Monday, June 15, 2009

Back Squat versus Front Squat

I was doing some random searches on research engines through UK's library today and I came across some pretty useful information comparing front squat and back squat. (Pictures from

Both are very useful in building knee and hip extensor muscles (quadriceps and glutes) as well as strengthening your core muscles. However, "performing back squat results in a higher amount compressive forces on the spine and knee extensor movements" according to Gullet et al in this study.

A higher amount of compressive forces could possibly be harmful in the long run, with a higher probability of spine or disc problems in someone with incorrect form. Gullet et al (2009) found no substantial difference in the amount of shear forces generated in either variation of the squat. Shearing force is physical stress that is perpendicular to the horizontal surface of an object where compressive force is the amount of force running down through an object.
(above) Compressive Force (

Shearing Force-->

Gullet et al found that "front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces and knee extensor moments... the results suggest that front squats may be advantageous compared with back squats for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health."
However, in a study by Yetter and Moir (2008) that examined front and back squat's ability to improve 10 through 40m sprint times they found that the heavy back squat group not only had significant increases in speed time found when compared to the control group for the 10 and 20m distances... BUT the heavy back squat group also had significantly better sprint speeds times than heavy front squat at the 40m distance. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have seen a higher number of subjects than 10. Yetter and Moir's study.
For functional ability as far as strengthening your knee and hip extensor muscles as well as your core I would prescribe a person to participate in both front and back squats, as long as their form is correct. For any one with meniscus tears, bad form that has yet to be corrected, or previous back problems, I would recommend front squat. For an athlete I would throw into their program some front squat early in the off-season to continue to confused their muscles and give their backs a different type of force to deal with while still training the same muscles. Once the pre-season approached I would transition the athlete back to back squat.
Gullett, J., Tillman, M., Gutierrez, G., & Chow, J. (2009). A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), 284-292.
Yetter, M., & Moir, G. (2008). The Acute Effects of Heavy Back and Front Squats on Speed during Forty-Meter Sprint Trials. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 159-165.

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