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How are Back Squats Different From Front Squats

Last week we programmed something that sent chills down the spines of nearly everyone I talked to…BACK TO BACK SQUAT DAYS!

Front Squats and Back Squats going back to back are something we generally try to avoid and have for the 3 years we have been open, but last week we broke from the norm and threw everyone a curveball. 

Now, the initial though would be, “two squat days in a row = 2x soreness.” When is reality, we were all sore from those dreaded high rep back squats we have been doing this cycle and the front squats actually let us walk away pretty unscathed. How did this happen? The short answer is muscle and muscle fiber recruitment changes and the long answer is below:

Front = Anterior Chain and Back = Posterior Chain

Regardless of how you’re built, front squat and back squat are goin to make you use different muscles to perform each movement. In a back squat, the bar is loaded slightly behind our center of gravity which means that the muscles on the back of our legs (our posterior chain: your calves, hamstrings, and glutes), have to activate more to help us get more leverage on the weight we are lifting. Where as the front squat puts the bar load slightly in front of our center of gravity, making us use the front of our legs (the anterior chain: tibialis anterior a.k.a the muscle next to the shin bone, quadriceps, and hip flexors) to gain that mechanical advantage over the weight. Front squats also require you to use your core a little bit more to keep the spine neutral as you lift (#getthoseabswhileliftingfabs). 

You can feel this happening as the back squat makes you pitch forward slightly and the front squat makes you pitch a little bit more upright. For people with tight ankles and/or longer femurs, an olympic lifting shoe can help exaggerate these even more!

(If you are an athlete with longer femurs, the front squat is also a fantastic accessory lift for focusing on knee drive (pushing your knees out) so that you learn to activate your quads more and have safer lifts!)

Manipulating Muscles To Grow How We Want!

In this particular cycle we are also focusing on different muscle fibers within the legs to get stronger! On our back squat days, we are doing very large sets (6-12 reps) at a moderately heavy load (around 70%). These feel terrible and burn out your legs way harder as we are working on burning out our 2a muscle fibers (our work horse strength based fibers). Making us grow larger muscles as a result of these rep ranges. This style of training is known as “hypertrophy”  or training focus on growing the size of the muscle.

For the front squats we are exclusively focused on power. The rep ranges are set at 5 reps or less and we are getting near that 80% rep range. With these sets we exclusively are trying to activate those powerful 2b fibers (our power/speed based fibers) and get them used to activating more & more of those fibers faster in order to move greater loads (want a bigger 1RM, this is the ticket!) Along with some warm-up sets to flush the legs from back squat day, this is why anyone who did the dreaded back to back squat day was able to power through and hit their percentages without much more effort!

The Dual Threat Going Forward

As we finish this cycle, the dreaded back to back won’t come up. But, we will still be heavy squatting at least twice a week until the end of the cycle in a couple weeks (Testing Week is May 23rd – May 28th). With our goals usually aligning with a higher 1 rep max, expect those Back Squats to start feeling like the Front Squats as they stay on more opposite ends of the week. 

Remember to focus on keeping those cores tight, spines in the same orientation throughout the lift, pushing those knees out, and staying consistent! If you focus on those principles, this testing week is gonna feel pretty awesome and Murph won’t stand a change with those legs of steel!

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