The Front Squat
Best for: Muscle-Building and Functional Sports Training
Once you’ve mastered front squatting, few if any exercises will do as much to build your quads. And that rack position does wonders for your performance in any number of sports.
The study linked above found that front squats activated the vastus lateralis, and the rectus femoris—two quadriceps muscles—more effectively than back squats. Most lifters use less weight in the front squat than the back squat, but with less help coming from the hamstrings, you may nevertheless target the quads more effectively front-squatting than you would back squatting.
The “rack” position (overhand grip, bar on the fronts of your shoulders) is a mainstay in many strength-training activities: Olympic lifting, kettlebells, CrossFit. Squatting with the bar in the front position therefore makes for a terrific sports-specific challenge.
It also requires you to keep your torso more upright than back squatting—which for some people means less strain on the lower back. Those benefits come at a price, though: “It’s the most technically demanding squat,” says Poli. “You have to practice this one to gain mastery.”
The rack position puts the weight forward of your center of gravity, meaning the lower back has to work a little harder to keep you upright in the front squat than it does when you back squat.
As with the back squat, you need a spotter or a squat rack when you front squat. That said, it’s generally easier to dump the weight forward than it is backward.
Depending on the lifter, front squats may be more comfortable than back squats: some people feel fine in the rack position; others can barely get into it without pain somewhere.
Regardless, any time your spine is under compression with a hundred or more pounds of pressure, there’s a possibility for injury. Respect the front squat.
Strength Building: 4/5
Muscle Building: 5/5