Short answer? There is no answer….each squat variation has it’s own benefits, and practicing a range of movements is extremely beneficial whether your’e trying to lose weight, gain strength or anything in between.
Squats are one of the fundamental functional movements – we have been practicing them since we were babies (although for most, they have steadily gotten worse rather than better). They involve both the hip and knee joints, recruiting multiple muscle groups making them an excellent compound movement.
Ok, lets get started.. first things first, I would always start with glute activation prior to doing any squat movements – say hello to your new best friend the mini band. Literally forever in my gym bag, the smallest yet most effective piece of equipment.
Basic squat set up for all the movements I will talk about is feet slightly over shoulder width apart and turned slightly out.
Now, onto some squat varieties:
Air Squat – the first port of call when it comes to squatting, if you haven’t nailed this technique work on your mobility until you’re happy and squatting easily with correct form. Honestly, if you haven’t got this down you are only asking for trouble by progressing, and by trouble I mostly mean injury. Think about pushing your bum back, weight through the heels and shoulders/chest upright. If you’re knees buckle in, you come up on your toes or you can’t reach parallel, it’s definitely beneficial to look at your mobility work until none of the above apply.
Goblet Squat – after you are happy with the air squat, the next movement I would look at is the goblet squat. This actually reinforces good technique and is fairly difficult to perform incorrectly – a win/win. Hold the kettlebell (a dumbbell could be use too) by the horns in front of the chest, as you lower make sure to keep the chest up and don’t let the back round. As you reach the bottom of the squat you can use your elbows to help ensure you push your knees out.
Front Squat – This movement tends to require more upper back flexibility in order to keep the shoulders upright with the additional weight on front, as well as increased wrist and shoulder flexibility just to hold the bar in position (usually balanced on the fingers and shoulders, rather than full grip) and ankle mobility to reach full range of movement without lifting the heels or rounding the back. That being said, the front squat tests the core muscles and really works the quads. During the squat it is important to keep the elbows pushed through and up as high as you are able to stop the chest dipping forward.
Back Squat – Often more widely used for the simple fact people can usually lift heaviest on the back squat, it focuses more on the hamstrings and glutes. The grip can be adjusted depending on the mobility – generally if you are less mobile, a wider grip would be beneficial. If you perform the back squat with a wider stance it will also work your adductors and glutes, which in turn helps prevent the knees collapsing in.
Overhead Squat – Personally, this is my favourite squat variety this movement tests core strength and mobility too. In terms of biomechanics, the increased lever between the barbell and the body means there is more demand for keeping the body upright. The overhead position also means there is more shoulder mobility required, however keeping a wider grip minimises this (I like to practice with a range of grips on the barbell) – it is likely the max for this squat is drastically lower than either the front or back squat, for me the limiting factor is being able to get the weight overhead. Many weaknesses can be emphasised and therefore identified by the OH squat.
So, which squat should you be doing? I would recommend doing the squat(s) you can do with the best technique – reinforcing the movement until you are happy then moving on to another, until you master that and so on. Remember each movement will work, and put emphasis on, different muscles. Ultimately, the more squat variations you can build into your programme the better – keep your body guessing, work and challenge as many muscle groups as possible and enjoy the process!