Front squat! At least that is the answer most people give to the question of whether it is better to do the front squat or back squat for thicker quads. In my previous article I talked about the importance of exercise for muscle growth. The answer is that this is not that important. Much more important are all other muscle growth principles such as volume, frequency, rest interval, et cetera. However, you must of course know which exercises to do for certain muscle groups. Hence this article on the quadriceps. Which squat can you do best or does it not matter?
Differences between front squat or back squat are small
Several studies show that there is very little difference in muscle activation between the front squat and back squat (the most important can be found in the references). With the front squat the bar is on your front shoulder heads and with the back squat on the top of your shoulders (with a high bar squat) or lower on your shoulder blade (with a low bar squat). The difference between the horizontal distance is about 10-15 centimeters. What will this shifting of the rod yield?
Back squat mechanics
Every squat technique depends on the individual. For example, the length of your thigh, lower leg and trunk influence how far you should lean forward. The width of your foot position also influences. A wider position makes it easier to squat with a straighter back (more vertical). If we omit all these differences and look purely at the bar position, what is the big difference between a back and a front squat? The further the bar is on the back of your shoulders, the more you have to lean forward to keep the bar between your heel and toe. In other words, you will have to lean forward more to avoid falling over. The logical thought is that if a squat is more like a good morning, you train the glutes and hamstrings more. Hence the idea that a back squat would train the glutes and hamstrings more than the front squat.
Front squat biomechanics
First we look at the front squat, before going into the glute and hamstrings hypothesis of the back squat. If the bar is on the front shoulder heads, you will need to lean forward less with your torso to maintain balance. The biggest difference is that it is easier to stay upright. In theory. In practice, you will have to work hard to avoid falling forward as the weight pulls you forward. You could argue that if you bend less forward, the hamstrings and glutes don't have to do as much.
A little more and a little less between front squat or back squat
However, the differences in activation of the main muscles are almost negligible. If you lower your buttocks below your knees, your (single joint) quadriceps are the limiting factor of both exercises. Point. A study shows that you activate your vastus medialis (muscle of your quadriceps) slightly more in a front squat and the semitendinosus (muscle of your hamstring) slightly more in the back squat. In practice, the single joint quadriceps are and remain the muscle fibers that receive the strongest growth stimulus in both exercises. It makes no difference for the muscle growth of your quadriceps whether you do the front squat or the back squat. Whether you lean forward a bit more during the back squat or not. The glutes and hamstrings are rarely the limiting factor. Do you want to know everything about the squat by the way? In this article, I'll tell you everything about the squat technique in 12 videos.
If there are differences, they are small
If you are to believe the front squat and back squat studies, it is best to do the front squat for your quadriceps. The reason is that you have a slightly higher chance of possible knee injuries with a back squat, not a higher activation. In addition, the front squat is recommended to train the muscles of your upper back better. Those muscles have to work very hard to keep your upper body upright. However, few EMG studies have been conducted since then to confirm or disprove this. If, on the other hand, you do a front squat in practice, you will feel those muscles doing their best.
Difference between exercises of muscle groups is relatively small
You have only read above the difference between the front squat and the back squat. Realize that there is little difference between many exercises of muscle groups. The variety is mainly a nice mental side effect. By changing exercises you feel like training harder again. And the few percent difference between exercises is a nice bonus for a full development of a muscle. Do you think in between abdominal exercises if the plank or leg raise is for example a big activation (and growth) difference? Or between a dumbbell curl and a barbell curl? Or a nicer example, between a cable upright row or a dumbbell side raise? The differences are often small, but the greater the influence on your motivation. Therefore, alternate many exercises in your schedules! And make sure your schedule adheres to muscle growth principles. Read for that the book No Strong Story About Muscle Growth.
For more information about these squat variants, I would start with the following two studies:
Yavuz, HU, Erdag, D., Amca, AM, & Aritan, S. (2015). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. J Sports Sci, 33
Gullett, JC, Tillman, MD, Gutierrez, GM, & Chow, JW A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res, 23