Front Squat vs. Back Squat: Which Exercise Is Best for Building Lower-Body Strength?

Front squats target your quads more, whereas back squats target your hamstrings. But both have a place in your workout routine.
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Based on looks alone, the barbell front squat and back squat are a lot like fraternal twins. The exercises both utilize the same strength equipment and involve shifting your hips back, lowering your butt to the ground and pressing through the floor to return to standing. The one major difference in appearance: The bar is situated on different sides of your body.


And that contrasting weight position is why the front squat and back squat each offer unique benefits and target particular muscle groups more heavily than others, says Christina Myers, CSCS, a certified personal trainer, NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and NASM-certified performance enhancement specialist.

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"Your goal is to balance the bar over the middle of your foot, so depending on where it's positioned, it will change the mechanics of the movement," she tells "That drives a lot of differences between the front squat and the back squat."

Ahead, fitness experts break down those main front squat versus back squat differences, and how the techniques, muscles worked and benefits compare. Plus, they share tips on how to decide which squat variation is right for you based on your fitness goals, experience level and abilities.

How to Do a Front Squat

As you may be able to guess from the name, a front squat is a squat variation performed with a barbell resting across the front of your shoulders, says Laura Su, CSCS, a strength and conditioning specialist in Seattle, who demonstrates the exercise below.


To keep the bar in place, you'll grip it with your palms facing the ceiling, so your elbows are in line with your chest and point toward the wall in front of you.

Activity Barbell Workout
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes turned slightly outward and a barbell resting on the tops of your shoulders on the front side of your body.
  2. Hold the bar with an underhand grip, palms facing the ceiling and hands next to your shoulders.
  3. Engage your core, then on an inhale, sit back into your hips and bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can comfortably go).
  4. Keep your chest up and avoid rounding your back.
  5. On an exhale, press through your feet to straighten your legs and return to standing.

The Benefits of Front Squats

Practicing the front squat will help you target specific muscle groups in your lower body and trunk, according to experts. Here's what to know.


1. They Target Your Quads

Any squat variation will recruit your quads, hamstrings, glutes and core, but the front squat will particularly emphasize your quadriceps, the muscles that run along the front of your thigh, according to Myers.

"With a front squat, your knees will bend more and your torso will stay more upright, and the more your knee bends, the harder your quads have to work to then unfold that bend that you created," she says.



Your quads assist in movements like kicking, running, jumping and walking, help stabilize your knees and maintain your posture according to the Cleveland Clinic. So, keeping them strong ensures that you're moving — and performing — your best.

2. They Challenge Your Core

Your core — a group of muscles throughout your trunk that stabilizes your spine to prevent injury — will activate regardless of the squat you're performing. But during a front squat, in particular, the musculature will be further challenged, according to Myers.


"The farther in front of you the load is [positioned], the more you challenge your core and your quads," she says.

The reason: Your erector spinae (a core muscle that runs along your spine) will need to work harder to counteract the weight and keep your body upright as you squat, according to a small December 2008 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Aside from keeping your spine protected, core strength plays a key role in maintaining balance and postural control in sports, according to an August 2018 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.


How to Do a Back Squat

A back squat is essentially the opposite of a front squat: The barbell will be placed on your shoulders behind your neck. High-bar squats, which involve positioning the bar on your traps, are most common among casual exercisers. But many athletes and powerlifters perform a low-bar squat, in which the bar rests against the rear deltoids, as it recruits the posterior chain (aka the muscles that run along the backside of your body) slightly more, Myers says.


Regardless of the specific variation, "with a back squat, you're going to have less knee bend than a front squat, but you're going to have a bigger hip angle — so your hips will close more — and your torso will lean forward more to keep the bar over the middle of your foot," Myers says.


Activity Barbell Workout
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes turned slightly outward and a barbell resting on the tops of your shoulders on the back side of your body.
  2. Hold the bar with an overhand grip, palms facing forward and hands next to shoulders.
  3. Engage your core, then on an inhale, sit back into your hips and bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can comfortably go).
  4. Keep your chest up and avoid rounding your back.
  5. On an exhale, press through your feet to straighten your legs and return to standing.

The Benefits of Back Squats

By mixing back squats into your routine, you'll target overlooked leg muscles and get closer to meeting your training goals. Here's what to know.

1. They Target Your Hamstrings

While the front squat emphasizes your quads, the back squat more heavily targets your hamstrings, according to Su.

"Positioning the bar right behind your neck allows you to sit back a little bit farther into your hips, so you'll get even more hamstring-building [as you press up to standing]," she says.

Most folks have stronger quads than hamstrings, and this muscle imbalance can cause your hamstrings to become fatigued faster than their counterpart during high-speed activities, potentially leading to injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In turn, strengthening your hamstrings via back squats can help keep your body balanced and injury-free.

2. They Help You Build Strength Quickly

Thanks to the unique positioning of the barbell, a back squat may help you meet your strength goals more quickly than a front squat.

"You're able to load a back squat a lot heavier, mostly because it's easier to hold a heavy bar across your back rather than on the front of your shoulders," Su says.

By using a heavier weight, you may build overall strength or gain muscle more quickly with back squats than you would by performing primarily front squats with a lighter load, Myers adds.

Front Squat vs. Back Squat: When to Perform Each Exercise

While both lower-body exercises are worth including in your strength-training routine, there are a few instances in which you may want to prioritize a front squat versus a back squat and vice versa.


If You Do CrossFit or Olympic Weightlifting: Front Squat

Both CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting athletes will want to nail down the front squat, according to Su. The sports involve performing cleans — a movement that involves pulling a barbell from the ground up to your shoulders, then dropping into a front squat, she explains. "That's why it's going to be beneficial for you to work on getting that front squat stronger," she says.

If You’re Looking to Build Strength Fast: Back Squat

It's much easier to hold a heavily loaded barbell on your back than it is to balance it across the front of your shoulders, according to the experts. So if your goal is to increase lower-body strength and muscle mass, the back squat is your best path forward.

If You Have Back Concerns: Front Squat

For people who have back problems or sensitivities and are worried about putting excessive pressure on their spine, a front squat may be the better option, Su says.

"You're still loading your spine, but you're not putting the weight directly on your back [as in a back squat], and the front squat allows you to have a more upright posture, so it could be beneficial if you have back issues," she says.

Of course, chat with your healthcare provider before trying either squat variation if you have a history of or are currently experiencing back pain or injury.

If You Have Limited Shoulder Mobility: Front Squat or Back Squat

While the back squat is often recommended to individuals who have limited shoulder mobility, it may not always be the best exercise, depending on where your limitations lie, according to Myers. "You need a lot of shoulder mobility for both variations, but in opposite directions," she says.


A back squat may be a better option if you're short on shoulder flexion, a limitation that can make it difficult to fully raise your arm to shoulder height in front of your chest. On the flip side, a front squat may feel more comfortable if you're not able to fully externally rotate the shoulder, which is necessary to rack and hold onto the barbell in a back squat, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Simply put, "one squat may feel better than the other, and you really have to figure out what your limits are and which one's going to be better for you," Myers says. "But if you don't have adequate mobility, that's something you're going to need to work on [to improve your health], no matter what kind of squat you want to do."

If You’re Lacking Wrist Mobility: ​Back Squat

Gripping onto the barbell in a front-racked position requires serious wrist mobility. So if the exercise causes pain or discomfort in the joint, try a back squat, which generally requires less wrist mobility thanks to the overhand grip, Myers says.

If you still want to get the quad-strengthening benefits of the front squat, though, try performing the move with your arms crossed in front of your chest, with the opposite hand touching the opposite shoulder, Su suggests. This variation allows you to maintain a more neutral grip while still giving you the perks of a front squat.

If You're a Beginner: Back Squat or Front Squat

Because the back squat involves less knee flexion, has a slightly smaller range of motion and is less challenging on the core than a front squat, the exercise may be a bit easier for strength-training beginners to pick up, Su says.

That said, the front squat may be beneficial for newbies who feel off-balance or like they're going to fall backward while squatting with a barbell on their back, Myers adds. "When you bring the weight in front, it helps people counterbalance themselves while they learn the movement," she says. In other words, beginners should play with both variations and decide which one feels best for them.

The Front Squat vs. Back Squat Bottom Line

While some squat variations may be a better fit for you, depending on your fitness goals, experience level and abilities, there's no clear winner in the front squat versus back squat debate. In fact, both squat variations should be included in your strength-training routine, according to the experts.

"Even though they are a very similar motion, the technical aspect and the muscles emphasized can be so different, so they're not quite providing the same stimulus," Su says. "You should view them as supplemental to one another, rather than a direct substitution."

In practice, you might focus a bit more heavily on back squats if you're looking to gain muscle, then use front squats to keep your core strong. Or, you might prioritize front squats to complement your CrossFit goals and use back squats as an accessory to keep a muscle imbalance between your quads and hamstrings at bay.

Ultimately, "it's important to remember that they carry over to one another," Su says. "If you want to get stronger in your front squat, you'll have to do back squats as well. And if you want to get stronger in your back squat, you'll need to do front squats."