Which is better, the front squat or the back squat?
The answer to this ongoing debate depends heavily on each individual.
Both the front and back squat movements require hip flexion, knee flexion and dorsiflexion of the foot/ankle complex during the eccentric (lowering) phase and hip extension, knee extension and plantar flexion of the foot and ankle complex during the concentric (returning to standing) phase.
MUSCLES WORKED IN FRONT SQUATS & BACK SQUATS
Both front squats and back squats work the same muscle groups; prime movers include gluteals and quadriceps; synergists (assisting muscles) include the hamstrings; and stabilizers include the deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis).
Muscle response and electrical activity in each muscle group (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals) between the two lifts is shown to be nearly identical. Because of the inherent change in the position of the center of mass of the bar between the front and back squat lifts, the back squat results in decreased back extensor muscle activity (erector spinae). Back squats also create greater compressive (downward) forces at the knees. However, shear (side to side) forces at the knee are identical in both lifts (very minimal).
The primary difference between the two lifts is actually upper body mechanics. Individuals who lack shoulder external rotation may have a difficult time performing a back squat. These individuals are hard pressed to get the bar racked and held in the proper position across the upper back due to poor shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. These individuals usually display an upper crossed syndrome (rounded shoulders and forward head), typically seen in those who spend a lot of time driving or working on the computer.
The Front Squat does not require external rotation at the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint. However, some people will find the position of the bar across the shoulders uncomfortable; especially if they have acromioclavicular joint (AC) joint dysfunction.
There is anecdotal evidence that front squats are safer on a client’s lower back, but this has not been proven definitively in research. Conversely, clients tend to be able to lift heavier loads with back squats.
The bottom line is, both exercises help target the musculature of the lower extremities and can be beneficial developing muscular growth, strength and power. The exercise you choose should depend on personal choice as well as joint mobility in the shoulder complex, and ankle. It is doubtful you’ll notice significant performance abilities by choosing one lift over the other. And if you are able to comfortably position the bar in both a front rack and upper back hold then its good to mix it up and switch between these two options.
Remember, all training is cumulative. And never sacrifice correct technique for a few extra kilos on the bar
If you want to learn more about different squat options, get in touch with us directly and we will be more than happy to help.