LEG DAY The mantra might be “sit until you drop,” since compound exercise is one of the most effective lower body builders in your workout arsenal. But when you’re forced to decide on just one variation of an exercise to do—specifically, barbell back squats vs. What do you want to keep in your workouts?
The back squat is where great PRs and lower body size and strength are created, making this traditional leg movement the gold standard today. On the flip side, the front squat provides the most powerful quad and core development potential you can’t match with a bar across your back. But what is the best?
In real life, there is no real reason (short note of the doctor) for only one of these variations. You can’t go wrong with either choice, especially if you want a balanced training plan. It doesn’t stop the guys from choosing sides, however – especially when it comes to constraints in which it is most important to achieve specific goals. A case may be made to choose one over the other, according to The health of people fitness manager Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.Sand Curtius Elias, NSCAof* More Performance Numbers. Our pair of experts took opposing views to resolve this weighty area of debate.
Case for Back Squats
Back Squats build athletes
There’s more to moving a heavy barbell on your back than just how much you can lift; Back squats allow you to work hard with loads while building leg strength and size big time. Movement exercise is also necessary to develop lower body explosiveness, which is critical to performing at the highest level on the field, court, or just about any activity you can get up to.
“Coming from my athletic background, we use lifting strength and explosiveness and use it to create a better finish,” Elias says. “So the way I look at it, I’m gonna take the cake.”
Build your Back Squats outdoors
Squats are called the king of all exercises because they hit most of your major muscle groups hard, especially in your lower body. You’ll hit everything here, your quads, your calves, even your glutes, and you’ll definitely never have enough glutes. “Everybody’s trying to swallow the big ones now,” Elias says. “It’s going to be a sedentary move.”
Case for Front Squats
Of course, the back of the squat can be more visually impressive when the plates are packed into the bar, but the front of the squat brings plenty of bang for the leg even on the day of the buck, according to Samuel.
Lean back, don’t lift yourself up with me
While the rear loaded gun position allows even novice lifters to attempt squat and dangerous PRs, very few people can even squat to that position in their workouts with the front squat. I have left the strength, reclining front elevator forces to understand the mechanics of the movement, the less likely the exercise will take beginners to dangerous places.
“The front squat is all about subtlety,” Samuel says. “It’s about understanding your mechanics. You have to keep that straight spine, so your spine can twist in a bad position. If it bends in a bad position, you’re going to have to lower the weight. It’s just overall safer for life.”
A front recline gives you greater Core Activation
While the backs of triremes can attack more glutes, the six-pack will thank you for the front of the triremes. One of the major front strength benefits of squats is the additional core needed to stabilize your spine during the movement. When the load is placed on the front of your body, you need to focus on keeping your core muscles engaged to prevent tipping forward.
Which recliner is best for you?
You can’t go wrong with the move. But Samuel says that longevity — the ability to train consistently for a long period of time at a lower risk of injury — is the ultimate goal, so he gets the nod for the reclining front. He believes that the movement is more difficult to learn, not that it is more convenient to do, but to be discouraged so that it is not of overall value.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.
Brett Williams, fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former football player and technical reporter who splits his time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.