Squats are a crucial staple in any weightlifting program. They are one of the most complete exercises you can do, and work wonders for the muscles of your arms, legs, and back.
Did You Know?Our legs are too strong to be really challenged by bodyweight squats. Thus, weighted squats―front or back―are considered the best way to increase muscle mass and strength in the legs.
However, while the place of the squat itself has never been in question, the debate over its best variant―front squat or back squat―has been raging for quite some while. Many people stick by one of the two, but at the same time, many also recognize the value of both.
Here's a brief rundown of this debate: The positional difference between the front squat and the back squat, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
The following text refers to the practitioner as 'him' purely for the sake of convenience. Squats are equally beneficial for women.
The contrast in these two variants of the squat comes not from the way you squat, but rather the way you hold the barbell (or dumbbells). It refers to where you hold the barbell, with reference to your body.
In back squats, which are more commonly performed, the practitioner holds the barbell behind his head, on his shoulders.
Depiction of the position of the hands and the back in a back squat.
Keeping feet at about shoulder-width, he goes down into a squat, and, pressing down on his heels, rises back up. The back is kept in a naturally straight line throughout, even if it is bent at the hips. The squatting refers to a full squat, and not to 'power curtsies'. The latter are very stressful on your knees, and are, in fact, the cause of most of the injuries claimed to be originating from 'squats'. Your hips should be parallel to/below your knees, and the power to come up after the squat should come from the heels and the hamstrings, not the knee.
The back squat is arguably the most complete exercise you can do. It works everything from the quadriceps and hamstrings to the core muscles, and from the gluteus to the deltoid muscles.
In front squats, on the other hand, the barbell is held in front of the head. It is supported by the front part of the shoulders, including the shoulder bone. It is held with the hands bent at the elbows and parallel to the ground.
Depiction of the position of the hands and the back in a front squat.
The squat part is, as mentioned before, the same as the back squat. The back should remain straight, and the heels should bear the brunt.
Where the front squat scores over the back squat is the load borne by the back. In both styles, the weight is balanced above the midfoot. But because the weight is held further forward in the front squat, the angle between the back and the thighs is greater, and the back doesn't stretch as far back as in the back squat. This position is less stressful for the lower back. The problem with the front squat is that many practitioners report it to be uncomfortable for the shoulder bone, which is an easily understandable complaint.
As you can see, the difference between the front and the back squat is seemingly tiny, but can make a world of a difference. If you have a weak back, the front squat is ideal for you. Once your strengthen your back a bit more, you can slowly progress to back squats, which are more beneficial for the body.