In CrossFit we use the front squat, back squat and overhead squat time and time again, there are other variations but in this blog I will talk about these three squats, their differences and how the demands of each will influence your athletic performance in different ways.
The most obvious difference between these three squats is the bar placement. In the front squat the bar is placed in the front rack position (on the shoulders with the elbows high), in the back squat the bar is placed on the upper back, and in the overhead squat the bar is held overhead with the arms locked out.
A well executed squat, regardless of the type, requires that the bar stays centred over the middle of the foot throughout the lift. Because of the different bar placements, each of the squats places different demands on the body.
Front Squat vs. Back Squat
In the front squat the torso must stay upright in order to keep the bar over the mid foot and stop the bar rolling forwards off of the shoulders. In the back squat the torso doesn’t need to be as upright and you will have more of a forward lean:
The mechanics of the front squat place greater demands on the quads, abdominals and knees and place less stress on the hamstrings and glutes compared to the back squat. In the back squat the back angle does not need to be as vertical as in the front squat to keep the bar above the middle of the foot due to the bar placement, and the activation of the powerful muscles in the glutes, hamstrings and hips means that you will be able to lift significantly more weight in the back squat than in the front squat. On average the front squat will be 70-85% of the back squat. The bar placement of the back squat means the hips can sit further back placing less stress on the knees and requiring less ankle mobility than the front squat. These elements combined with the bar and hand position allows us to drive more force up in to the bar which is why we can handle heavier loads in the back squat. The back squat an excellent tool for developing strength, especially in the posterior chain.
The front squat requires greater mobility in the shoulders, wrists and ankles than the back squat. In CrossFit, we carry the bar on our shoulders and use the front squat position in a lot of other movements such as the clean, power clean, thrusters, push press, push jerk and so on. Working to improve and build a strong position in the front squat will carry over and help to improve all of these movements and more!
The Overhead Squat
Usually the most frustrating of the three squats discussed here, the overhead squat is unrivalled in exposing weaknesses in mobility, flexibility, balance, strength and coordination. The overhead squat places much greater demands on the body, you’ll need flexibility and strength in the shoulders, hips, glutes, hamstrings and adductors in order to execute a good overhead squat. Taking the time to iron out these weaknesses and really working to improve your overhead squat will pay off massively in many other areas in CrossFit. The overhead squat is at the heart of the snatch of course, but its reach goes beyond this one movement. The overhead squat will help you identify the mobility issues you need to work on, it is a fantastic movement for developing midline stability and it will help you develop great shoulder stability. Keeping the bar in balance during an overhead squat and maintaining good form can be extremely challenging, but persevere with this movement and over time you will get comfortable squatting with the bar overhead.
Each of the three squats have their benefits and tricky areas, but it is important to focus on improving all three of these squats making sure you have balance as doing so will improve your overall performance not just in the lifts, but your overall performance in CrossFit.
So how can I improve my squats?
If you are looking to improve your squat why not try out a CrossFit or Barbell class? In both classes we don’t move heavy barbells until you are ready, we focus on functional strength training to get you moving better! We do a range of drills and exercises which help you understand the movements, we slow things down to make sure you are moving properly and building your strength in the right way.