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For far too long, the front squat has served as the red-headed stepchild of squatting variations. You can’t front squat as much as you can back squat, so you simply discard it – toss it into the pile of lifts less regarded. But this in the realm of physique-building is a catastrophic, tactical mistake. The front squat engages your quads to a greater degree and, because of the more upright body positioning required, hammers your core to its minerals.
The front squat isn’t just great for making you look better, though. It happens to also have a bevy of other benefits you may not have realized, such as the four mentioned below. So set your ego aside and catapult your physique and strength to the next level by training the front squat.
Front squats are easier on your back and knees. Science shows you can work the same muscles targeted as the back squat while saving the lower back and knees. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning concluded that the front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces and extensor moments. The back results suggest that front squats may be advantageous compared with back squats for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health.
Back squats have been associated with lower back pain. Generally, the back squat is unfairly blamed. It’s not the back squat’s fault — it’s back squats with bad technique. Lifters can cheat up back squats by getting out of position and doing a pseudo good morning to complete the lift. Try that with front squats and it’s party over! Lifters leaning forward on a front squat lose the weight – it is impossible to lean forward excessively while front squatting. This, in turn, promotes proper back squat technique by teaching you to keep your torso more erect. If you can front squat, you can back squat. The inverse is not true.
While not everyone reading Muscle and Fitness is an avid Olympic lifter, those that have any interest in improving their cleans, jerks and push presses will immediately benefit from the front squat. The bar positioning and body posture in the front squat offer the most direct transference to Olympic lifting of any squatting variation.
World renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin points out that the front squat immediately assesses flexibility and to perform the movement with proper technique you must be flexible in all major joints. Coaches that test athletes’ strength in front squats, by default, create an incentive to train flexibility. So it goes that gym rats that train front squats consistently are, by default, consistently working on their flexibility. Additional flexibility work, however, is also advised. If the movement requires flexibility, as does the front squat, you must be flexible.
Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at www.joshstrength.com.