The Strong Case For The Front Squat
Picture a barbell squat in your mind. You walk up to the bar, the heavy load resting on either side of it taunting you. You take a deep breath, get under the bar, position it carefully, brace your core hard and lift it out of the rack.
Where is the bar?
Typically speaking, it’s on your upper traps, or a “high bar” back squat position.
Some people prefer a “low bar” position, where the bar is a bit further down on the rear delts, and the torso is more inclined.
But how many of you envisioned the bar resting on the front delt?
Well, uh…probably a lot because you’ve already read the title, but without that, the vast majority of people will default to thinking about a barbell squat as being a back squat of some variety.
That’s a shame, because the front squat is a beast of a movement.
The Advantages of Front Squatting
First, it’s a hell of a core exercise. Because the bar is further forward on the body, it increases the moment arm for the spinal erectors, particularly the upper back. This also increases the demands on the abdominals in order to “brace” the core, particularly the transverse abdominis.
The front squat just might be the single greatest anti-spinal flexion movement out there. You want better posture? Front squats it is.
Second, it’s much easier to stay upright and target the quadriceps. For a given load, front squats will activate the quads more than a back squat, though admittedly if the efforts are equated, the quad involvement is quite similar due to most people being weaker on front squats. Another benefit of the upright posture is that there is less strain on the lower back.
Third, it’s easier to get lower in a front squat for most people. There are no prizes for depth, but getting increased range of motion ain’t a bad thing for muscle growth.
Fourth, it’s a very self-limiting movement that forces honesty. For a back squat, you can shift the hips back and use more hip involvement with less quads, a “good morning” type of squat. This puts great strain on the lower back and can lead to injury. This isn’t possible with front squats due to the bar position. Try that shit and the bar will fall.
Fifth, it’s a good transition into Olympic weightlifting. In a clean, you’ll need to be able to catch the bar on your front delts, and stand up with it. Basically, a dynamic front squat.
Sixth, they are easier to fail than back squats. You can just push the bar out in front of you, Olympic lifters do it all the time. With a back squat…it’s more tricky. If you don’t have a power rack, maybe a positive in terms of safety there.
The Disadvantages of Front Squatting
Well, yes, there are some. If not, everyone would just be front squatting, right?
First, they’re uncomfortable. All that weight resting on the front delt can make breathing a bit more difficult, and the bottom position of a front squat is probably someone or other’s personal hell.
Second, they do limit the absolute loading compared to a back squat. Most people will be around 15–20% weaker on them. This isn’t all bad, but certainly a consideration.
Third, it has less hamstring activation for a given load or effort compared to back squatting, though admittedly squatting in general isn’t great for hamstrings compared to hinging movements, anyway.
Fourth, if you want to compete in powerlifting, that’s a test of the back squat, and front squats are at best an accessory movement.
Fifth, they require a good deal of upper body mobility. If you have big biceps, they simply might be impossible.
Sixth, they can be harder on the knees and wrists. Because it’s a more quad-dominant lift, the knees go further forward, which is fine for most people, but does increase tension in that area. So if you have knee issues, maybe not the best choice. In terms of the wrists, hypothetically, you shouldn’t be using the hands actively so it shouldn’t put stress here, but in practice, for many people, it does place strain in this area.
Ultimately, they’re worth considering, but are by no means a must unless you are an Olympic weightlifter. I say give them a shot. Some people hate them, others fall in love with them and even use them as their main squatting variation. You’ll know pretty quickly which camp you’re in.