What Muscles Do Front Squats Work?

Front Squats are a compound exercise that is a great way to work your lower limbs, particularly your quads, inner thighs and glutes. Here, we’ll delve more into what muscles front squats work, along with how to adapt the exercise to fit your training needs.  

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into muscles worked in squat variations check out this article.

What muscles do front squats work?

Front squats are a compound lift that work your lower limbs, specifically, the main muscles front squats work are:

  • Quadriceps (Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis and Vastus Lateralis)
  • Adductors (Adductor Magnus)
  • Glutes (Gluteus Maximus and Medius) 
  • Erector Spinae and Lower Back
  • Anterior Core, Upper Back and Lats


Your quadriceps (thigh muscles) play a key role during the front squat, they are considered your prime movers (they do most of the work) in the eccentric (downward) and concentric (upward) phases of the front squat. 


The gluteus maximus is activated during the concentric (upward) phase of the squat, as you stand up and extend at your hips. This muscle activates more, when squatting to a greater depth (i.e. the more depth, more active the glutes are when coming up). 

The glute medius, which plays an important role in hip abduction (taking the leg out to the side like a crab walk), keeps your knees in line with your toes. Without a strong gluteus medius, your knees may cave inwards which will put unwanted force through the inside of the knee joint. 


The adductor magnus, which is one of your inner thigh muscles, is responsible for providing stability around the hips during the squat, especially in the bottom position of the squat. 

Erector Spinae and Lower Back

The erector spinae and lower back muscles play a key role in keeping your torso strong and stable during the squat. Without this, your back will round and move under load which will place stress on your spine.  

Anterior Core, Upper Back and Lats

The anterior core helps to stabilise the trunk during the front squat, and work to prevent the spine from extending (or arching the back). 

The anterior core also has a high demand placed upon it given that the weight is placed in front of you, in the front rack position. To support this, the upper back and lat muscles must work to hold this position throughout the squat. If these muscles don’t work, the bar will start to move forwards and stress will be placed upon your spine. 

The upper back and lats not only support the front rack position, they also play a role in supporting the erector spinae muscle in holding the trunk strong and stable during the lift. 

Front Squats Muscles Worked Diagram

Front Squats Muscles Worked Diagram Labelled

Why front squats are such a great exercise

The front squat is a great full body lift that can have a key place in athletes’ training programmes depending on their training outcome. Front squats are great exercise for: 

  • Working the muscles on the front of your body – quads and core. 
  • Being a quad-dominant exercise – it will work your quads more.
  • Reducing the amount of force on the spine from the upright trunk position.
  • Developing overall lower limb strength. 
  • Progression from goblet squat and preparing athletes for cleans.

Muscles worked for variations of front squats

What we’ve covered above are the muscle groups worked for the barbell front squats. Below we’ll cover some of the most common variations of front squats and how it changes the muscle groups that are targeted, plus when and why you might use them:

Goblet Squat Muscles Worked

The goblet squat is similar to that of the front squat, but instead of holding the barbell in the front rack position, you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your body, like a big cup or goblet, with your palms facing up. 

The main difference is that the goblet squat allows you to lift a low-moderate weight when compared to the front squat. This is because the strength of the arms and upper back can be a limiting factor on how much weight you can lift when compared to being able to have more weight on a barbell in the front rack position. We love goblet squats for athletes learning to squat, it is relatively low in technical demand and the low-moderate load means it’s easier and safer for them to learn if they are new to strength and conditioning. 

The goblet squat works the same muscles as the front squat, including the quads, adductors, glutes, erector spinae, lower back, upper back, lats and the core. 

Back Squat Muscles Worked

The back squat is similar to the front squat, but instead, the barbell rests across the upper back and shoulders. This changes the movement pattern slightly, with the torso position learning slightly more forwards. This activates your posterior chain more than front squats, with your back taking more of the weight than in the front squat.

The main muscles worked during the back squat are the glutes, quadriceps, abductors, adductors and erector spinae.

Check out this link for a full breakdown of front squats vs back squats.

Barbell Front Rack Split Squat Muscles Worked

The barbell front rack split squat is similar to the front squat in that you hold the barbell in the front rack position, however, your feet are in a lunge position, which is a great way to place more emphasis on one leg. This allows you to reduce muscular imbalances and increase stability and strength in each leg. 

The main muscles split squats work include the quads, glutes, adductors and core, along with support from the hamstring.  

Training Recommendations 

This depends on your training goal and training history, but here are some general principles:

For Beginners

Keep the weight low-moderate and complete plenty of reps and sets to focus on your technique e.g. 3 sets with 8-12 reps. 

For Building Strength

To build strength, focus on heavier weights, typically 75% and above or you’re one repetition max for sets 3-5 sets with 3-6 reps, whilst maintaining good form. 

For Size

For size, you can use lighter-heavier weights from between 30-75% of your one repetition max with between 5-30 reps. 

For Power

For power, keep sets and reps low with moderate load and moving with maximum intent. However, there are other squat variations (e.g. pin squat, barbell countermovement jumps) that are better suited for this outcome when compared to the squat. 

For Endurance

For endurance, keep the weight light and complete plenty of reps e.g. 10-20 reps. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the benefit of front squats?

The front squat targets the quads, glutes and adductors, although they will target the muscles on the front of your body more due to the upright posture, which allows athletes to effectively develop quad and core strength. The upright posture also reduces the load going through the spine, making it more back-friendly. 

Which is better, front squats or back squats?

One isn’t better than the other, both squats train the lower body. Although, front squats are better at targeting the quads and core whereas the back squats are better at targeting the glutes and spinal erectors, due to the positioning of the barbell.

Should I replace back squats with front squats?

This depends on your training goal and training history. Front squats are great if you want to target your quads and core, and if you want to minimise the amount of load going through your spine. However, you can load back squats more so if your goal is to develop max strength in your lower body, the back squat lends itself better to that. 

Are front squats harder than regular squats?

Front squats are typically considered harder than regular squats and other variations of squats, due to their high technical demand.

This is due to a combination of the position of the barbell with the load being placed in front of the body and mobility requirements from the wrists and shoulders to hold the barbell in the front rack position.

What are the disadvantages of front squats?

The disadvantages of front squats include:

  • Mobility Requirement: the front squat demands mobility from the shoulders and wrists due to the front rack position, which some athletes may struggle to get into. 
  • Limited Load: You can’t load the front squat as much as you would with the back squat, so if developing maximum strength is your goal, the back squat will be better. 

Are front squats weaker than back squats?

The front squat doesn’t allow you to lift as much weight when compared to the back squat, this is due to (1) the muscles used and (2) the position of the bar relative to your centre of mass.  


Front squats are a great exercise that targets the quads, inner thighs, glutes and core, to develop strength in the lower limbs and core. Variations like goblet squats, back squats and split squats offer slightly different benefits. 

We hope this article has given you a deeper insight into the muscles worked during the front squat and key variations. Check out our other articles below for a deeper dive into other squat variations.

Happy squatting 

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Emily, co-founder of Sport Science Insider, graduated from the University of Leeds in 2020 and went on to become an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA in 2022. A former athlete herself, Emily has since gone on to deliver S&C coaching for the Southern Academy of Sport, GB Rowing, GB Taekwondo and works currently as a full-time S&C coach at the University of Leeds.