Why Front Squats Are Better Than Back Squats

Why Front Squats Are Better Than Back Squats

Think that the back squat is the best exercise on the planet? Well perhaps this will make you think again.

Now I’m sure you’ve probably heard this before, but the worst thing an athlete, or even someone who’s just looking to get into better shape, can do, is to avoid squatting… especially front squatting.

There’s no better total body exercise for improving your strength, speed, and size, period. Not only do squats burn more calories than any other complex movement, but they’ll work every muscle in your legs and help build a strong core.

So why front squats over back squats? Well, one problem with back squats is that they have a tendency to put too much strain on your lower back, especially when done incorrectly. An arched back and or forward lean can compromise your balance, and increase your likelihood of spraining a ligament or injuring a disk, which would suck. Simply put, the bar placement influences your center of gravity during the motion. With the weight on the back and a forward lean of the torso you have more back extension, and therefore more pressure on your lower back. With the weight on the front of the shoulders and the torso upright you have more hip extension and less pressure on your lower back.

A second benefit of front squats is that they increase your core strength even more than back squats. Now most of the time when you’re talking about increasing core strength you tend to think about crunches, hanging knee raises and planks. With front squats however, the load to the front of your body forces your abs and core to stay activated to stabilize your body throughout the movement. If your midsection isn’t activated and your torso isn’t erect during the movement. Do it once, and you’ll never do it again.

Lastly, the front squat imitates the catch position of the clean and the starting position in similar to that of the overhead press, push press and split jerk motions. Now, I know that performing the front squats using the clean grip is uncomfortable at first, but using this grip is strongly encouraged. Meatheads and bodybuilders utilize the cross-armed grip because it’s less stressful on the wrists. Be an athlete and get better by doing the front squat with a clean grip! You’ll have greater control over the bar and the lift is actually easier to complete if you keep your elbows up and the bar doesn’t roll of your shoulders. If the clean grip bothers your wrists, stretch and your wrists and triceps for 3-4 weeks and you’ll be fine.

Front Squat Setup and Motion

This is the biggest point to remember is this: if your set up sucks then your squats will suck! The set up determines the rest of your lift so if you don’t get it right prior to the start of the movement, you’ll never get it right. Below a quick rundown of key points to remember when you’re getting your front squat on.

  1. Your shoulders support the weight, not your hands. Always keep your chest big & elbows up.
  2. Your foot stance should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes must always follow your knees. Point your toes out to about 30 degrees.
  3. Utilize a big chest by putting your chest forward & lift it up. This gives the bar a solid base to sit on & makes it impossible to round your upper-back. Tighten your upper-back.
  4. Look forward, not up! Looking up is bad for your neck and looking down will make your lower back round. So look forward at a fixed point in front of you.
  5. Grip the bar at about shoulder width, or at a position in which the hands will not be trapped by the shoulders when the bar is “racked”. A narrow grip pushes the bar against your throat, making breathing difficult. A wide grip makes it harder to keep your elbows up.
  6. The bar should be placed on top of your front shoulders. Behind your clavicles & close to your throat. Open your hands, relax them. Your upper-arms should be parallel to the floor – so the weight doesn’t end on your hands and the elbows should be squeezed toward each other. Admittedly, it takes a little flexibility. The best way to get this flexibility is… wait for it… do more front squats! Dedicate yourself and they’ll soon become second nature. If shoulder flexibility is a concern, use lifting straps around the bars to assist with your grip.
  7. Push your hips back as you would to sit in a chair, but don’t start the motion at your knees. Keep your hips flexed and your knees behind your toes as you begin the motion.
  8. Strive to go down until the top of your thigh is parallel to the floor. Ideally you’ll get to a point where your hamstrings touch your calves at the bottom of the movement, but if you’re just starting out that may be farfetched.
  9. Keep your feel flat on the ground and your weight evenly distributed. If your heels come off the floor your stability & power will be decreased and you may wind up hurting your knees. Push from your heels, curl your toes up, and keep your knees out.
  10. Descend slowly to the bottom position then drive up. Your hip muscles are stretched when you break parallel. Use that stretch to accelerate from the bottom. Don’t relax your hip muscles & don’t bounce out of the bottom position.

To recover faster and increase your front squats, 1R would recommend the following supplements:

  1. Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
  2. Cytosport Creatine - By increasing your body's ATP production creatine will help you become more explosive, more powerful, and more athletic when taken before or after workouts
  3. Cytosport Joint Matrix – When you’re training hard, and/or training heavy, your joints inevitably take a beating. Joint matrix will ensure that you don’t feel that beating the next day

 

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About the Author

Curt Lamb has been the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Limestone College since 2005. Not only does he over see the development of Limestone College's nearly 500 student athletes, but he is also currently the Director of Limestone College's Strength & Conditioning Education curriculum, a contributor to LaxSpeedTV.com, and is the Strength & Conditioning Consultant to the New Zealand Men’s Lacrosse World Championships team. He received a bachelor's degree in exercise and sports sciences from Iowa State University. He earned a master's degree in exercise and sports sciences from Central Missouri State University and is certified by both the National Strength & Conditioning Association and the United States Weightlifting Association.