Weight and Resistance Training - Front or Back Squats ? Advice please

03-23-2008, 10:07 AM
I read in an article by Mike Boyle on T Nation ( not sure if the link was posted by someone here) called "Strong Athletes, 0 Injuries" that it is much safer to do front than back squats.
He says his trainees are now only doing front squats.
Would love your advice, opinions on this.
Also my husband doesn't want me to do barbell squats ( even though we only have a light --20 or 25? barbell at the moment) until we have a squat cage.
I'd love your thoughts on this too.
In order to get a squat cage we need to rent a storage shed to move things out of our basement.
We were planning on doing this but then my husband got sick and had to be hospitalized.
He is home and getting a lot better but it's going to be a month or so before we can get going with the move, and I want to keep doing squats.
I've been doing them with dumb bells and am going to start practicing with a broom but don't know if I should start using the light barbell before I have a squat cage.
Oh and one other thing: Mike Boyle says not to do conventional deadlifts but instead do one legged RLs because they protect the back??

03-23-2008, 10:57 AM
Yes, I believe both of Mike Boyles suggestions are to decrease spinal loading and therefore, are putting the athlete at less risk for injury. The front-squats move the load to the front and the RDL's allow you to reduce the load on the spine considerably while still putting the same load on the working muscles.
I love Boyle's work and philosophy. Much of his injury prevention stuff is based on the work and research of Stuart McGill (one of the foremost experts on low back and spinal disorders), Shirley Sahrmann (probably the top expert in movement systems impairment syndromes) and Gray Cook (a leading physical therapist as well as CSCS). Mike's track record in pro, college, and olympic sports speaks for itself and it is Mike's works that introduced me to slideboard lunges which I LOVE.

This does not necessarily mean that you cannot do back squats or conventional deadlifts. It depends on your goals and situations. Some people may argue that Mike's methods are too cautious and for some people that may be true but remember, Mike is dealing with high level College, pro, and olympic athletes. Many whose livelihoods depend on staying injury free.

As for the squat cage, I 110% agree with your husband although I didn't always follow my own advice. I figured, I would just not go to failure and wouldn't have to worry about having safeties to dump the bar on. I used strictly squat stands. Then one day, I was using a relatively light poundage, and shouldn't have had to worry about dumping the bar, but then as I was getting ready to come out of the hole, I felt something pull in my low back. This now left me with two choices. 1) Dump the bar off my back directly onto the floor (hoping that it didn't catch me on the way down or rebound back into me) or 2) Suck it up and squat it back up making the likely injury worse.

Unfortunately living on the second floor with the landlord underneath made #1 a very unapalatable option. Homelessness is never good. So I chose #2. I got it up there and was laid up for a week. If I had a squat rack, perhaps I could have been down for a day or less.

03-23-2008, 01:05 PM
Are we meaning squats with the bar bell behind your neck, I used to teach a class like this called hard body. I had a lot of seniors and overweight women in the class and they had no problem, some did not use any weights, some used just the bar (about 3 lbs) and you could add 1.5-15 lbs on either side. I never had a problem with anyone hurting themselves.
Can you try it over your couch, so at least you would fall into the couch, or try just going half way down.

03-23-2008, 01:56 PM
Thanks so much Depalma--very helpful.
I was hoping you might reply; you are so knowlegeable
I really am concerned about safety since I love working out and I want to take precautions so that I can continue to enjoy my workouts.
I consider myself pretty much a beginner at WL --though I have been doing it for awhile now, but consider it a huge learning curve for me to be doing the moves with good form and safety.
What I'm talking about is a barbell that is 20-25 lbs --a place for me to start so that I can move up to the regular 45 lb barbell and eventually more.
And yes behind the back or in front was my question.
But it is not a 3 lb barbell.
And I really love doing depth squats.
With Depalma's answer I'm going to wait till I have the squat cage and just use dumbbells for now.
And I am going to explore front squats and Mike Boyle's other suggestions.

03-23-2008, 02:44 PM
Katie- I agree with depalma about the rack although I don't necessarily always follow my own advice. A twenty or twenty-five pound bb is not heavy enough to do much damage if you do have to dump it. Do you have two sturdy chairs on which you could pile some cushions to create a safety if you do need to dump the bar? This might work until you can get a rack or cage. The athletes that Mike Boyle works with are generally working in the hundreds of pounds range.

I have a different approach to the front vs. back squat issue. For myself and the women I train, I've found that a bar that is heavy enough to challenge your legs is painfully too heavy to rest on most women's front delts. The proper placement of the bar is on the front delt, just above the bicep insertion. On men who have well developed arms and shoulders, this is no big issue. On women, it is painful. Even with towels padding my shoulders, I can't do a full set due to the pain.

I don't know how old you are (seem to remember you are near my age, tho) but I think the next point is important to keep in mind for any woman over 40. And men too.

The other argument for women doing back squats is the reason that Mike Boyle says to avoid them: spinal pressure. Most of us are not squatting the 250-600 pounds that is takes to injure a healthy or osteopenic spine. However, the best way to continually rebuild bone in the areas most likely to be affected by bone loss is spinal compression; NOT to the point of injury- but enough to put serious stress down the entire length of the spine, equally spread on the hips, through each femur, and down through the rest of each leg pushing against the ground. The much heralded effect of weight training to protect our bones only works if your feet are on the ground and your spine is being stressed. You might try the overhead squats we have been discussing in the main thread. If you put a couple of cushions on the floor in front of you, you can just ditch the bar if you have problems.


03-23-2008, 08:00 PM
Mel what a helpful reply. Thank you so much.
I am a natural pear even though a size 6 pant, but what I mean to say is that I do not have much padding in my front chest/collar bone area.
Hadn't even considered that point.
I am so grateful for 3fatchicks and all the wonderful people here who help me out.:thanks:
Okay back to the broomstick and then the back barebell when my knees are better.

03-24-2008, 05:45 AM
hi katiek,

I also do squats at home with a BB, and I have no squat rack. But I have been doing them now for a long time, and the heavviest I do now is 52 pds plates on a 22 pd BB, so 74 pounds max. So I guess if you just start with the unloaded BB and you have the feling that it is all in full control, you are OK. And like Mel said, you can always put some cushoins in strategic places in case you need to drop the thing.


03-25-2008, 10:39 AM
Hi KatieK,

IMHO, it really depends most of all on your proportions. I am tall (6' 4") with a very long torso relative to my legs, so Front squats put much less strain on my lower back because they force you to stay upright. They are somewhat painfuluntil you get used to racking the bar, and, as Mel pointed out, some people feel their delts are too small to provide enough of a cushion for the barbell.

What about dumbell deadlifts with straps? They should allow you to mimic a front squat without the difficulties involved in keeping the bar in place.


How much weight is too painful to rack? I was wondering if it is partly a technique issue, or too stiff of a bar, since female O-lifters are catching huge weights in the rack position when they clean and jerk. Bar flex definitely distributes the weight across your shoulders and chest and reduces the pinching. My problem is a lack of fexibility in my wrists which prevents me from properly racking the weight.


03-25-2008, 09:06 PM
Robert, the position that I've been taught for front squats is arms crossed, elbows up, and the bar resting on my front delts. For me, anything more than an empty bar is excruciatingly painful- but I do have fibromyalgia and it may be just sitting on a trigger point. I can easily do 10-12 reps of back squats with 175 pounds for my first set and end with 8 reps at 235. I have gone up to just over 300, but will NEVER do it again!
I've actually never seen anyone hold it in the finish position of a clean and jerk like this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHu4jhUbx9M). Yay for youtube! But a quick perusal of youtube indicates that's how most people do it. This puts the bar further up on the delts, perhaps in a less painful spot. Since I can clean and jerk a lot more than the empty bar, this may be a solution for me.

Pain aside, the back squat, standing military press, and jumping seem to be the top exercises for rebuilding and maintaining bone mass in middle aged and older populations. I have study citations if anyone wants to pursue it. I know for most lifters this is not a big deal, but for us older women, it does make a difference.


03-26-2008, 02:15 PM
Robert, the position that I've been taught for front squats is arms crossed, elbows up, and the bar resting on my front delts.
That is the way bodybuilders do front squats, because most guys lack the flexibility to rack the weight. I think the rack position does distribute the weight much better. A really flexy O-lifting bar is nice too.

Pain aside, the back squat, standing military press, and jumping seem to be the top exercises for rebuilding and maintaining bone mass in middle aged and older populations. I have study citations if anyone wants to pursue it. I know for most lifters this is not a big deal, but for us older women, it does make a difference.


Everyone should worry about it. Maintaining our bone mass is incredibly important, if we want to remain able in your old age.

03-28-2008, 08:37 AM
OK Robert, I tried them the non-bodybuilder way. (I hang out with a lot of bodybuilders.) They were definitely less painful and I could go a lot heavier, but now I have a "squat bar hickey" on my shoulder!!!!!:o:o:o


03-28-2008, 02:57 PM

That is great. I really have to get serious about developing enough flexibility to properly rack the bar. Front squats are a great exercise, if you can do them. Right now I am just doing "front squats" on the Precor Tru-Squat machine.