Barbell Lunge vs Front Squat

Barbell Lunge vs Front Squat (Which Should You Be Doing?)

In this article, we will be comparing Barbell Lunges and Front Squats, two popular lower-body exercises that are often used to build strength and muscle mass in the legs and glutes.

While both exercises are effective at working these muscle groups, they have some key differences in terms of the muscles they target and the movement patterns they require.

In this article, I’ll explain these differences and explore the unique benefits and drawbacks of each exercise to help you determine which one is best suited for your training goals and individual needs.

Whether you are a beginner looking to add some variety to your leg day routine or a seasoned gym-goer seeking to optimize your training, this article has something for you.

Barbell Lunge

Barbell Lunge

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates
  • Squat Rack (Not completely necessary as you can clean and press a bar onto shoulders if needed, but a rack is going to make this a whole lot easier especially if lifting heavier weight)

Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core (stabilizers)

Instructions

  • Unrack the barbell similar to how you would unrack a bar for a back squat.
  • Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades and engage the lats to create a stable shelf to sit the bar on
  • Place the bar across the traps, brace the core and remove the bar from the rack by standing tall and then walking back out of the rack.
  • Once you’ve created enough room for yourself from the rack you can begin the movement.
  • Step forward with one leg, giving yourself enough room to drop into a lunge comfortably without feeling overextended.
  • Keep the chest as upright as possible and drop the back knee to roughly one inch from the floor.
  • Now drive through the heel and midfoot of the front foot to drive yourself back up tall.
  • Repeat on the opposite leg and alternate back and forth until all reps have been completed.

Coaching Points

When you step out, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re feeling very off-balance in your lunge there is a good chance that you are stepping the lead foot directly in front of the back foot (essentially placing yourself on a tight rope).

Keep the front foot flat on the floor when in the lunge position. One of the most common mistakes is raising up onto the ball of the front foot. One of the reasons for this is often the next most common mistake that I see with Barbell Lunges

Make sure to take a big enough step. Often times I see athletes take way too small of a step. This leads to lunge being extremely cramped and can lead to a whole host of other issues.

Benefits

Single Leg Movements like Barbell Lunges are an extremely important addition to any athlete’s workout regimen, regardless of sport.

Many (if not most) athletic movements are often done on one leg. This includes sprinting, jumping and cutting.

Single Leg Exercises help improve leg strength, balance, stability and also show any strength imbalances the lifter may have from one side to the other. Single Leg Exercises can also be part of the solution if and when an asymmetry is found.

For more single-leg exercises, check out these 9 Barbell Lunge alternatives.

Front Squat

Full Front Squat Catch Position

Equipment Needed

  • Squat Rack
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron Plates
  • Lifting Straps (optional if needed)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Set the height of the squat rack so that the barbell is about 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow (Elbow pointing toward the squat rack prior to taking the weight off the hooks).
  • One of the first considerations you are going to want to make is what grip you want to use to perform the front squat.
  • Later in the article, I will talk about different grips and the reasoning behind each grip.
  • For now, I am going to assume you are using a two-finger clean grip. (Most commonly used by athletes).
  • Walk closely to the barbell and place it very close to your neck.
  • Bring your elbows up and the barbell should be resting on the raised anterior deltoid muscles. You are now holding the bar with what’s called a “front rack position” (THERE SHOULD BE NO STRESS OR TENSION ON THE HAND OR WRIST TO HOLD THE BARBELL).
  • With your front rack, lift the bar off the hooks. I recommend a staggered stance to lift the barbell off the rack.
  • Take 2 steps back and set your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Toes slightly pointed out.
  • Maintaining a strong front rack, take a deep breath, and brace the core.
  • Initiate the squat by hinging the hips back and bending the knees simultaneously.
  • Descend into the squat with control until your hip crease is slightly below the knee. (Most professionals consider this to be parallel or just below parallel).
  • At this point, the core should be braced, the front rack strong, elbows up, and the lifter is ready to drive out of the “hole” and stand the weight back up.
  • Keep a balanced foot with a strong arch, drive through the heels, and drive the hips until you are back at the top of the movement and ready for the next rep.

Grips

  • Clean grip with 1 or 2 fingers. This is the most common grip used by Olympic lifters and athletes. This trains the specific position the bar would be in at the catch of a clean and therefore very advantageous for these athletes.
  • Crossed arms. This is a common grip for athletes that want all the benefits from the front squat but may not have the flexibility or need for a finger grip.
  • Lifting Straps. This allows the lifter to get the front rack position, engaging the upper back musculature, and takes a lot of stress off the fingers and wrists.

Coaching Points

Be patient with your flexibility. Persistence and working hard on your flexibility will pay off with front squatting. Remember to always warm up prior to any lifting session. Work on flexibility drills during warm-up sets as well. After your session, use cool-down techniques, foam roll, stretch, and hydrate.

In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max

Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep). Make small gains in weight over time.

Benefits

Front Squats are a variation of the traditional back squat exercise. They have many of the same benefits, including building strength and power in the lower body and improving balance and coordination.

However, Front Squats have some additional benefits compared to back squats. Because the barbell is held in front of the body, front squats engage the core muscles more, helping to improve core stability and posture.

Front Squats can also help to improve mobility in the hips, ankles, and wrists.


Barbell Lunges vs Front Squat: Is One Better?

Now, let’s do a side-by-side comparison between the two exercises to see if one is better than the other for a couple of common lifting goals.

Better For Building Size and Strength: Front Squat

I believe the Front Squat is one of the best exercises for developing size and strength, so when I say that it’s better than Barbell Lunges it’s not a knock on Barbell Lunges.

Barbell Lunges are also extremely effective for building size and strength, especially single-leg strength.

The two exercises actually complement each other very well and, ideally, both should be incorporated into your training program to maximize results.

Better For Beginners: Toss-Up

Both the Barbell Lunge and the Front Squat can be effective exercises for beginners. However, both exercises do have a bit of a learning curve for new lifters who are unfamiliar with them. But, both exercises also have variations that can be easier to learn when you’re first starting out.

The Barbell Lunge is a single-leg exercise that requires balance and coordination, and it may be challenging for beginners who are not yet comfortable with balancing on one leg.

However, the lunge can still be a good exercise for beginners to work on developing leg strength and improving functional movement patterns. Beginners can start with bodyweight lunges or lunges using a light dumbbell or kettlebell to build up their strength and coordination before progressing to a barbell.

The Front Squat, on the other hand, is a compound exercise that involves a lot of muscle groups and may be more challenging for beginners who are not yet comfortable with the setup position of a Front Squat as well as the movement pattern itself.

Beginners can start with bodyweight squats or squats using a light dumbbell or kettlebell (Goblet Squats for example) to build up their strength and technique before progressing to a barbell. It’s important for beginners to learn proper technique and form when performing the Front Squat to avoid injury and maximize the benefits of the exercise.

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Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Barbell Lunges vs Front Squats. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.

Both are excellent exercises for developing lower body strength and muscle mass. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.

So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Lunges and Front Squats in your training plan.

More Links and Info

Check out how Front Squat compares with some other popular lower-body exercises:

Front Squat vs Leg Press

Front Squat vs Hack Squat

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