back squat vs. front squat vs. goblet squat
This article was written by one of our regular contributors; personal trainer and fitness writer – Adam Willis.
The Squat – it’s an absolutely fantastic lower body exercise that provides so much bang for your buck that it’s hard to argue its place in almost every program ever written.
But what squat variation is the best one?
That’s the £1,000,000 question isn’t it?
Is there a best one?
The answer is yes, there is often a “best” option, however, it’s better to assess which is best based on your current lifting experience, training goal, injury history and the intent you want to use that squat variation for, rather than simply viewing say a back squat better than a front squat.
When it comes to selecting any exercise, not just a squat variation, it is all about selecting the right tool for the job and ensuring the person using it has the ability to use it well.
So for the sake of this article, I’m going to cover 3 of the best tool options you can use when it comes to your squatting:
- the goblet squat
- the front squat
- the back squat
I’ll be covering what they each do well, who they may suit best and when they can be most effective to use depending on the intent you’re trying to achieve.
So, let’s get rolling with breaking down each variation in turn.
The Goblet Squat:
For me, the Goblet Squat is the unsung hero of the squat family.
The goblet squat can have great value for almost all lifters, but it’s true superpower is unleashed with those new to the squat as it’s possibly the best tool for teaching correct squat form and is easy to learn.
Along with being the best squat teaching tool, the goblet squat also teaches you how to brace your core and create upper back tension due to the position of the weight held against your chest.
These 3 things, technique teaching, core bracing and upper back tension, set you up for great future success in the barbell squat variations when you’re ready to progress to them.
There is however one downside to the Goblet Squat, when you get very strong in the movement, your ability to get the weight into position can become a limiting factor for strength rep range work, but at this point the variation still has value for hypertrophy and muscular endurance rep ranges so don’t give up on the exercise.
When it comes to the goblet squat, my standard for clients to achieve before progressing to a barbell squat variation is 10 reps with half of their bodyweight. So, don’t be in a rush to jump straight under a barbell. Build your squatting ability up with the goblet squat first and hold off progressing to a barbell [if you can] until you can achieve those 10 reps with half bodyweight.
The Front Squat:
The front squat, and safety squat bar squat [another squat variation not covered in this article], for me are where most people should focus their attention, after the goblet squat, when it comes to squatting if their intent for using the squat is somewhat general like simply just wanting to get stronger, add muscle, enhance sport performance etc. The front squat, or safety bar squat, for me is the logical next step after progress with the goblet squat has been achieved.
All squats are going to work the same muscle groups, however the load position and slight difference in movement mechanics will enhance the focus on certain areas more than others. In the case of the front squat, the focus is going to be more on the quads, core and upper back, than the other 2 variations.
The anteriorly placed load typically allows for a more upright torso position, greater core bracing and greater depth than the back squat, resulting in a “squattier” squat position.
The front squat does have 2 downsides though [because every exercise has a downside or 2].
1] It has the highest mobility demand of the 3 squat variations in this article. The front squat requires a higher level of ankle, shoulder, wrist, hip and thoracic spine mobility than the goblet or back squat.
2] Due to the front rack position there is a very high demand to create tension in the upper back during the lift. This makes the front squat a poor option for higher rep work [above 6 reps] because a person’s upper back will usually fail before their legs do.
The Back Squat:
The back squat is by far the most popular squat variation used, and is the variation most people think of, or think they must do, if they’re going to squat.
However, its popularity can often be to the detriment of a lot of people’s training as they believe they must do this variation above all others when in reality, unless your goal is to back squat “X” amount of weight, or compete in powerlifting, you do not need to back squat…..ever. You have the freedom to choose the best squat variation for you based on your ability, limitations, goal and intent for the exercise.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean the back squat doesn’t have value, it absolutely does, but maybe not as much as its popularity would have you believe.
As I mention above, all squats are going to work the same muscle groups, however each will focus more on certain areas than others. The back squat places a greater focus on the hips, glutes and lower back compared to other variations. The back squat also has a lower mobility demand than both the front squat and the goblet squat. So, if you’re looking to load your hips more and/or have mobility issues, this variation may be a better option than the front squat.
Of the 3 variations covered in this article, the back squat does offer the greatest potential for load to be lifted due to the bar position and movement mechanics, so if you just want to move the most amount of weight possible, this variation will help that. I would argue however, that unless you’re a powerlifter or have the back squat as a specific goal, just using an exercise to move the most amount of weight is a poor reason for selecting an exercise and you could be missing out on a variation that is more suitable for your abilities, limitations, limb length etc.
So which squat to use?
Now, all of the above detail may still leave you wondering exactly which squat to use, so I’ve simplified everything I mentioned above into a helpful table below.
|goblet squat||front squat||back squat|
|good for teaching the squat?||the best option||2nd best option||3rd best option|
|good for strength training? [1-6 reps]||YES|
[up to a certain strength point]
|good for hypertrophy training?|
|good for strength endurance training?|
|it’s capacity for progressive overload?||limited by ability to get weight in place||unlimited||unlimited|
|what are the mobility requirements?||moderate mobility demand||highest mobility demand||lowest mobility demand|
|musculature focus?||quads, core, upper back||quads, core, upper back||hips, glutes, lower back|
Even simpler than the table?
You got it…
Best for new lifters? The Goblet Squat
Best for Strength Training? The Front Squat or Back Squat
Best for Hypertrophy Training? The Goblet Squat or Back Squat
Best for Strength Endurance? The Goblet Squat
Squatting, all squatting, packs a huge bang for your buck, so you absolutely should be doing so weekly [if you’ve no medical reason not to]. The key is choosing the right squat variation for your ability and needs so that you can maximise the work you’re putting in and get great results…
…and hopefully this article has helped you understand how to pick the right tool for the job going forward.