. However this is an article discussing when to use each, so we are going to look at some questions that a coach must ask when prescribing squats:

1. Does one squat create more damage than the other? I have two athletes that don’t back squat at all right now. The back squat tends to cause a lot of extra back and hip issues, which are avoided during the front squat. We could spend three months figuring out the issue with the back squat, or we can front squat and continue on. It only makes sense to front squat. They are able to snatch, clean & jerk, deadlift, and all other exercises with no pain at all. The key is not to get caught up in some dogmatic plan.

Front squats definitely make their legs stronger especially in the quads. This is more important to the standing up portion of the clean. I can work on their pulling power with the obvious pull or deadlift. We still perform GHRs, good mornings, reverse hypers, and belt squats, so we are still recruiting all the fibers and then some.

2. Range of Motion- some athletes can squat deeper with front squats. It’s probably because they aren’t loading their hips as much during the beginning portion. Either way some athletes should focus more on range of motion than strength. I am the perfect example. I spent many years powerlifting, so my back squat is way ahead of everything. Not to mention I learned to break parallel, and then stand up. That’s perfect for powerlifting, but not so perfect for weightlifting. That motor pattern is very engrained in my CNS. However with the Front Squat I have no problem getting lower, so my focus for weightlifting and quality of life is the front squat.

3. Sport Specific Position- Some people have a terrible position, so their focus should be on the front squat. I recommend using different tempos to emphasize proper position. One key element that most of you are overlooking is the grip. The goal is to catch with a hook grip. Now is that always going to happen? No, but that’s the goal nonetheless. If you can hold the hook, you can pull under the bar longer maintaining contact with the bar the entire time. That’s optimal but not 100% necessary. Besides the grip, the athlete should focus on a vertical spine, protracted shoulders, and 100% complete depth. We all love front squatting heavy, but perfect positions are the most important.

4. Intentional Reduced Load- Front Squats are a great way to intentionally reduce loads. Guys like Nathan Damron can back squat 700 pounds. At this point in his training he has all the leg strength that he needs. The amount of recovery time required to back squat isn’t worth it at this point. The front squat is normally 10% less than the back squat, so you can still go heavy without the load on the spine. Front Squats are still getting you stronger, and the body is still experiencing the advantages of the maximum effort method without the extra load of the back squat.

5. Safety Self Spot- this one is an important aspect for high schools, middle schools, and bigger groups. Front squats basically spot themselves. If a lifter can’t complete a front squat, the bar naturally rolls off the shoulders onto the floor. Back squats are a little more complicated. Most advanced lifters stay vertical, and understand how to dump the bar backwards. Younger athletes can get into some bad situations with back squat, and end up dumping the bar over their head.

6. It comes down to the ratio- If you are front squatting 95% of your back squat, I recommend focusing on your back squat. If you are front squatting 80% of your back squat, the focus should be on front squat. If you are hitting close to 90%, then refer to points 1 thru 5.

It sounds like that I am making a case for the Front Squat. The goal was to show you that there is more than one way to achieve any goal. A lot of what I am trying to say is to use your common sense. If something is hurting you, then don’t do it. I mean Mary Peck low bar squats, and right now she’s the top 63kg lifter in the country. Obviously low bar squatting can work. Am I recommending low bar squatting? No, but I am saying let’s all drop the dogmatic absolutes. If you want to low bar squat, then have at it. It works for Mary.

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