If you’re looking for squat variations to include in your training program, you may have come across front squats and box squats.
Both of these exercises are very good at developing strength and size in your lower body.
This article compares front squats and box squats to see which muscles each one targets, the difficulty level, and the variability.
We also look at some safety considerations to keep in mind when performing them too.
What’s The Difference Between Front Squats And Box Squats?
When it comes to the movements involved in front squats and box squats, both look very similar.
However, there are some key differences to keep in mind.
During front squats, the barbell is held on the front of your body, as below.
In box squats, it is held on the backside of your body.
Perhaps the biggest difference though is the inclusion of a box during box squats.
The box allows you to pause for a moment at the lowest part of the movement.
This eliminates momentum and forces your working muscles to power the upward phase on their own without any momentum to help.
Front squats are an unguided free weights exercise whereas box squats use a box to ensure you’re performing the exercise correctly.
Which Exercise Is Better For Quads?
Your quads will be working hard during front squats and box squats.
However, as the weight is held on the front of your body during front squats, your quads will be working harder during the movement.
That’s not to say your quads won’t benefit from box squats, they’ll just benefit more from front squats.
Which Exercise Is Better For Hamstrings?
Box squats hold the weighted barbell on the backside of your body.
This helps to target the muscles on the backside of your legs more than a front-loaded exercise (like front squats).
With this in mind, it makes sense that box squats will be better for your hamstrings than front squats.
During front squats, your hamstrings are a secondary muscle being worked as your quads take most of the focus.
Box squats bring your hamstrings into play a bit more so are better for developing the back of your legs.
Which Exercise Is Better For Glutes?
Front squats are primarily focused on the front of your body with a particular focus on your quads.
As box squats are a back-loaded exercise, your glutes will play a big role in the movement.
As a result, box squats are better for glutes when compared to front squats.
Although front squats are typically performed with a barbell, you can actually do them with dumbbells too.
You can also change the grip you use on the bar from holding the bar on your fingers with extended wrists to holding it in the crooks of your arms as they are crossed over your chest.
This can be more comfortable for some people.
Other than these small changes though, there aren’t too many ways to alter front squats.
Box squats are quite a specific exercise that is fairly difficult to adapt.
You can change from a barbell to dumbbells or kettlebells, or you can even do box squats with just your body weight.
This can be a very useful thing to do if you are trying to learn the correct technique.
Like front squats though, there isn’t much room for variability in box squats.
Neither front squats nor box squats have particularly high levels of variability.
Box squats may offer slightly more variability when it comes to the equipment you can use for them, but there isn’t really a clear winner in this one.
Front squats involve a fairly straightforward squatting movement.
The difficulty comes from the potentially awkward position you hold the bar in. And the fact that the weight is held on the front of your body.
Holding a weight on the front of your body is not always particularly comfortable and it can cause technique issues if you don’t take care.
The movement of box squats is no more challenging than most other squat variations.
The difficulty level of box squats is increased though through the momentary pause when you reach the box at the lowest point of the exercise, as shown below.
This pause eliminates any momentum that could help you lift the weight back up.
With no momentum to help you, your working muscles will be forced to do all of the work which makes the exercise a bit more challenging.
Box squats have a slightly higher difficulty level than front squats.
Although neither is particularly challenging in regards to the movement involved, the added pause in box squats goes a long way in making sure your muscles work as hard as possible during the exercise.
With squat variations, quite a bit of weight can be lifted.
However, it’s really important that you’re only trying to lift a weight appropriate to your current levels of fitness and strength during front squats and box squats.
Lifting too much weight can easily lead to injury, so any increase in weight should be added gradually.
Your technique also needs to be correct in both exercises in order to minimize your injury risk.
Even small errors in technique can cause big issues so you need to be sure you’re doing each exercise correctly.
Front Squats vs Box Squats: Which Is Best?
Both front squats and box squats are great leg-building exercises.
Front squats have a slightly lower level of difficulty and fewer variations, but do a great job of building your quads.
Box squats bring your hamstrings and glutes into play a bit more and have a slightly higher level of difficulty.
Depending on your fitness goals, either exercise could be a good addition to your training program.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.