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Front Squat vs Back Squat
Squatting is essential for female athletes
Assistant coach Fran Low was an experienced hockey player when she started working with Excelsior.
However, she had never done squats. Part of her role was to research the difference between front and back squats. Here are the results:
Unlike most males who spend many hours swanning around the weights in the gym, the squat was a relatively new and daunting exercise to me.
Having not spent much time strength training (reasons highlighted in this piece about females in the gym) I was unaware of the importance of the squatting movement and how it underpins most strength training exercises.
I realised the true importance of squatting during the first few seconds of my first session with James. If you cannot squat correctly then don’t even think about lifting any weights!
I wanted to learn how to squat properly.This article aims to highlight details and techniques of the front and back squats as well as looking at the power ratios between the different exercises.
It is one of the only exercises that directly trains hip drive (the initial movement out of the bottom of a full squat is hip drive).
Hip drive is important for any sport that involves running, jumping or lunging (so most sports really!).
The squat uses the whole of the so called posterior chain, that is the calves, hamstrings and glutes working together. Due to the large range of movement, the squat is very effective at synchronising and enhancing this movement.
It works the whole body requiring stabilising muscles to be trained as well as the gross muscle groups.
It also replicates a movement used in everyday life and most sports.
- Back squat: Barbell rests on back of the shoulder, more info below
- Front Squat: Barbell rests on front of the shoulders, more info below.
- Overhead squat: a squat performed with a weight/item (barbell, medicine ball, dumbbell, broomstick) above the head.
- Hindu Squat: body weight exercise, squatting down onto toes, bringing heels to bum, and swinging arms down, straightening legs standing up and pushing from the toes.
Back Squat Technique:
- Approach bar in either power or squat rack.
- Grasp bar using pronated grip (width dependant on placement on back).
- Stand upright with bar resting across upper back (supported by 1 or 2 spotters, if required).
- Feet width self selected, but no wider than shoulder width.
- Elbows high and as far forward as possible, to support bar.
- Prior to descent, take a breath and hold it.
- Bend slowly at the knees and hips.
- Maintain a flat back throughout descent.
- Keep heels on the floor and do not allow the body to fall forward.
- Try to keep the knee in line with the toe (don’t allow knees to buckle, this leads to injury!).
- Stop descent at appropriate depth for athlete, ideally when legs are/past parallel to the floor.
- Without bouncing raise bar by extending hips and knees.
- Keep back flat and head up.
- Keep hips under bar.
- Hold breath through sticking point*.
- At completion of set walk forward and replace bar in stands.
Back Squat – The good vs. bad
|Total body workout||Cannot perform with back problems|
|Improve posture and balance|
Trains the posterior chain
|Can be dangerous if incorrect technique|
Squats can be uncomfortable
|Trains stabilizing muscles leading to reduced risk of injury|
|Build Muscle/gain strength|
|Used to exercise everything from endurance to power|
This movement is more upright and so places a more direct workload on your quads. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as in the back version, though.
This key difference is highlighted in an image below and due to the greater hip angle, reduces the useof the hamstrings in the movement.
This means it does not activate the posterior chain and although good for working the quadriceps, can neglect the hamstrings. For this reason it is not advised to solely use the front squat in training.
Front Squat Technique:
Same as back squat although instead of having bar placed on back of shoulders it is placed on the front of the shoulders:
- Keep elbows high (upper-arm, almost parallel to the floor) and chest up.
- Your shoulders support the weight, not your hands. Open your hands, relax them. Two/Three fingers under the bar is suggested.
- Perform same squatting action as the back squat; however you will find that your back will stay straight as you need to keep your chest out to balance.
Front Squat – The Good vs. the Bad
|Requires/helps flexibility||Max front squat will be lighter than max Back squat.|
|Harder to ‘cheat’||Does not target the hamstrings and glutes unlike the back squat.|
|Build Muscle/gain strength||Often Limited by stabiliser muscle flexibility rather than quadriceps fatigue (wrists, shoulders, ankles).|
|More emphasis on quadriceps||Does not train the posterior chain|
|Can improve other lifts|
|Considered safer than the back squat|
How I Learnt how to squat properly
The best way to gain a true understanding of these two squats is to try them yourself! So that’s what I did….
Firstly I would say I felt more comfortable and stable during the front squat. I was able to squat lower. However my wrists did begin to ache suggesting I should work on wrist flexibility!
I could lift heavier with the back squat but I also felt more wobbly! The key coaching point I took from James was “Sit down”. Everything else is very technical, but to get started that simple cue was the best.
There are many differences between the two squatting techniques which this article has aimed to highlight. To sum it all up it is evident that the back squat should be an exercise in every athlete’s repertoire.
To help with the back squat technique you can use the front squat, however don’t rely solely on the front squat as you will be neglecting the hamstrings and it isn’t as possible to lift as much weight.
Good coaching is essential for both types of squat.
*Sticking point – The most difficult part of a lift, i.e. when the bar will not go any higher.
I had the pleasure of having James as my first s&c coach when I was at University in Plymouth. I worked with him for 3 years and learnt everything I now know about training to the best of my ability. When I first saw James I was identified as a talented rugby player but had various injury and illness problems to contend with. By the end of my time with him I had become an athlete and later received my first international cap against the U.S.A.