The regular and front squat have more similarities than differences. The exercise technique is the same and both movements target the thigh, low back and glute muscles. The only obvious difference is the location of the barbell. For the front squat, hold the barbell in front of your chest. For the regular squat, hold the barbell on your upper back. This slight adjustment changes the biomechanics of the exercise, affecting the amount of stress placed on the knees and low back.
The exercise technique is the same for a front squat and a regular squat. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Press your hips back and descend into a squat. Keep your weight back on your heels and continue descending until your thighs are about parallel to the floor. Push through your heels, extend your hips and knees, and return to a standing position.
Two grip options are available for the front squat: the cross-arm grip and the clean grip. Start with your arms extended out in front of you, parallel to the floor with your palms facing down. For the cross-arm grip, criss-cross your arms, resting each hand on the opposite shoulder. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip, resting the bar on the front of your shoulders. For the clean grip, fold your forearms back over your upper arms with your palms facing the ceiling. The bar rests in the palms of your hands, stretching across your shoulders. For a regular squat, hold the weight on your upper back, but don't let the bar sit on your neck. It should rest on the top of your traps, just below your neck.
Although gym lore may perpetuate the idea that the front squat targets the quadriceps more than the back squat, studies suggest that muscle activity is similar for both types of squat. A 2008 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found that muscle activity in the quadriceps was not significantly different between the front and regular squat. Both squats are effective at targeting the leg, low back and glute muscles.
Risk of Injury
Because you hold the bar on your back during the regular squat, you naturally lean your torso forward to counterbalance the weight. This increases the shear forces on your spine, putting your low back more at risk for injury. The regular squat also places more compressive forces on the knee joints compared to the front squat. For these reasons, the front squat may be a safer alternative for some lifters.
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images