Whether you are training your legs for tone, mass or strength, squats are the single most productive exercise you can include in your workouts. Many variations for this exercise exist, and they can be performed with several types of resistance ranging from your body weight or resistance bands to heavy dumbbells and barbells loaded with hundreds of pounds. For those serious about training their legs, the two most popular variations of this exercise are the traditional barbell back squat and front squat.
Back Squat Movement
With a weight-loaded barbell resting across the back of your shoulders, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp the bar with both hands. Shift your weight into your heels and squat down until the tops of your thighs are just below the tops of your knees. Drive your heels downward into the floor and extend your legs until you are standing upright again. Keep your core braced and your back straight throughout the entire movement.
Back Squat Advantages
The back squat is the single greatest mass-building exercise, and it is a full-body compound movement. The quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles, erector spinae, gastrocnemius, soleus, adductor and abdominal muscles all are trained with this one exercise. Back squats can be performed with light weight for toning and definition or heavier weight for both mass-building and power-building goals. Regardless of an individual's fitness goals, back squats often are considered by athletes and trainers to be the quintessential leg exercise.
Front Squat Movement
Stand with a weight-loaded barbell resting across the tops of your anterior deltoids, or the front parts of your shoulders, in front of your neck, with your hands crossed in front of you and gripping the bar. In this position, your elbows should be pointing directly in front of you. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Keeping your core braced and your back vertical, squat down until the tops of your thighs are just below the tops of your knees. Extend your legs and stand up, returning to the starting position.
Front Squat Advantages
While front squats do not target the hamstrings and gluteus muscles as directly as back squats, they do focus the training on all three heads of the quadriceps. For this reason, many strength athletes perform front squats as an auxiliary exercise. Another advantage of the front squat is that, since the barbell is supported in front of the neck, the torso remains more vertical, placing less stress on the lower back. However, some athletes feel that supporting the barbell on the front of the shoulders is either uncomfortable or even painful.