Whether you’ve been at your Box for a month or a year, you already know how important squats are to your WOD. (Still learning the CrossFit lingo? Check out our article on the most common CrossFit terminology.)
One of the most asked questions in CrossFit is whether a back squat is better for you than a front squat. The answer isn’t black and white. Which squat you should focus on comes down to a number of factors including fitness goals and physical restrictions.
Move down our Squat Checklist below to see which is better for you: front squat vs. back squat?
1. Do You Have Prior Injuries?
Certain injuries will determine which squat you should stick with. If you have suffered a lower back injury or if you’ve ever had back surgery, then a back squat might not be the best option. Since a front squat is loaded on the shoulders, you won’t get the same pressure on your back as with a back squat.
On the flip side, let’s say that you’ve hurt your shoulder or gone through shoulder surgery. In this case, neither squat may be ideal. If the injury or surgery occurred at your front deltoid (front of the shoulder), then a back squat should be okay, but only if you can perform it properly without pain.
In either case, consider using a squat pad to protect the muscle and connective tissue.
2. How is Your Mobility and Flexibility?
How easily can you move during a squat? Do you feel free and flexible? Or do you feel rigid, often getting stuck right around when your thighs reach parallel level? It’s easy to forget that squats require a high degree of mobility because we usually associate them exclusively with strength, muscle, and power.
For those who lack mobility, back squats are going to be your best friend. If you are loose and limber, especially in the upper back, shoulders, and ankles, front squats are the option you should try.
3. Which Muscles Do You Want to Target?
Back squats and front squats target different muscle groups, and this is an important distinction, especially if you want to correct strength imbalances or focus on a particular area for aesthetic reasons such as bodybuilding.
While both types of squats are lower body exercises, you’ll find and feel that back squats focus on the hips and glutes while front squats go after the quadriceps and upper back.
4. Which Area of Fitness Do You Want to Improve?
We all have our weak points during a workout, or we have those WODs that we can’t stand because we aren’t great at them. What’s your weakest area in a CrossFit workout? Do you want to get stronger at a particular exercise or WOD? Here are some common exercises and fitness goals along with the recommended type of squat.
Speed: CrossFit workouts combine the elements of speed and strength. Squats are a great way to support increases in speed that will translate into other fitness activities such as sprinting or agility maneuvers. If you have the physical ability, both types of squats should be performed in your workouts to improve overall speed.
Strength: When it comes to all out strength, nothing beats a back squat. Assuming you don’t have any prior injuries or surgeries, you’ll be able to lift more weight with a back squat. The front deltoids can’t support the same weight load so front squats are best reserved for muscle size and definition.
Cleans, Snatches, Etc: Remember the benefit of mobility we talked about above? Well it isn’t just front squats that require good mobility. Cleans and snatches also demand a high degree of mobility and flexibility. Since the loading and execution of a front squat is pretty damn close to a clean, it’s the way to go if you want to improve these exercises.
Hip-Focused Movements: Since you’re loading the weight on your posterior chain (your back), your hips are jumping into action in a big way. When you want to improve any hip-focused exercises such as the bridge and deadlift, the back squat is the way to go.
Shoulders: Since you are loading a barbell on your front deltoids, it’s easy to think that front squats are going to be terrible for shoulder health. And this might be true if you have had prior injuries or surgeries. But if you’re injury-free, front squats are actually better for your shoulders because of the lighter load and comfortable form. Back squats can push your wrists, elbows, and shoulders into an uncomfortable position, increasing the risk of injury.
We recommend wrist wraps to keep your wrists straight and to avoid injury.
Knees: Assuming you have no prior injuries, and you are executing each type of squat with perfect form, both the back and front squat can be beneficial for improving and protecting your knee health. The only exception might be an ass-to-grass squat. We recommend going as low as you comfortably can. If your knee starts to tweak out, you’ll know that’s too low for your physical ability.
Be sure to support and protect with a knee sleeve.
Front Squats vs. Back Squats: Which Should You Choose?
Ideally, your workout will combine both back and front squats. This could mean you perform both types in one session, or you dedicate two separate days to legs using back squats on Monday and front squats on Thursday, for example.
Which Do You Prefer: Front Squats vs. Back Squats?
Do you prefer front squats over back squats? Do you use both in your current workouts? Have a picture or video of yourself executing a perfect squat? Tag us on Instagram so we can share.