Squats are great! Squats use the main muscle groups in our lower body, they use the hips, knees and ankles, they can be used to build mass, to become stronger and improve athletic performance, to improve our mobility around different joint etc. Put simply, everyone should be doing a squat variation; of which there are many. Today we are going to discuss the two main types of squats, that is, the back squat and the front squat – the difference between the two, if we should prioritise one over the other and when should we be doing what.
The most notable difference between both squats is the bar positioning. Whereas in the back squat you put the bar on your back at the top of your shoulder blades / trapezius muscles, in the front squat you load the bar at the front of your shoulders very close to your neck with your elbows up high.
This immediately makes us think about the mobility required. To be able to load a front squat effectively you need to have good mobility in your shoulders, wrists and thoracic spine so that you are able to stay upright and keep the bar path towards the mid foot and heel when descending into the bottom of the squat. Saying that, you should not neglect the front squat if you have poor mobility; works towards getting better at it while using the back squat to load the squat movement. We must not forget that the front squat position is the starting position of various lifts mainly the clean and jerk in weightlifting, thrusters and push presses. Moreover, having mobile shoulders makes them healthier with less chance of injury for example in throwing sports.
Due to the bar positioning and hence the pattern of each squat the emphasis on the muscles used is also slightly different. While in a back squat we are mainly using our posterior chain muscles namely the hamstrings, glutes and lower back, in the front squat the emphasis is on the quadriceps and upper back which also means that we can load a back squat heavier than a front squat. The difference in loading is also due to the fact that it is much harder to hold a heavy load at the front of your shoulders than on the top of your back. Furthermore, because we are able to lift heavier in the back squat, back squats essentially are more effective for increasing our strength. Strength is crucial for increasing athletic performance which will in turn make you run quicker, jump higher and be more powerful. Nonetheless, hip extension is also a very important factor for sporting performance, and this can be achieved with both lifts.
Apart from making us stronger, both the back squat and the front squat prevent injuries at joints mainly in the lower body, but also the shoulders, due to strengthening the muscles but also the ligaments and tendons around the joints. As we have talked about both squats are very important so do make sure that irrelevant of what you are trying to achieve in you training you are squatting at least once a week.