Barbell back squats are widely considered the ultimate leg exercise, with the barbell front squat coming in a close second. While back squats are part of the powerlifting big 3, front squats and their variations are used for their reduced stability, making them more applicable to sports and Olympic lifting where everything is happening in front of the lifter.
This is not to discredit the barbell back squat, but rather to highlight the benefits of the front squat.
Front squats heavily target the anterior muscles, particularly the quads and anterior core. The teardrop muscle, or vastus medialis, is particularly emphasized during front squats. Additionally, if you experience lower back discomfort during back squats, the vertical torso position of the front squat places less compressive force on the spine, making it more accessible for those with lower back issues.
Now, let’s explore the key elements of proper front squat form and three front squat variations that can help you achieve impressive quad gains and a strong anterior core.
What You Need for a Good Front Squat
While there are various cues, techniques, and methods for front squats, the following factors are essential:
- Maintaining a neutral position of the lumbar spine throughout the movement, which requires core stability and hip mobility.
- Keeping the feet firmly planted on the ground throughout the repetition, necessitating good ankle mobility.
- Ensuring the barbell remains in a vertical line over the midfoot, which relies on adequate shoulder and upper back mobility.
- Developing upper back strength and mobility when using the front rack, crossover grip, or straps to maintain a vertical torso, keep the elbows up, and prevent the barbell from shifting.
Benefits of Front Squats
A common criticism of front squats is that they allow for less weight compared to back squats. While this is true due to the less stable anterior position of the barbell, it doesn’t mean that front squats can’t lead to significant gains in size and strength.
- Quad Development: Both back squats and front squats effectively target the quads. However, the front squat’s anterior position encourages an upright torso, placing greater emphasis on the quads compared to the back squat.
- Reduced Strain on the Lower Back: Back squats exert compressive force on the spine as the barbell rests directly on it. While this is not necessarily detrimental, if you’re experiencing back discomfort, the vertical torso position of the front squat is gentler on the lower back, reducing compressive force on the spine.
- Improved Sports Performance: As mentioned earlier, front squats have better carryover to movements in sports such as Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, MMA, and boxing, as these activities primarily involve movements in front of the lifter. Front squats are superior to back squats in these sports, unless you’re specifically training for powerlifting.
Top 3 Front Squat Variations
While the barbell front squat remains the ultimate variation, not everyone has the necessary upper back strength and mobility to hold a barbell in position. Some individuals may be new to front squatting and need to develop the required strength and mobility for the barbell front squat. In either case, these three front squat variations will leave you feeling the burn.
You can thank me later.