The popularity of weightlifting and cross training has led to increased interest in front squats for building total –body strength and improving performance in the clean. Researchers from Gaziosmanpasa University in Turkey found marked differences in the biomechanics and muscle activation during the front and back squat using maximum loads and experienced lifters.
Activation of the vastus medialis muscle (one of the quadriceps) was greater during the front squat than back squat, while activation of the semitendinosus (hamstring muscle) was greater during the back squat. Trunk lean was greatest during the back squat.
Since most people can lift more weight during the back squat, it’s the most popular choice for maximizing lower body strength. However, the front squat may be more valuable for building the extensor strength and preventing lower back injuries.
So which one should you choose? Both, ideally – especially if you split your leg training up into two workouts a week. Incorporate the back squat on your hamstring-focused day and add in the front squat on the quad-focused day. If you only train legs once a week, it can’t hurt to include both in the same workout. They don’t call them The King of Lower Body Exercises for nothing.
Source: Journal of Sport Sciences, November 1 2014