When it comes to fitness, there are a few basic physical exercises that are at the core of almost any workout. For example squats.
However, as squats are very basic, they can be modified to work extra muscles, or to serve as a more advanced form of workout.
Competitive strength athletes will likely modify regular back squats to instead perform safety bar squats or front squats, as they will serve them better.
And you can also give them a go, regardless of your fitness level, if you’re looking for a change in your fitness routine!
Both the safety bar squat and the front squat require the use of specific equipment, adding weight training to your squats and working out different muscles to a higher intensity.
The safety bar squat uses a ‘safety squat bar’, which is a specialty bar with shoulder pads and padded handles. Front squats, on the other hand, use a standard barbell, placed on the front of the shoulders as you perform the squats.
But which type of squats should you be doing? Safety bar squats or front squats? Which one is better? We can’t really choose one of them as a better option, as the one you choose depends on your own fitness needs and preferences, and they both offer different advantages and disadvantages.
Instead, we can show you all of the main differences between them, and give you a bit more information about how they both work so that you can choose for yourself, or try out both!
Main Differences Between a Safety Bar Squat and a Front Squat
As both the safety bar squat and the front squat are simply different modalities of the squat exercise, they have a lot of things in common.
They’re incredibly similar when it comes to the muscles they target and their use within a workout routine, after all, they’re practically the same thing! Does that mean you can use them interchangeably? Not quite.
Although they can be used within an almost identical context and purpose, there are a few differences between both types of squats that sets them apart and that makes them more or less appropriate for different people, needs, and preferences.
We’re going to take a look at the four main differences that set them apart, which have to do with how these squats are performed and how they work!
These two types of squats are performed by using specific equipment, which differs from one to the other. The use of different equipment is one of the most notable differences between them, and is the easiest way to recognize whether someone is performing one type or the other!
Safety bar squats use a specialty bar known as the safety squat bar. It has built-in shoulder pads, allowing the bar to rest across your back and on your shoulders, and it also features padded handles for you to hold the bar in place as you perform the squats.
Front squats, on the other hand, use a standard barbell. It is lifted up with your hands and positioned across the front of your shoulders for support, and you can choose between different weight amounts with which to train.
The equipment that both these squat types use can be one of the major factors to consider when you’re choosing between one or the other. Think about which piece of equipment you prefer using, or which feels more comfortable for training with.
You can also speak to experts or to your trainer about which might help you develop your physique better in accordance to your aims and goals! (Although as we said before, both squat types will have a very similar effect on your workout).
Both types of squats combine weight training with basic squats, which is why the equipment is used in the first place.
Both pieces of equipment are designed to carry some weight, and you can modify the amount of weight that they carry based on your level or preference.
But is there a difference between the amount of weight these squats can or should carry? Yes!
The safety bar squat uses the safety squat bar across the back of your shoulders, meaning it’s supported by the top of your back and shoulders, as well as you holding it with the handles that come forward.
All of this combined, allows the bar to remain very stable, with plenty of support. This means that it is suitable for higher amounts of weight, as you’ll be able to deal with the extra lifting without much of a struggle!
The front squat, on the other hand, balances the standard barbell across the front of your shoulders, and it is a lot harder to keep stable, as it has less support. In fact, keeping the bar well-lifted in front of you is harder than the actual squats themselves! This means that it is suitable for lower amounts of weight, to avoid any accidents, injury, or struggles.
As both squats are suited to a different amount of weight lifted, you can choose between one or the other according to the amount of weight you want to train with! Regardless of your choice, you should always start with small amounts of weight and slowly work yourself up.
What muscles are worked?
Safety bar squats and front squats are both different types of squats, that target the same group of muscles almost in their entirety.
After all, they function in an almost identical way, with the difference mainly being placed in the equipment they use and how that factors into the performance. Nevertheless, there are slight differences:
Muscles worked with a safety bar squat:
The leg muscles used for the safety bar squat are the same as with front squats, so the difference lies in the trunk muscles worked.
For the safety bar squats, the trunk muscles are only working to keep you upright as you hold the bar and squat.
These are the exact muscles used:
- Erector Spinae (back muscles)
- Traps (lower, middle, and upper muscles)
Muscles worked with a front squat:
The leg muscles used for the front squat are the same as with safety bar squats, so the difference lies in the trunk muscles worked.
For the front squats, an active thoracic extension is required, so that the shoulder and back muscles are worked more intensely.
These are the exact muscles used:
- Erector Spinae (lower back muscles)
- Traps (lower, middle, and upper muscles)
As you’ll notice, the actual muscle groups worked are the same. The difference lies in the intensity with which they are worked, and as we said, front squats work the back and shoulder muscles a lot more than safety bar squats.
The basic movement performed is the same in both types of squats. You hold the equipment bar in place, and you squat.
However, the body itself is moving in different ways depending on the type of squat you're performing, and this is where the mobility differences come in.
In the safety bar squat, you don’t have to move your upper body much despite holding up a bar. This is because it self-supports on your back and shoulders pretty well, leaving you to simply focus on the squats!
In the front squat, on the other hand, the barbell is a lot harder to balance. So in addition to the squats themselves, you’re also having to make a lot of effort with your upper body, with higher mobility in your wrists, shoulders, and back.
If you have limited upper-body mobility, you should definitely choose the safety bar squats, as they will be a lot easier and better suited to you.
Safety Bar Squat
The safety bar squat uses the safety squat bar as equipment, and it overall requires a straighter and more vertical back angle. To perform it well, you have to focus on maintaining yourself as upright as possible during the squats.
Let’s get into some more detail about them!
Step by Step Guide for the Safety Bar Squat
- Use a rack to prepare the safety squat bar, by placing it at shoulder height, so that it is easier to begin using.
- Getting into position, place the safety squat bar across your shoulders, adjusting the shoulder pads so that they sit comfortably. When holding on to the padded handles, keep your elbows tucked close to your sides.
- Stand up and move away from the rack, giving yourself sufficient space to begin the squat exercises.
- To squat down, bend your knees and hips at the same time, keeping your upper body upright at a vertical angle.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, you’ve gone low enough to perform the squat.
- To stand up again, place your weight on your feet and push upwards, while maintaining the upper-body position.
Tips and Mistakes of the Safety Bar Squat
When it comes to workout exercises, you won’t always nail it the first time around. It takes practice to achieve perfection.
However, it’s important that you perform these squats as well as possible, with the right positioning, in order to avoid any injuries or accidents.
There are a few tips that might help you get the safety bar squats right faster, and a few common mistakes that you should consciously avoid.
Here they are:
Tips for performing safety bar squats:
- Safety bar squats should look just like normal squats when it comes to your positioning. For this, ensure that the bar itself rests comfortably on your shoulder and back, adjusting it if necessary.
- For strength-building exercises, shorter reps are recommended. However, there’s no need to avoid longer reps with safety bar squats, as they are also great for developing a higher endurance.
- To know whether or not the bar is balanced on your back correctly, try letting go of the handles. It should remain stable on your back without you having to hold it in place.
- If you want to increase the intensity of the exercise, adjust the handles to a higher position so that they are in line with your shoulders. This will bring the weight forward and cause a bigger effort!
Common mistakes when performing safety bar squats:
- The position of the safety squat bar is very important when it comes to this exercise. A common mistake is balancing it too high up so that it starts digging into the back of your neck and head. It needs to rest on your back and shoulders.
- With the use of the bar equipment, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of relying on your posterior chain. Make sure you’re squatting down while pushing your knees forward.
Pros and Cons of the Safety Bar Squat
The safety bar squat is a great strength-building exercise that adds intensity to the normal squat. However, it’s not for everyone.
In order to decide whether you should try it out or not, take a look at the different pros and cons that we consider it to offer!
- The primary muscles used in this type of squat are the quads, so this exercise is excellent for their development.
- The safety bar squat is ideal for those with limited upper-body mobility, or for those with back problems. It manages to work the same muscles as the back squat, without putting as much pressure on the back itself, making it a lot safer.
- The safety bar squat allows for a higher amount of weight to be lifted, without causing any damage or strain on the back muscles themselves, making it highly effective for training while taking things a little easier.
- Depending on the quality of the safety squat bar itself, you might notice some pain or strain on your shoulders, as they are the primary support for the equipment. Unless you’re using high-quality equipment for this exercise, it might lead to shoulder pain.
- The safety bar squat is a lighter and safer version of the back squat exercise, which also means it lifts less weight and is therefore not recommended as much to competitive powerlifters.
The front squat combines normal squats with powerlifting, by incorporating the use of a barbell.
To perform it, you have to balance the barbell across your front shoulders, holding it up in place by working the thoracic muscles, on top of all the muscles that are already worked with the squats.
But let’s get into more detail about how to perform this type of squats!
Step by Step Guide for the Front Squat
- Use a rack to prepare the barbell, ensuring that it is placed at shoulder height.
- Hold the bar by placing all four fingers of each hand around it, ensuring a good grip. The hands should be positioned at a width bigger than that of your shoulders, and the bar should then be wedged into the crook of your shoulders.
- Ensure your triceps are parallel to the floor by pushing your elbows up.
- Lift the bar from the rack by standing up, and take a few steps back to allow yourself the necessary space needed for the exercise.
- When bending down, keep your upper body as upright as possible. Do this by attempting to sit between your thighs as you lower yourself into the squat position.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, the squat is low enough.
- To stand back up, place your weight on your feet and push yourself up, while remaining as upright as possible.
Tips and Mistakes of the Front Squat
It’s important that you perform these squats as well as possible, with the right positioning, in order to avoid any injuries or accidents.
There are a few tips that might help you get the front squats right faster, and a few common mistakes that you should consciously avoid.
Here they are:
Tips for performing front squats:
- Front squats are great for working out many muscles at once, as they also require mobility with your upper-body. The best and most efficient way to perform them is by combining different rep types and switching it up now and then!
- Stretch your wrists and forearms beforehand! These squats take a toll on your wrists so you’ll perform a lot better if you’ve done some stretching exercises before the squats, plus it will lower the risk of any wrist pain or injury!
- Having a proper grip on the bar is vital for this exercise to go well. Try out different grip positions and types until you find the most comfortable one for you.
Common mistakes when performing front squats:
- To perform these squats, you should try to grip the bar with all four fingers of your hands. However, this can be quite straining if you’re not used to it. It’s recommended for competitive weightlifters, but otherwise, you should be fine as long as you have at least two fingers from each hand around the bar.
- The front squat can be quite tricky, especially as it requires the right technique in order to balance the bar properly. Don’t force yourself to start off with too much weight. Start small and build yourself up as you improve and gain experience.
Pros and Cons of the Front Squat
Front squats are great for those wanting to work out more core muscles, pairing the upper-body mobility with the lower-body worked by squats. However, it’s not for everyone. Like any other exercise, it comes with its pros and cons.
Let’s take a look at them:
- Front squats are just as good as back squats when it comes to quad hypertrophy.
- The front squat doesn’t put as much pressure on the knees and instead puts more workload on the thoracic and abdominal muscles. This makes it ideal for those that want to train in powerlifting without damaging or straining their knees too much.
- Front squats require a good technique, as the barbell is very hard to balance properly in front of your shoulders. In fact, it’s very easy for the bar to end up close to your throat, and might cause a choking sensation to those that are inexperienced.
- If you’re unaccustomed to this exercise, you will experience shoulder pain until the shoulder muscles become accustomed to the positioning.
Both safety bar squats and front squats have many similarities, with their main differences lying in the equipment that they use, the body mobility that they require, and the intensity and workload that they cause on different muscles.
Choosing one or the other depends entirely on your own personal preference, as well as the specific fitness goal or training style that you want to achieve or have in mind.
Safety bar squats are better for those with back injuries, or for those that want to train while taking things a little easier, as they are usually a lot safer to perform.
Front squats, on the other hand, are better and more recommended for competitive weightlifters or advanced fitness programs, as they work your muscles to a higher intensity, require more mobility, and they’re harder to perform.
Overall, regardless of the type of squat that you choose to perform, you should make sure you’re performing it right and taking all the necessary precautions to avoid muscle strain or injury.