The squat is one of the most commonly prescribed exercises in our Boulder Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy practice. With so many variations of this strength training exercise you may be wondering which exercise prescription is best for you. The squat in particular has two primary variations, the front squat and the back squat.
In the article “Comparison of muscle activation and kinematics during free-weight back squat and barbell hip thrust” analyzed the muscle activation and kinematics of two common squat variations: front and back squats. The researchers found that the back squat was more effective in activating the gluteus maximus, vastus lateralis, and biceps femoris muscles, whereas the front squat resulted in higher activation of the rectus femoris muscle.
The study also analyzed the kinematics of the two exercises, specifically the joint angles of the hips and knees during the descent and ascent phases of the squats. The results showed that the front squat produced greater knee flexion during the descent phase compared to the back squat. Meanwhile, the back squat resulted in greater hip flexion and trunk forward lean during the descent phase, and greater knee and hip extension during the ascent phase.
Therefore, the choice between front and back squats depends on the individual’s specific goals and needs. Those who aim to activate the gluteus maximus, vastus lateralis, and biceps femoris muscles more effectively may prefer the back squat, while individuals who want to target the rectus femoris muscle may choose the front squat. The kinematic analysis of both exercises may also be considered when selecting a squat variation, depending on the individual’s biomechanics and goals.
1. Gullett JC, Tillman MD, Gutierrez GM, Chow JW. A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):284-92. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818546bb. PMID: 19002072.