Baby Got Back, Man Got Front: Squat Like A Beast..Without Pain

Here’s another phenomenal guest post by Halevy Life Director of Programming and Education, Nick Johnson:

Why would/should anyone ever front squat? It’s so much harder, you definitely don’t look as tough because you can’t load the bar up and muscle through it, and it isn’t super comfortable at the bottom of the lift. So why utilize the front squat?

Look: Very tough. But the Front Squat may be a tad more confortable at the bottom portion of the lift ;)

Look: Very tough. But the Front Squat may be a tad more confortable at the bottom portion of the lift…

My goal is to make and support the argument for using front squats before you ever load up the barbell and put it on your back. Here are the 3 biggest reasons I choose the front squat over back squatting for beginners and/or those lacking core stability.

1. Performing a front squat is much easier on the posterior chain (especially lower back) than the back squat. Many of the clients I begin working with, regardless of their goals, almost always have problems with:
a. The ability to stabilize their core when in motion, and
b. Lower back pain.

The front squat addresses both issues. Because the load is placed in front of the body, the barbell is kept over the center of gravity without your back having to bend as much to keep it there. In other words, front squatting allows for much more knee flexion without decreasing the hip angle to the point where you are performing a lower back exercise. If you look at the angles outlined below, the front squat allows us to get much more knee flexion (6 degrees difference with this individual) without placing as much stress on the lower back (11 degrees difference in the hip angle). This is extremely important when working with anyone with low-back pain or issues activating their core.

Front Squat

Front Squat

Back Squat

Back Squat

2. The second reason: quadriceps activity. The front squat is a truly quad dominant exercise. When you back squat, the more acute hip angle created, due to the bar position relative to the center of gravity, causes you to use much more hamstring and glute activity at the bottom of the range of motion. We can in fact even get more work done with far less weight using a front squat. To solidify this notion just check out this study performed by a team at the University of Florida. The decreased resistance needed means there is much less compressive forces on the knees, minimizing the risk of cartilage, ligament and tendon injuries.
To further convince you that front squatting will build your quadriceps at a much higher rate, check out this article. You can see bye the EMG (Electromyography: a cool way to see electrical activity produced by skeletal muscle) data that the front squat produces higher muscle activation in the vastus lateralis and rectus femoris compared to the back squat, and there is little to no difference in muscle activation in the vastus medialis. These 3 muscles are the big 3 out of the 4 (this is what femoris stands for) that make up the quadriceps group of muscles.

quad muscle

3. The absolute best reason to use front squats over back squats, especially if you are just starting to squat in a new workout regimen: they are much safer! You cannot cheat; if you do so you drop the bar. The front squat essentially has a built in safety mechanism. This is why I love the front squat as an indicator of lower body strength over the back squat. You are forced to complete the exercise correctly, using your legs to keep the torso erect, not your lower back. Just to further drive the point home, this is a client I have worked with for 2 weeks. He didn’t do anything for a while prior to coming in to work with us, and this picture was taken the second time he front squatted in his program.

client front squat

The form is absolutely incredible for someone who is beginning a resistance training program for the first time. I can guarantee if I were to place the bar on his back he would come in the next day and we would be doing things to help loosen his lower back because it hurts so damn much.

So why doesn’t everyone use the front squat? You can’t lift as much weight, and it can be uncomfortable at first. Really? Uncomfortable? If you’re not willing to get out of your comfort zone to do things the right way go enroll in the golden oldies yoga class and water aerobics at your local YMCA. If you want to do things the correct way and push yourself to receive the best results, add the front squat to your workout and see your legs and midsection strengthen immediately. For any instructions on how to perform a front squat properly or for loading parameters hit me up on