By now, you’ve surely heard about all the good things squats can bring. From increased strength to more power to a perkier booty, the benefits are legitimate.
With plenty of squat variations — back, front, goblet, split, plié, and single-leg to name a few — we have to ask: Are all squats created equal?
We’re here to demystify the back squat versus front squat debate. Read on to decide which is for you, and how to incorporate each into your own routine.
When considering whether to back squat or front squat, think first about your own abilities, then about your goals.
While both exercises are beneficial, the front squat requires quite a bit more mobility than the back squat, so the back squat may be the best option for those just starting out.
If you’re comfortable with both movements, think about your goals.
If you’re eyeing more strength and power, stick with the back squat.
If you’re looking to develop some killer quads, focus on front squats.
Both the back squat and front squat will give you killer gams all around. Although they’re both a variation on the squat, they each emphasize different muscles.
Back squats target the posterior chain — or the back of your body — including the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The quads and core are also engaged.
Front squats zone in on the anterior chain — or the front of your body — to hit the quads and upper back more heavily. Glutes and hamstrings are also engaged here.
In short, yes — back squats and front squats offer many of the same benefits.
They both help you gain strength in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, which in turn help with attributes like speed and power.
Front squats can be easier on the lower back because the position of the weight doesn’t compress the spine like it would in a back squat.
This benefit also comes with a potential drawback — because the weight is positioned in the front of your body during a front squat, you won’t be able to lift as much as you would in a back squat.
While the foundation of both the back squat and front squat movements are the same, there are some nuances to each exercise.
- Safely load a barbell behind your head, resting it on your traps.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed out and chest up.
- Begin to sit back in your hips, bending your knees and dropping your butt toward the floor. Ensure that you push your knees out and that your gaze stays ahead.
- When your thighs reach parallel to the ground, pause, then stand back up, pushing through your entire foot back to start.
- Safely load a barbell onto your front side, resting it on your shoulders.
- Hook your fingers in an underhand grip just outside your shoulders and push your elbows up.
- Begin to squat, initiating the movement in your hips and bending the knees, dropping your butt toward the floor.
- Ensure that your knees fall out and your chest stays up, resisting the pull to fall forward.
Both back squats and fronts squats are useful, but taking a look at your own ability level and goals will help you decide which exercise you should focus on.
You’ll need good mobility in your upper back, shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles to safely and efficiently perform a front squat.
A back squat doesn’t require as much mobility, so it’s easier to start here and focus on your form and building strength.
If you’re comfortable with both back squat and front squat movements, then also think about your goals.
Back squats allow you to add weight quicker, which promotes strength and power.
While front squats can also help to promote strength and power — although not as quickly — they’re a great exercise for developing the quads.
So, if aesthetics are your goal, consider prioritizing front squats.
If you’d like to reap strength, power, and aesthetic benefits, incorporate both the back squat and the front squat into your routine.
Maintaining proper form is key to safely and effectively performing back and front squats.
Both movements — especially the front squat — take some getting used to.
Common back squat mistakes
- Knees caving in or moving forward. Correct knee placement is key to a squat. Your knees should push outward and not fall over your toe line.
- Lack of depth. Your thighs should reach parallel to the ground in a back squat. If you limit your range of motion, you won’t reap the full benefits of the movement and could risk injuring your knees.
- Chest dropping. Letting your chest fall forward disengages your posterior chain, which is key to a back squat. Rolling your shoulders down and back and keeping your gaze forward will help combat this.
Common front squat mistakes
- Elbows dropping. Dropping your elbows means you’ll lean forward in the movement. Push your elbows up toward the ceiling to ensure you’ll sit back in your hips.
- Not sitting into heels. Whereas in a back squat you want to imagine sitting back into your hips, in a front squat, this cue will cause too much of a lean forward. Instead, think about dropping straight down into your heels to resist falling forward.
- Upper back rounding. Because the weight is in front, your upper back can easily round under the resistance. Ensure your spine stays straight throughout the movement for proper alignment.
Learning proper squat form without weight is key before adding any additional resistance.
Once your form is solid, add weight in a back squat or front squat form.
Start slowly and ensure you can complete 3 sets of 12 reps before increasing the weight.
Consider the goblet squat as an alternative to the back squat or front squat, especially if you’re a beginner.
The movement is natural and translatable to daily life while helping you to perfect good squat form — upright torso, strong core, and knees out.
- Hold a kettlebell or a dumbbell vertically, gripping it with both hands underneath the top of the weight.
- Bend your elbows and position the weight against your chest. It should remain in contact with your body throughout the movement.
- Begin to squat down, sitting back in the hips, keeping the core tight and torso upright.
- Allow the elbows to track in between the knees, stopping when they make contact.
- Drive through your heels back to the starting position.
Back squats and front squats each have their place, depending on your fitness level and goals. If you’re able, incorporate both to reap all the benefits.
Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife and more.