Do front squats to strengthen the lower back and get chiseled abdominal
muscles. The front squat is one of your best tools for preventing injury
and achieving new levels of athleticism. It is an excellent lift for
recreational trainees, can be used in the later stages of
rehabilitation, and it translates to many sports including bobsledding,
rugby, basketball, and football.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
compared the activity of the trunk muscles of the erector spinae and
rectus abdominis in a variety of exercises. Using a load of 40 kg,
electromyographic (EMG) readings were recorded for the front and back
squat, and the military press. They were compared to muscle activity
during a isometric prone bridge (also known as a plank) and isometric
superman on a Swiss ball, both held for 30 seconds.
Results showed the following:
• Spinal erector muscle activity was greatest during the front squat,
despite the fact that an empty 40 kg bar was used. Heavier loads will
train the lower back muscles to an even greater degree.
• Activation of the spinal erector muscles was next highest in the superman, followed by the back squat.
• The prone bridge produced the greatest muscle activity in the
rectus abdominis, followed by the military press and then the front
• Previous studies show much greater rectus abdominis activity during
the back squat using heavier loads in the 70 percent of the 1RM range,
indicating that the relationship of muscle activity and exercise type is
• It is reasonable to use the front squat with heavy loads to train
the rectus abdominis muscle as well. A review of how load, stance, and
type of squat influences muscle activity found that a loaded front squat
works the rectus abdominis, quadriceps, and erector spinae better than
the back squat.
The researchers suggest the dynamic front and back squat and military
press exercises are preferable for healthy trainees because they require
stabilization of the abdominal and trunk muscles during a multi-joint
movement, which is representative of daily living. The plank and other
isometric exercises may be useful in injured or the most deconditioned
trainees because they teach them to contract the muscles for
stabilization. Beyond that, they are largely useless because the plank
and superman are performed in a nonfunctional static position that is
rarely replicated in daily life or sports.
Another benefit of the squat is that it trains the entire lower body
musculature across the functional length tension range, allowing for
greater power generation at all levels of movement speed and force.
Basically, the squat has an accelerative component that trains rate of
force development, which researchers note will help prevent the general
population from falling. Apply the accelerative component to sports
training and we see that the front squat, in particular, trains vertical
acceleration to increase jump height.
Take away the understanding that squat training with heavy loads is one
of the best methods for training the entire core. Dynamic multi-joint
exercises like those tested in this study will help trainees achieve the
correct levels and balance of strength and in the trunk muscles to
enable optimal performance and avoid injury.