By Jordan Smothermon
Researchers at Charles Sturt University in Australia recently compared the muscle activation of the Back Squat and Front Squat because it hadn’t really been done before. They wanted to find out if there were any differences between activation of quads, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. The results? Both lifts elicit the same muscle activation in these three muscles. It turns out Front Squat is just as good of a posterior chain exercise as Back Squat.
Unfortunately, they didn’t monitor gluteus (butt) activation, but theorize that Back Squat would probably generate marginally more glute activation due to the usually wider stance of the Back Squat. A wider stance typically corresponds to greater glute activity.
So Front Squat does almost the same thing as the Back Squat minus (maybe) some butt muscle activity. Researchers went a step further though, and concluded that due to the Front Squat’s use in Olympic lifts, it is the more essential lift. Further, Olympic lifts positively correlate to sprint times and vertical jump(the stronger the FS, the faster the sprint/higher vertical). By extension, then, Front Squat could be essential to developing muscles for speed/power production.
Also, Front Squat places fewer compressive forces on the body since athletes in the study did about 45# less for Front Squat than Back Squat (every athletes I know does less weight for FS than BS). That means that athletes with preexisting knee issues, especially meniscus issues (the meniscus resists compressive forces), are safer doing Front Squat since it will force the same adaptations at lower compression. Lastly, they found that the neutral frontal position of the shoulder with little external rotation was safer than its heavily externally rotated shoulder position during a Back Squat. Plus, the shoulder activates more during the Front Squat.
Other researchers previously recommended a golden brick road to learning the Front Squat for any sissies out there too scared to get under a bar with it up front (whaa, it chokes me, whaa, it hurts my wrist, etc.). The Sturt University researchers added the first step below, everything else came from Chiu, et al.:
1. Goblet Squat/Deadlift
2. Plate Squat (Plate supported by hands and head)
3. Overhead Squat
4. No-arms Front Squat (arms extended in front of body, not holding bar)
5. Front Squat
Lastly, if the FS hurts your wrists, Dan John has some stretches he recommends that you can check out. Also, you can take a resistant band or any looped strap and wrap it around the bar with the tail facing up, get under the bar, grab the straps/bands with your hands, and squat until your heart’s content. Alternatively, you can just take the pacifier out of your mouth and squat. Whatever works.