I explained my workout, which is quite close to StrongLifts, to my physiotherapist. She told me I'd better avoid Back Squats and do Front Squats instead, because back squats and things like behind-neck barbell overhead press force me to squeeze my shoulders too much. I have slightly bent forward shoulders. The idea is that I'd better use front squats and dumbbell press seated instead.

Please avoid any answer with the tiring "If you want do to StrongLifts then do StrongLifts" bullshit (I encourage readers to furiously downvote such answers, if any). My question is, does it matters much for the program if I do Front Squats instead of Back Squats. If so, why?


3 Answers 3


There are a number of squat variations, and they are all good exercises: front squat, high bar back squat, zercher squats, goblet squats. The mobility issues can be temporary if you work at them intelligently and over time. So I'll address the question in two parts. First is the question you explicitly asked:

By all means substitute front squats in place of back squats. Unless you are planning on competing in power lifting, the back squat isn't absolutely necessary. Additionally, if/when you ever try to re-introduce back squats, do them high bar. The torso is more upright, and like front squats they are also a little more quad dominant. That's OK because deadlifts will take care of your posterior chain.

But don't neglect upper thoracic mobility. This is something I'm working on myself, and my upper back mobility has been preventing me from going very heavy on front squats because the bar wants to keep rolling forward. I found an article on simple thoracic spine mobility with exercises everyone can perform. The one mobility exercise that helped the most would be this one. Also to work on shoulder mobility itself, the DieselCrew has an excellent rehab protocol and warmup routine.

Any time you are benching, overhead pressing, or doing back squats, I recommend starting with the DieselCrew warmup routing to open up the shoulders and getting them ready to work. Use light weights for them, it's meant to be warmup not actual work. After pressing, you might want to work on dumbbell front raises or reverse flies for light weight with high reps (between 10 and 20 reps for 5 sets). You can alternate them on pressing days. The purpose is to strengthen the upper back and rotator cuff so your shoulders return to a more natural orientation.

After a couple months try high bar back squats. Between the shoulder rehab/warmup and the upper thoracic mobility work, your shoulders should now be in a more favorable position rather than slumped forward. Stick with high bar, and use a wide grip. That should allow you to back squat without pain, and it is competition legal should you ever decide to do that.

  • Good! (+1). Your answer gives good perspectives, as usual. My therapist has given me a sheet with exercises, and a couple of them are in that thoracic mobility link (whereas I would stay away from the one with the tennis balls). I'll take the warmup routine video to the next session (I don't want to risk another youtube-induced injury). My shoulders have been always a bit forward. I wonder if trying to "correct" their position can result in injury. For instance, you cannot straighten an adult structural scoliosis, and if you try hard you might injury yourself.
    – Mephisto
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:15
  • I am always prone to lean forward a bit. If I think of it and try consciously I can walk straight, but minutes before I always forget it completely. It might be partially because of weak back muscles and bad postural habits from the childhood. I am going to print and discuss your answer with the doctor, it seems promising (thanks again - you always give good hope and motivation!).
    – Mephisto
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:21
  • @Mephisto, very smart to do that. When I say "correct" the posture, I'm referring primarily to rebalancing the musculature so the joint sits right where it is naturally supposed to. If your structural issues are skeletal, you have to modify your definition of normal. Jun 26, 2013 at 14:35
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    Rows help with the upper back strength, which also helps with forward lean. The front squats also may be perfect for helping to overcome that issue as well. As to rows, I prefer 1 arm dumbbell rows to bent over barbell rows. A primary reason is is that the lower back is better supported when you are leaning over a bench--which is a godsend if your lower back is fatigued. Jun 26, 2013 at 14:40
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    Sounds good. Uneven loading does help with the core, but might be best reserved for when you get yourself a bit more solid overall. Jun 26, 2013 at 16:59

Unless your goals include having a strong back-squat there is nothing wrong substituting them with front squats

I'd be curious to know why your physio would suggest one of the other, but I strongly recommend heeding her advice. But both variants are useful for building powerful legs, and while front squats will engage your quads more than back squats. While back squats will engage your hamstrings more than front squats, any imbalances can be corrected through your deadlifts.

  • Well, I am recovering from some weird stretches I tried after seeing them in youtube (yes, a stupid thing, that is why I ordered SS, from now on I shall have a perfect understanding of the correct form for the exercises) that have left me with a tickling sensation under my left scapula (I have immediately stopped training). The therapist has told me that back squats, and things like behind-neck barbell overhead press force me too much to squeeze my shoulders (I have a slightly bent forward shoulders), so that I'd better use front squats and dumbbell press seated instead.
    – Mephisto
    Jun 26, 2013 at 10:07
  • Ah, seems perfectly valid. So yeah, the answer holds. Are you missing out, not really. And if you did them the outcome would be bad.
    – user2861
    Jun 26, 2013 at 10:13

Back squats, low-bar or not, are preferred to front squats because they allow heavier loads. Some say that back squats use more hamstrings and glutes than the front squat, but I've found this isn't a major concern.

Front squats are a fine exercise and I'm sure that they'll work almost as well as back squats. You won't advance quite as quickly, but I doubt you'll be able to notice.

Right now I'm substituting front squats for back squats due to flexibility issues in my back, shoulders, and hips. That's OK. But avoiding the back squat forever because it's a lot of work to fix those issues is not a great idea, and not part of my plan. I absolutely plan on back squatting again, and am working on regaining that ability, because avoiding an exercise due to a fixable issue is not a productive way to live.

  • Thanks. I don't expect to go to powerlifting competitions, so I don't mind progressing slow. I am just excited about the possibility of being somewhat stronger and muscular. And I have begun to experience the benefits of barely a month of workouts (excellent humour, plenty of energy, good sleep, eating like a lion without adding weight... it is sort of a strange kind of honeymoon... I had been 18 years without physical exercise)
    – Mephisto
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:26
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    I'll agree that being able to third-world squat is a very basic movement, but there is nothing about the back-squat that makes it fundamental or necessary for life. They have their advantages, but no-one is missing out if they can't or don't back squat.
    – user2861
    Jun 26, 2013 at 23:36
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    @LegoStormtroopr I would say that the inability to back squat properly is a diagnostic for pathology. If one can but chooses not to, that's okay, but avoiding it because of a fixable issue is problematic. Jun 27, 2013 at 0:12
  • @LegoStormtroopr But you have a point; I worded that too strongly. Edited. Jun 27, 2013 at 0:40

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