Whether you’re looking for firmer glutes, bigger legs, or better core strength, you can’t argue that the squat is one of the best exercises. It’s a compound movement that targets virtually every muscle in the lower body to build size, strength, and power.
And most trainers will agree, regardless of your fitness goals, that you need to squat. But then the question becomes, what type of squat?
Like most exercises, there and plenty of variations on the traditional squat that all target different areas of the lower body. But now, we’re talking about one of the fundamental squats—the front squat.
We’ll break down what it is, the difference between a front and back squat, and tips to perfect your form and maximize lower body strength and power.
What Is A Front Squat?
The front squat is one of the variations of a traditional barbell squat, except this one emphasizes working the quadriceps and your back muscles. Essentially, it’s the same movement as the catch portion of a clean.
The center of gravity in a front squat is shifted more forward than in a back squat, so getting deeper can be easier, especially for people with ankle mobility issues.
However, greater mobility demands for a front squat also increase the demands on other joints, including your shoulders and wrists, the latter of which can be mitigated by using an alternative arm grip, such as crossing the arms over the bar.
And because you’re physically holding the bar up instead of resting it on your back, you’re placing more load on your upper body while still working the lower body muscles.
Front Squat vs. Back Squat
Although front and back squats both effectively work the lower body, the primary difference is where you position the barbell and, as a result, where the load places the most stress.
During a front squat, the bar is held at the fingertips (or across the arms when crossed) by the front deltoids. In contrast, the bar rests across your traps and rear delts in a back squat, loading the back of the body weight the weight.
Muscles recruited also differ between the two. Front squats recruit most of the anterior muscles, heavily engaging the quads and the core, whereas the back squat engages the muscles of the posterior chain—the back, glutes, and hamstrings. Because of the position of the load, back squats are a hip-dominant movement, whereas front squats are more quad-dominant.
And because it’s important to work both quad and hip dominant exercises, you need to perform both.
But there’s another reason we love squats—regardless of what version you do, they work your entire body. When you squat, you’re working your legs primarily, but you’re also engaging your shoulders, core, and back to maintain proper form and go through the full range of motion.
So, squats are undoubtedly one of the most challenging and functional exercises you can perform.
What Muscles Does A Front Squat Work?
So, what muscles are you working?
The primary muscles worked in a front squat are:
- Back (upper and lower)
Curious about which type of squat recruits more muscles? A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences looked at the muscle-recruiting effects of the front squat versus the back squat 1.
Results showed that the vastus medialis—one of the four quad muscles—was activated more during a front squat. Still, most muscles in the lower body were activated during both. They concluded that front squats with an anterior load were superior for greater quad engagement.
Front Squat Benefits
So, why should you do front squats?
If you want serious quad strength, front squats are a must. And if you’re keen on testing the waters with Olympic weightlifting, the front squat is a major component of several movements and is the foundation to build strength and technique.
But perhaps the most significant benefit of front squats is safety. Because the torso is more vertical, it significantly reduces the risk of low back injuries.
Many people, when back squatting, can’t maintain a neutral spine, so they lean too far forward, and their hips rise before their shoulder, which increases stress on the lower back and rounds the spine.
As a result, the discs are subject to high risk. However, with a front squat, the spine is stacked, and the torso remains vertical, avoiding the potential for rounding, compression, and injury.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at the biomechanical differences between front and back squats and found that back squats placed substantially more compressive force on the lumbar spine 2.
So, front squats could be a good alternative for people with low back pain. Similarly, they also found that front squats could be advantageous for people dealing with knee problems and limited range of motion and for promoting overall joint health.
How To Perfect Your Front Squat Form
Ready to swap bar position and get started on your front squats? If you’ve never done one, don’t sweat it—we’ll guide you through the movement and how to perfect your form.
Grab the bar with both hands about shoulder-width apart. Point your elbows forward and position the bar over your fingertips with the palms facing up; think about holding the bar as if you were going to push it up from underneath it.
Alternatively, you can rest the bar on the front of your shoulder and cross your arms, bringing the opposite hand to the opposite shoulder. Crossing your arms may be more suitable if you have limited flexibility in the wrists.
Lift the bar out of the rack and take a step back, placing your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart with your toes turned out slightly. Dig through the heels and screw your feet into the floor as you feel your glutes tighten and the arches of your feet rise.
Breathe into your belly and engage your core. You want to keep your head, spine, and pelvis aligned throughout the whole movement; your pelvis should be perpendicular to your spine, not tilted in either direction. Keep your eyes in front of you and avoid bending your neck to look up.
Keep your core engaged as you drive through the knees (push them forward) and drop your body as low as you can while keeping your spine in alignment.
Keep your elbows pointing forward and avoid letting them flare out. Descend until you are at least parallel (thighs should be parallel to the ground). Pause for one second.
Push through the heels, glutes, and quads while you extend your hips and knees to return to a standing position.
10 Tips For Improving Front Squat Form
Avoid falling trap to poor squat form or injury by following these tips!
- Focus on form, not weight
- Work on your mobility several times a week to improve your squat form
- Squat as deep as possible to achieve maximum carryover, muscle recruitment, and glute activation
- Use small plates under your heels (or invest in lifting shoes) if you lack ankle mobility
- Squat straight down so your pelvis is between your legs
- Keep your elbows up
- Release your grip for better form (you barely need to hold the bar at all)
- Get your hips under the bar ASAP on the way up
- Warm up with basic glute activation exercises
- Breathe properly throughout the movement (practice this before you even use weight)
In addition, consider supplementing with a solid pre-workout like Pre Lab Pro®. Stacking moderate caffeine and the smartest natural ingredients to enhance focus and drive, Pre Lab Pro® ramps up the intensity of your workouts to give you better results without any of the nasty side effects of conventional pre-workout supplements. It’s clean, pure, and ultra-effective—you can thank us later.
- Yavuz HU, Erdağ D, Amca AM, Aritan S. Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(10):1058-1066.
- Gullett JC, Tillman MD, Gutierrez GM, Chow JW. A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(1):284-292. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818546bb