Front Squat vs. Back Squat
To front squat or to back squat...that is the question! The debate over which is better, what does each lift do for performance and how does each lift transfer best is something that many coaches are constantly discussing. It leaves many questions unanswered and leads to some periodization problems as well. What is the answer behind this undying problem?!?!?
In Olympic weightlifting, multiple movements are used to improve technique, strength, mobility and even mentality. The two main lifts to improve strength are back squat and front squats. To fully comprehend the effectiveness of these lifts, coaches and athletes need to understand how the lifts transfer to pulls, how they transfer to catch position and ultimately how they can lead to a greater performance on the platform.
Before we dive deep into the problem, let’s clarify what we are discussing. For this particular article, the back squat is referring to a HIGH BAR, ass to grass back squat.
When discussing the front squat, we are referring precisely to a high position front rack with a CLEAN grip, not a bodybuilder grip. The clean grip front squat is the main front-loaded squat used to enhance Olympic weightlifting.
When an athlete struggles in their positioning off the floor, typically their posterior chain is weak, they get pulled onto their toes early and their butt tends to rise excessively. Their back might have issues handling volume and their back squat positioning might look like there are folded into an accordion.
This is where the back squat transfers quite well. For the back squat to transfer well to the platform, the athlete should position their feet in the same width they hold as they initiate their pull off the ground. This positioning will lead to similar proprioception and ideal recruitment patterns. The pull is a combination of hamstrings, glutes, quads, back and abs, all of these are essential for hitting a strong technical back squat. Keeping the upper back and trunk tight through the eccentric portion of the lift, staying tight through the turnaround or coupling period and actively using the glutes, hamstrings, and quads through the concentric portion are key to optimizing the back squat carryover.
What about jerk positioning?
This question leaves us in muddied waters. The jerk movement is difficult because of the speed behind the lift. It is one of THE FASTEST movements with a loaded object in all of the sports.
The dip can pull athletes forward, they may drop their elbows too much, altering the path of the dip and delaying the turnaround period at the bottom. If this happens, it MIGHT be a coordination issue with the posterior chain, if that is the underlying problem then the back squat will fix the jerk. HOWEVER, if the athlete has a weak gut and struggles to recruit their quads, the front squat will certainly fix their dip and drive positioning.
Hayley Reichardt has an incredibly strong back and an incredibly strong front squat, both have enabled her to hit a jerk at 109 kilos while only weighing 49 kilos!
Which squat translates better to your cleans?
As noted previously, the back squat will help tremendously with the actual pull of the clean. The front squat will transfer quite well to the catch position of the clean, much more so than the back squat. The front squat mimics the same movement from the catch and when trained without a belt at higher speeds, the front squat is the clear victor in improving the clean!
Speed front squats can improve core strength and even hip mobility! By keeping a full grasp on the bar, the lifter will also enhance their thoracic extension and lat mobility, leading to even better stability within the catch and concentric movement out of the hole.
Both the back squat and front squat are excellent movements that can be programmed to attack various problems within the lift. If you struggle to understand this implementation, feel free to pick up our educational courses on Weightlifting U to enhance your knowledge of this topic. If you are an athlete that needs greater guidance toward optimal performance and implementation of the lifts, pick up a custom program today and get on the gain train toward becoming a champion!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.