The back squat is commonly known as the traditional squat. This is the exercise of choice for many looking to improve and shape their hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. There are 2 variations utilised when it comes to the back squat, low bar and high bar. This refers to the placement of the bar on the trapezius and upper back. The high bar is the most common bar placement that will you see in most commercial gyms.This is where the bar sits very high at the back of the neck, those with very little muscle density or body fat often find this very uncomfortable and it is not rare to see many individuals opting to place a towel around the barriers to improve comfort. The low bar squat is less common and as a whole will only be found in more sports specific and powerlifting gyms. The low bar as the name suggests sits much lower down on the upper back. Those with poor shoulder flexibility find this extremely uncomfortable as there is a great emphasis on improving shoulder mobility to avoid Injury for those individuals opting for this bar placement. The low bar puts more of the emphasis on the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, lower back) as opposed to the quadriceps. The range of motion is vastly reduced in this movement for many which means once technique is perfected, the individual can often lift more weight than they would with the high bar placement. This isn’t always the case as limb length plays a great role here but as a whole, it is usually the case.
The second most common squat variation is the front squat. This movement pattern is generally used as opposed to the back squat to directly target the quadriceps on the front of the leg. The bar sits across the top of the clavicles (collar bone) in front of the neck. Due to the bar positioning being more anterior in relation to the body, there is a great emphasis on the anterior muscles of the body. This means there is a greater emphasis on the abdominals to stabilise the upper body and keep the individual upright and not collapsing forward against the weight. Those with weak abdominals tend to struggle a little with this exercise to begin with and is usually very identifiable due to the body positioning on the upward (concentric) phase of the lift. Beginners and those not fully competent with the front squat should start nice a light to begin with and aim to overload and progress In a linear fashion over multiple weeks.
The dumbbell squat is a fantastic exercise for everybody whether you’re a beginner or advanced gym user. The added benefit of the dumbbell squat is that you only need minimum equipment to perform the exercise correctly. The barbell back and front squat both require a power rack or squat stands, bar and weight plates and for safety reasons a spotter is advisable. Contrast this to the dumbbell alternative, it can be done anywhere! Whether you’re at home, on holiday, working away and having to stay in hotel accommodation, the exercise can still be performed if you have a set of dumbbells. Due to the exercise demands requiring the individual to hold the dumbbells to the side of the body, this has the added benefit of reducing injury risk. The exercise requires no direct loading on the spine, so those suffering from neck and back problems can usually carry out the exercise safely if directed by a trained medical practitioner that it is safe to do so. For those wishing to emphasize the load on the quadriceps more, I advise elevating your heels very slightly with a spare weight plate or stable object, this will help to put more of an emphasis on the quadriceps in contrast to sitting back into the squat position and targeting more of the hamstrings