Front squats are a pretty well-known squat variation.
Many gym-goers include them in their leg workouts to help increase the size and strength of their lower body.
Pause squats are probably less talked about than other squat variations.
That doesn’t make them any less effective though. They’re actually a very effective leg-building exercise.
In this article, we compare front squats and pause squats in terms of the muscles worked, difficulty, and variability of each one.
We also look at the safety considerations for each exercise to help you decide which one is better suited to you and your fitness goals.
What’s The Difference Between Front Squats And Pause Squats?
Both front squats and pause squats use the traditional squat movement throughout each exercise.
The main difference is the way in which the weighted bar is held on your body.
During front squats, as the name suggests, the weight’s held on the front of your body as opposed to the traditional back squat where it’s held on the backside of your body.
Pause squats take on an identical weight position as back squats.
The weighted bar is held on the top of your back throughout the movement.
In fact, they look so similar to traditional back squats that it’s only during the lowest part of the exercise that you’ll see any difference.
Another key difference between front squats and pause squats happens during the negative phase of the movement.
Pause squats require you to hold the lowest position for a few seconds (pause) before using your leg strength to lift the weight back up.
Front squats don’t generally involve any pause and are done as a continuous, free-flowing movement.
Which Exercise Is Best For Quads?
As the weight’s held on the front of your body during front squats, your quads are placed under quite a bit more stress than they are during back-loaded exercises such as traditional back squats and pause squats.
The front-loaded position makes the muscles on the front of your body (in particular your quads) work hard throughout the exercise.
This is why front squats will be better for building quads than pause squats.
Which Exercise Is Best For Hamstrings?
While front-loaded exercises (like front squats) tend to be better at building the muscles on the front of your body, back-loaded exercises (like pause squats) tend to be better for the muscles on the backside of your body.
Your hamstrings are large muscles on the back of your legs so pause squats put a lot of focus on them.
If you’re trying to build size and strength in your hamstrings, pause squats could be a great choice.
Which Exercise Is Best For Glutes?
While all squat variations tend to work your glutes in some way, back-loaded exercises will usually put a bit more focus on them.
With this in mind, pause squats will be better for your glutes than front squats.
Front squats shift the focus of the exercise to the muscles on the front of your body.
While your glutes will still come into play to some extent, pause squats will be better at keeping them under more stress for longer.
The movement involved in front squats isn’t necessarily a challenging one.
If you can do the movement required to perform a traditional squat, then the movement of front squats is no harder.
The increased difficulty comes from the position of the weight.
As it’s held on the front of your body, you’re in a much less stable and more vulnerable position.
If you get the technique wrong, you can put a lot of pressure on your lower back, or the weight may even pull you too far forwards and you could fall.
Another challenging part of front squats is the potentially awkward elbow and wrist position required to keep the bar in place.
Like front squats, the movement involved in pause squats isn’t any harder than traditional back squats.
The increased difficulty level comes from the pause at the bottom of the movement.
This increases the time your working muscles are placed under tension and stress.
It also eliminates any possibility of using momentum to help you lift the weight back up to its starting position.
Both exercises have a very similar level of difficulty.
The pause at the lowest part of the movement during pause squats could be the thing that makes them a little bit more challenging though.
Front squats don’t allow too much room for variability.
You could use dumbbells instead of a barbell if you prefer, although you’ll likely be able to lift more with a barbell compared to dumbbells.
If you find the wrist and elbow position uncomfortable, you could extend your arms out in front of you and change front squats to the very similar zombie squats.
These can be a little harder to perform as your technique and body position needs to be exactly right to prevent the weight from rolling forward, but it can be a more comfortable way of holding the weight during the movement.
Pause squats are very similar in appearance to back squats.
That’s why they have a pretty high level of variability.
The main component of pause squats is the pause at the lowest part of the movement.
With this in mind, you could do pretty much any squat variation and add a pause to the exercise turning it into a pause squat.
Pause squats have a greater level of variability than front squats.
As the pause can be added to pretty much any squat variation, you have lots of choices when it comes to varying the exercise to suit your needs and preferences.
Any squat variation can be potentially risky if you don’t keep some basic safety considerations in mind.
Probably the biggest thing you can do to keep yourself as safe as possible during front squats and pause squats is to ensure you’re lifting a weight that’s suitable for your current fitness and strength levels.
Trying to lift too much without gradually building up to it can easily result in injury as your body might not be ready for it.
Making sure your technique is correct in both exercises is also very important to minimize the risk of injury.
Front Squats vs Pause Squats: Which Is Best?
Front squats could be a good choice if you want a slightly easier exercise that’ll put more focus on your quads and other muscles on the front of your body.
If you want a slightly more challenging exercise that works your hamstrings and glutes more and has high levels of variability, pause squats could be for you.
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.