The barbell back squat could be considered the biggest “baller” when it comes to exercising. It’s treated like a president of the barbell world and most routines are engineered in a way to flatter the king’s ego. Monday: Squat; Wednesday: Squat; Friday: Squat; Repeat.
Trying to convince a die-hard fan that the squat is just an exercise is harder than making a banker give money to poor people. In the world of back squat worshipers you have the right to do all the sins possible as long as your squat is heavy and strong. Very few people, however, pay attention to the little brother a.k.a. the Front Squat. Question is, why?
Add biscuits to the bar! Make your mama proud!
The main reason why the back squat is considered the king is the opportunity to lift a ton of weight in an impressive fashion. The position of the bar is much easier to maintain compared to that of a front squat, and the mechanics of the movement allow the powerful posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and back) to do most of the work.
Many powerlifters perform low bar squats which are a variation of the back squat that allows you to lift more weight. The low bar squat shifts the stress towards the hamstrings and glutes even further. Most people can squat 10-20% more thanks to the low bar position. On the other hand the front squat uses less of your posterior chain and that’s why it’s usually 70% of your back squat. The front squat also requires you to keep your back truly straight unless you want to drop the bar.
In brief, the reason why the back squat is more popular are not its super powers. The popularity is fueled and maintained by tradition, ego and people’s love for higher numbers. You can do front squats + Romanian deadlifts and your lower body will be plenty strong, but your inner voice will always be thinking: Am I missing something by not doing back squats? I want those 4 plates on the bar.
The Back Squats – Hate It or Love it
If you are healthy enough to do the exercise properly and built for it, back squats have no real cons. They are a fine close chain exercise that gets the job done. However, perfect situations like this rarely exist.
The main problem with back squats is found not in the exercise itself, but rather the attitude of most people towards it. A properly done back squat is one of the best exercises ever, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare for your spine, knees, hips and even shoulders when ego, macho nonsense, impatience, lack of information and bad programming are combined.
The only way to find out whether back squats are your thing is to give them a fair run. It takes a while to learn how to squat with good form, but once you get it – it’s the easiest thing ever. As Bruce Lee‘s famous quote says:
“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick.
After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick.
Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”
— Bruce Lee
Once you can do the exercise with good technique, start adding weight. To tell you the truth, this is when “true proper” form learning begins. Everybody can squat nice with 95 lbs. The real heart test begins when the weight is truly getting heavy.
With that being said, nobody is forcing you to do back squats. It’s a choice that you should make based on your goals, experience and before all the feedback of your body. In order to acquire that data, however, you must work. You should not base your final decision solely on what somebody wrote in an article.
If you are not getting good results from your squatting efforts, it may be time for a change. However, you will never know unless you truly try. Even if later on you find out that squats are not your thing for whatever reason, the experience of learning the movement and getting better at it will be very valuable, and will help you advance a lot in your lifting/exercising career.
Fuck, it my quads don’t grow from back squats. Why?
Not everybody is a natural squatter. Different levers account for different muscular development. People with short femurs, long torsos and strong knees will love squats. This is the type that gets the most out of the exercise.
On the other hand there are always those with long femurs and short torsos who rarely build big legs from squats. Quite often when that’s the only leg exercise the final results are big hips and small legs. That’s because the “mechanically inferior” lifter has to bend over more during the exercise which shifts the stress towards the posterior chain. Balance can be achieved by doing leg presses and/or front squats.
The Front Squat – The Underdog Is Fighting
These days front squats are as rare as real tits. The exercise does not allow you to lift a lot of weight and is not part of the big three. This makes it less fashionable, but that does not mean that it has no value. It’s capable of building a very strong body.
The front squat will build your quads, glutes, upper back and core. The lacking part will be your hamstrings but that could easily be countered with Romanian deadlifts or another posterior chain exercise like sprints.
The front squat comes with many specifics that most people are not aware of. Here’s a short list:
– Barbell front squats do not tolerate high reps because holding the bar is very uncomfortable. That’s why it’s better to do multiple sets of 3-5 reps. If you are doing front squats with kettlebells, dumbbells or some sort of a harness, you can get away with high rep work.
– Using the so-called clean grip gives you the most control, but it also requires the most flexibility. If you can’t hold the bar, you can use straps as described here.
– You can benefit a lot from taping your wrist when doing front squats. Don’t worry, it’s not cheating.
– Your upper back has to work very hard in order to support the bar in front of you. The front squat is a very effective exercise for building the upper portion of the spinal erectors.
The main advantage of the front squat over the back squat is that it keeps you honest. Cheating is still possible, but it’s harder. You can’t turn the exercise into a cheated good morning because you will either drop the bar or strain your wrists.
– The front squat and the back squat are two brothers. Outside of a specific context there is no clear winner.
– The back squat is a fine exercise that allows you to lift a lot of weight, but unless you have short legs and long torso, you may need to add leg presses and/or front squats in order to acquire more balanced lower body development.
– Most people will be able to squat deeper when doing the front squat. This exercise also places less stress on the lower back due to the lower poundages and the more upright torso position. The front squat is less likely to hurt your back.
– Out of the two, the back squats feel more comfortable because the bar is not crushing your throat. It’s resting on your traps and that’s a pretty good place for a heavy bar.
– The back squat places less stress on the knees than the front squat. However, this could be negated, if you are using too much weight and perform high squats.
– The front squat can leave your hamstrings somewhat weak. A combination of Romanian deadlifts and front squats calls for a healthy and balanced leg development.