By: Cody Elliott, Staff Writer
The squat is a movement that can be completed in a variety of ways. Each variation has its place as a staple exercise in standard performance training, and some are more frequently used than others. Whether it is a front squat, back squat, split squat, Zercher squat, safety bar squat, box squat, or heel-elevated squat, each has been proven to yield an array of benefits. How you position your feet or the weights themselves subtly changes the way our bodies respond to the load.
Front vs. Back Squat
First, let’s tackle the discussion of front squat vs. back squat. Although the motion of the squat is the same, the position of the bar is the main difference. In a front squat, the bar is loaded on the deltoid muscles of the shoulders. While with a back squat, the bar rests on the trap muscles of your upper back.
When moving the bar front to back, there is a shift in the major muscle groups used. With a front squat, the anterior side of the body is affected to a greater degree. The core muscles must work harder to keep the bar, and yourself, more upright to prevent falling forward. Additionally, this causes the quadriceps muscle group to be emphasized. When the bar rests on your back, the gluteal and hamstring groups take on a little more responsibility for lifting the weight. Regardless, either exercise is beneficial to your overall strength gains in the upper legs.
In case you are still wondering which one is best for you, consider the following: neither variation is better than the other. However, front squats tend to allow for decreased pressure on your back because it requires greater mobility in your ankles, upper back, and wrists. The mobility required for the exercise itself means that most will get a similar challenge with less weight on the bar.
As it pertains to the back squat, it is a more hip dominant movement and can allow for a greater amount of total weight on the bar. With that said, back squats are an excellent tool for developing raw strength through the lower body and core. However, athletes who are focusing more on explosiveness and movement quality may not want to utilize these as frequently in their training.
Zercher vs. Goblet Squat vs. Safety Bar Squat
As it relates to the previous section of front and back squatting, the zercher, goblet, and safety bar, are all variations that differ in where the resistance is placed, which can alter the affecting muscle groups.
For one, the zercher and goblet squats are both alternative front squat exercises. Zercher squats are completed by holding a barbell with the inside of your elbows at 90 degrees.
Similar to a front barbell squat, this squat generates greater activation of the core and upper back muscles as your body must resist gravity in the forward direction. At the same time, positively affect the muscles in your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. The Zercher squat is a favorite for those looking to develop isometric upper body strength while also training the lower body simultaneously.
Goblet squats on the other hand are completed using a kettlebell or dumbbell. The objective is to hold the weight in front of your chest with both hands. Ensuring the chest remains upright throughout the movement.
With this movement, all of the same muscle groups: Glutes, quads, core, and upper back, play major roles in the success of the movement. Goblet squats can be a great way to introduce front-loading if someone is new to weightlifting and is not yet able to handle a bar.
Moving to the back squat, the only difference that can be seen between a normal back squat and safety squat is the equipment being used. The specific bar that is used comes with a range of alterations that make this variation more enticing.
First, the design of the bar was meant to decrease the amount of shoulder mobility needed to grip the bar. Adding handles and padding allows for athletes to get in a more comfortable position.
Furthermore, the way the bar is made causes the weight to shift forward, making the exercise feel more like a front-loaded squat. This allows better torso orientation and bracing. In terms of muscle groups used, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core dominate this movement.
Another action that can be done to improve lower body strength and core stability are split squats. This movement is described as staggering your feet so that you put yourself into a lung position. By doing this, quads and glutes take the majority of the force. Meanwhile, hamstrings and core stabilize us to prevent any swaying from one side to the other.
Lastly, performing a single leg exercise such as a split squat can help promote strengthening of muscles while also being very joint-friendly in the way load is applied.
Heel-Elevated: Yes or No?
Last, but certainly not least, we need to cover the topic of heel-elevated squats. Simply put, the only difference that can be seen, as the name implies, are heels are elevated using a plate or wedge. This small change can alter a variety of things, for starters, it allows for the work done by the quads to be intensified.
In addition, this position does not require as much hip and ankle mobility and flexibility. Consequently, this leads to a greater ability to perform the squat motion by reducing stress on the hips. Along the same lines, the shear forces present in the spine are decreased. Overall, heel elevated squats provide an effective alternative to conventional squatting.
Depending on equipment availability and biomechanical function, these subtle changes are ones you can add to your program to keep things interesting! No one specific exercise is the “perfect” way to do things, but each of these give us options to explore depending on our body and our goals.
If you are looking for videos on how to properly perform each variation, check out our youtube channel for helpful demonstration