On Trial: Back Squat vs. Front Squat

What’s the real difference between them, other than bar placement?
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OPENING ARGUMENTS

Defense The regular (back) squat is the most natural way to squat and allows the use of more weight, which can lead to greater muscle growth.Prosecution Because most people are unaccustomed to doing them, front squats may not allow for the use of as much weight as regular squats. Placing the bar on the front of the body changes the biomechanics, offering different benefits from the regular squat.

EVIDENCE

  • ■ Squatting with the barbell on your upper back forces a forward bend in your torso in the bottom position in order to keep the bar balanced. This causes you to use your hamstrings and glutes more as you come up to extend your hips to return to the start position with your torso and legs fairly straight.
  • ■ The bar placement in the front squat forces you to keep your torso more upright as you lower into the bottom position. This means you use more quads than you do hams and glutes.
  • ■ University of Florida (Gainesville) researchers reported that when trained subjects did the regular back squat, the compressive force on the knees was more than 20% greater than during the front squat.

VERDICT: THE BACK SQUAT

The back squat allows you to go the heaviest, involves more of the lower-body muscles and is an easier exercise to perfect.

SENTENCING

Use the back squat as your major lower-body mass builder. However, if you need to prioritize quads, use the front squat as well. Your best bet is to start with back squats and then include a few sets of front squats. If knee problems prevent you from doing back squats, give front squats a try.

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