Many people would argue the Back Squat to be the King of lower body exercises, and the best quads builder out there. However, crowning the best lower body exercise is kind of like trying to decide who should rule the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones. You might have your favourite, but there’s pros and cons to all of them. Depending on who you are, they can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. But its easy to keep your allegiances with the one you know best. And by the way going back to G.O.T I’m with Jon Snow all the way!!While you probably already know if you like the Back Squat, better the devil you know right; not many of us have even given the FRONT SQUAT a try. And it’s understandable why. It looks a little awkward, and generally speaking you can’t lift as much weight on it versus Back Squat variations.
But if you know anything about training science, it’s not always about using the exercises that you can lift the most weight on, plus, that ego isn’t going to get you anywhere!
The FRONT SQUAT is hands down THE best ‘targeted’ quadriceps builder out there – fact! While the Back Squat and its variations tend to become both knee AND Hip dominant exercises, the FRONT SQUAT is extremely knee dominant, hence a greater proportion of load is being handled by the quadriceps during a FRONT SQUAT than during a Back Squat. On the other side of things because of the greater hip dominance of a Back versus FRONT SQUAT, a Back Squat is a more effective builder of the glutes and hamstrings.
FRONT SQUAT and variations = More quadriceps dominance, less on the glutes and hamstrings.
BACK SQUAT and Variations = Less quadriceps dominance than the Front squat but more on the glutes and hamstrings.
That’s the short version anyway. If an exercise has more knee dominance, or knees are going through greater range of motion than the hips then generally the quadriceps are activated to a higher degree. If an exercise has greater hip dominance, then the hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings) are activated more.
For example exercises that emphasise hip dominance or knee dominance (left = More hip dominant, to right = more knee dominant):
Romanian Deadlift – Deadlift – Trap Bar Deadlift – Low Bar Back Squat – High Bar Back Squat – Front Squat
The Back Squat is still an awesome exercise and probably one of the best overall lower body strength and muscle builders, but if you want quads that’ll impress even the Mother of Dragons then the FRONT SQUAT is your new ally.
GIVE THESE FRONT SQUAT VARIATIONS A TRY….
WHAT: SAFETY BAR FRONT SQUAT
WHY YOU’RE MISSING OUT: Using a safety bar takes out some of the ‘awkwardness’ associated with the typical shoulder rack position used in a front squat. The shoulder rack position can be hard for most as it requires a degree of shoulder external rotation that a lot of people are lacking. By creatively using the safety bar like shown in the video you’ve got yourself an effective solution.
WHAT: BARBELL FRONT SQUAT WITH STRAPS
WHY YOU’RE MISSING OUT: The front rack position of a front squat is the biggest issue seen associated with poor front squatting from. It affects the shoulder position which in turn affects the back position and the angle of the torso. The Safety Bar Front Squat as shown above is a good way to avoid this problem, but if one of these bars aren’t available in your gym then a solution can be found by looping some lifting straps around the bar and holding on to them in the shoulder racked position. The shoulder, elbow and wrists aren’t forced as much in to position by using wraps, hence the form and squat pattern is improved.
WHAT: BARBELL FRONT SQUAT WITH CALIFORNIA GRIP
WHY YOU’RE MISSING OUT: A California Grip (see video) is another viable alternative to shoulder restrictions during the front squat. It should be used with caution though as it can be more dangerous if the bar is let go in front. Keep the elbows up and pointing forwards, and bar close to the neck throughout the execution of the movement. If it’s close to cutting off your wind pipe then you’ve got it!
WHAT: DUMBBELL FRONT SQUAT
WHY YOU’RE MISSING OUT: Don’t like holding a barbell, more of a beginner or not quite adventurous enough yet? The try using dumbbells. You’ll get almost the same benefits out of using dumbbells the way shown, but much safer and easier to perform.
WHAT: BARBELL FRONT SQUAT WITH HEELS ELEVATED
WHY YOU’RE MISSING OUT: If squatting depth is your issue then elevate your heels by just an inch or so. Place a large plate or two smaller plates under your heels, and just like wearing a pair of high heels on a night out you’ll be able to slutdrop with that bar on your back in no time! Elevating your heels in any squat variation is a great hack for instantly improved squat depth, it also helps to make the movement more quadriceps-focused.
The next time you’re planning a lower body workout, consider one of these FRONT SQUAT variations as your go-to quadriceps builders for the day. They work great in all rep ranges, and for either strength or hypertrophy-style training. In fact, as a quadriceps builder why not try super-setting FRONT SQUATS with Leg Extensions, or even try German Volume Training (GVT) using front squats (10 sets x 10 reps, 60 seconds rest) ?! If you can’t walk the next day though don’t say you weren’t warned!