The barbell squat is often considered to be the king of all exercises, and for good reason! The barbell squat trains nearly every muscle in the body simultaneously. Not to mention, it’s equally effective for building muscle and gaining strength.
The front squat is a popular barbell squat variation. Like a barbell back squat, the front squat trains several muscle groups at once but places more emphasis on the quads.
Olympic weightlifters and CrossFit athletes commonly perform the front squat because it has a greater carry-over to the clean and jerk compared to back squats. With that said, the front squat is also included in powerlifting programs as an accessory lift to the barbell back squat. Bodybuilders often perform the front squat to place more tension on the quads and stimulate hypertrophy.
We will cover the benefits and the major muscle groups that are working during the movement.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Top Five Front Squat Benefits
- 2 Front Squat Muscles Worked
- 3 Frequently asked questions
- 4 Other Exercise Posts
- 4.1 Incline Bench Press Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 4.2 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.3 T-Bar Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.4 How to Perform the Overhead Press with Proper Form
- 4.5 How to Deadlift with Proper Form
- 4.6 Bear Crawls: Benefits, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked
- 4.7 The 7 Best Compound Chest Exercises
- 4.8 The Top 5 Bench Press Muscles Worked
- 4.9 The 8 Main Muscle Groups Worked by Squats
- 4.10 Lat Pulldown Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.11 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.12 The 5 Best Benefits of Planks
- 4.13 Decline Bench Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.14 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- 4.15 The Top 10 Muscles Worked by Planks
- 4.16 The 8 Best Deadlift Benefits
- 4.17 How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form
- 4.18 Arnold Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
The Top Five Front Squat Benefits
- Effective for building muscle mass
- Increases total body strength and stability
- Carry-over to other compound lifts
- Convenient for busy schedules
- Improves overall mobility
Here are the top five benefits of the front squat:
Effective for building muscle mass
The front squat is a compound lift, which means that it trains multiple muscle groups simultaneously and involves more than one joint. The front squat is primarily a lower-body exercise, with the core, back, shoulders, and other stabilizer muscles maintaining the front-rack position.
Since the barbell is loaded in front of the body rather than on the back, it targets more quads than the back squat. This is why many bodybuilders use the front squat rather than the back squat to build their quads. Switching to the front squat may be a good idea if glutes and hamstrings are more developed than the quads.
The front squat is a great exercise to implement progressive overload, increasing reps, sets, or weight over time. Progressive overload is a key principle for stimulating muscle growth. If you want to increase the size of your legs, the front squat is arguably one of the best exercises you can do!
If hypertrophy is your main goal, we recommend sticking to the six to 12 rep range. Anything below six repetitions is better for gaining strength. Anything above 12 repetitions is better for increasing muscular endurance.
Increases total body strength and stability
The front squat is commonly used by strength athletes as an accessory or assistance lift to their main movements. The front squat is commonly included in programming for strongman competitors, Olympic weightlifters, and football players, to name a few.
Since the front squat is a compound movement performed with a barbell, it lends itself well to progressive overload, which is equally as important for increasing strength as it is for hypertrophy. The front squat will help increase the strength and stability of your entire lower body as well as the core, upper back, and lower back.
Performing the front squat is ideal for lower body muscle balance because more tension is placed on the quads compared to other squat variations. One of the major benefits of the front squat is that it improves the strength of the core, which is important for practically every exercise.
Carry-over to other compound lifts
The front squat has excellent carry-over to compound movements, such as the clean, jerk, snatch, overhead press, and back squat. In other words, when improving performance on the front squat, may also improve performance for other exercises.
Doing assistance exercises similar to primary movements can be beneficial for injury prevention, managing fatigue, strength, muscle mass, and overall performance. Not to mention, adding training variety can help improve program compliance that helps avoid boredom.
The front squat improves your stability in the front-rack position. For some, the front rack can be fairly uncomfortable initially, but it’s a necessary skill required for various other exercises. The front squat helps strengthen posture and ability to maintain an upright torso position under a heavy load, which is also beneficial for several other exercises.
Convenient for busy schedules
Focusing on compound exercises helps limited time in the gym because they train multiple large muscle groups simultaneously. For example, the front squat hits the quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, erectors, and upper back. Isolation exercises, on the other hand, would require at least six different exercises to hit the muscle groups that the front squat targets.
The front squat improves mobility
One of the reasons why the front squat has a lot of carry-over to other movements and daily activity is because it improves mobility. Mobility refers to the ability to move freely and easily.
Mobility is a combination of flexibility and strength. Flexibility without mobility can increase injury risk, if strength is lacking to move through that range of motion under load. The front squat helps improve shoulder, hip, ankle, wrist, and knee mobility because every one of those joints is involved in a front squat.
There are very few movements, if any, that work that many joints at one time. Good mobility is crucial for injury prevention, performance, strength, and even muscle-building. If you have poor mobility, it can drastically reduce your ability to perform various movements, which will ultimately inhibit your gains.
Front Squat Muscles Worked
- Erector Spinae
- Upper Back
The quadriceps, or quads for short, is one of the primary muscle groups the front squat targets. The quads, including the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius, are located on the front of the upper leg. They are primarily responsible for knee extension and hip flexion.
The quads play a significant role in any lower body movement, such as jumping, sitting or running. They are equally as important for performance and aesthetics as they are for daily activity.
Well-developed quads are a must for most bodybuilding divisions. Underdeveloped quads under a massive upper body doesn’t look very appealing to the eye. Avoid “chicken legs,” by regularly incorporating squats.
Overdeveloped glutes and hamstrings might demand doing front squats instead of back squats to help correct that muscular imbalance.
Although front squats primarily work the quads, they also engage the glutes, especially during the lockout of the movement. The glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus, are the strongest muscle in the human body. Its primary action is hip extension, which allows standing upright.
The glutes are also important for squatting, running, and lunging. They are most active in the top portion of the front squat because they help bring your hips forward to stand all the way up and complete the repetition.
It’s important to note that there are three glute muscles – gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. As the name suggests, the gluteus maximus is the largest of the three, followed by the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
Each one has a different action, origin, and insertion. The front squat primarily engages the gluteus maximus, which is the most superficial. The gluteus maximus is incredibly important for aesthetics because many bodybuilding competitors diet to the point of visible striations.
In addition to the glutes, front squats engage the hamstrings because they help achieve full hip extension at the top of the movement. The hamstrings, including the biceps femoris short head, biceps femoris long head, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus, are located on the back of the upper leg.
They work with the gluteus medius to perform hip extension but are also responsible for knee flexion. The hamstrings are important for running, jumping, and stabilizing the knee joint. Strong hamstrings are beneficial for reducing the risk of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears.
Front squats secondarily work the calves, including the medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The calves are located on the back of your lower leg. Their primary action is plantar flexion of your ankle, but they also assist with knee flexion and joint stabilization. The calves are highly active during running, walking, and jumping.
Front squats improve ankle mobility by increasing calve flexibility, allowing greater dorsiflexion at the bottom of the squat. Front squats may not be the best calf exercise, but they do engage the calves.
Front squats secondarily work the erector spinae, including the longissimus, spinalis, and iliocostalis. These three deep back muscles span from the base of the skull all the way to your pelvis. They are responsible for the extension and lateral flexion of the spine. Without them, you would be unable to maintain an upright torso position. Since the front squat requires you to have more of an upright torso than a back squat, the erect spinae are even more active.
Heavy deadlifts require strong erector spinae. They ultimately work with the core to stabilize the spine and reduce the risk of lower back injuries. Although the erector spinae muscles are deep, they are still important for physique sports, especially for the muscular development of the lower back. As they say, bodybuilding shows are won from the back.
The core, including the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, external obliques, and internal obliques, are active during the front squat to stabilize the spine and keep an upright position. More often than not, people fail on front squats because they struggle to maintain the upright position since the barbell is placed across the front of their shoulders.
Having a strong core, erectors, and upper back to stop the barbell from moving forward is crucial for improving your performance on the front squat. The core is also important for bracing, which is a technique used by powerlifters and strong men to help them lift more weight.
Bracing is beneficial for performance as well as injury prevention. The more stable the midsection is, the stronger the lift. It’s important to note that although front squats engage the core, direct ab exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and leg raises are better for visible muscular development.
Even though front squats are considered to be a lower body exercise, they work the upper back quite heavily. Since the barbell is in a front rack position, the upper back muscles need to engage to keep the barbell against your shoulders. The anterior delts and upper chest are also involved to some extent.
Several muscles make up the upper back, such as the rhomboids, teres minor, teres major, upper and middle traps, and rear delts. The lats are even active during front squats to keep your thoracic spine upright.
The upper back muscles play a huge role in maintaining proper posture, injury prevention, and nearly every shoulder movement. Having a strong upper back is not only important for aesthetics, but it’s crucial for all upper extremity movements.
Frequently asked questions
Front and back squats are both effective for building muscle, strength, and power. Ideally, you should do both squat variations. With that said, one variation may be better than another, depending on your goals.
The front squat is ideal for anyone that wants to grow their quads more than their glutes and hamstrings. They are also better for Olympic weightlifters and CrossFit athletes since they have good carry-over to other lifts, such as the clean and jerk.
The back squat is a better option for those who want to compete in powerlifting or want to lift the most weight possible. Front squats are not tested in powerlifting meets, so you must get good at the back squat. Furthermore, the back squat helps build the glutes more. Some people may not have the mobility to perform a front squat, so they must choose the back squat.
Front squats are usually more difficult than back squats because the barbell rests on the front of your shoulders, so keeping the barbell in position throughout the lift takes more effort. The front rack position requires you to be more upright, which recruits more upper-body muscles.
Not to mention, you need a greater amount of ankle, hip, and shoulder mobility to perform the front squat with proper form. Due to these reasons, most people can lift more weight with a back squat than with a front squat.
Although front squats are a great exercise, you may need to use an alternative for a number of reasons, such as: Lack of equipment, such as a squat rack; injury; in need of more exercise variation; cannot do proper front squat technique.
Regardless of the reason, we have the perfect resource for you. If you’re looking for the best front squat alternatives, check out this article: The 10 Best Front Squat Alternatives. These include the goblet squat, hack squat, leg press, Bulgarian split squat, and lunges.