evaino, are you familiar with Dan John's work? Popular S&C coach who also favours front squats over back squats, especially for teaching large groups of people. He says the front squat is "self correcting", as you can't get away with ugly lumbar flexion good mornings.
Personally, I think back squats are fine with good form, which is the real challenge of that exercise. Front squats are good, but many people have trouble going heavy on them because they don't like the bar against their throat. I hate front squatting more than 3 heavy reps for that reason. Also much less posterior chain activation in the front squat, which is a problem for desk jockeys.
Yes I am, and I'm a fan of his. Smart guy.
I haven't seen the EMG results on the difference in posterior chain recruitment for front vs back squats, but you may be right that there is more for the back squat. But as long as your front squat is done properly, you're still getting glute and hamstring contribution. I think it's important to remember that a squat is a knee-dominant exercise. I don't program squats to hit the posterior chain. That's what deadlift variations are for - they are the hip-dominant exercises, which is where you get the real posterior chain effect.
Actuallyl I just found an interesting article by John Berardi that reviews an EMG study comparing the two squats. If you know of Dan John, I'm guessing you probably also know of Berardi. He's more known for nutrition, but he does have a phd in exercise physiology! http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-review-front-or-back-squats. One conclusion: "front squatting less weight results in the same activation as back squatting more weight". But it did note slightly less hamstring activity in the front vs back squat.
I find bar position can get troublesome for both front and back squats. I'm not really sure which is worse. I developed some neck problems a few years ago that I think is related to bar position on the back squat.
While I like heavy lifting, I think that there is a point at which we're not really getting much more transferable strength benefit when we go heavier, but we significantly increase the injury risk. This is a theory that I've been contemplating for several years. Basically: what is the increased performance transfer of squatting 500# over 400#? I picked those numbers out of a hat, but my point is that I think there's a threshold at which we are building more pure strength by lifting heavier, but it is not really helping us in any way. I think the location of this threshold will depend largely on what activities each person does. So for a football lineman, that threshold is probably going to be pretty high. Ditto for a strongman. But for a skier? Are we ever going to notice the difference?
At this point, I don't know where that threshold should lie, but I think it exists. Just a thought though. And I should clarify that I'm not advocating using tiny little weights! I think people should lift heavy metal. Just not sure they should be lifting more than 200-300 lbs is really what I'm getting at.
Thanks for the link, I'm familiar with Berardi but have not seen this study before. With back squats, I personally have success results wise with a more hip dominant movement. Not a complete powerlifter style, but definitely a low-bar position sit-back type of squat. My best back squat is 1.4x my best front squat, so I'd argue it's possible for the back squat to have advantages over the front, but as you point it, it depends on the goals of training, lifter's experience, risk tollerance to want to lift to max etc. I think if you do both front squats and hip dominant back squats you get the best of both worlds. It's minutia really, squatting of any type is better than not squatting.
Also a good point on diminishing returns. For skiing, there is probably no benefit to going much over 2X BW in a back squat, at that point most people are going to have to specialize their training to the point where recovering is going to impact ski performance, and also the risk of injury is there, especially so for racers or other competitive athletes. There was a Dan John interview with Mark Rippetoe (on startingstrength.com) where they discuss this very issue, how strong is strong enough for athletes who are not in strength sports. I do think that people should be able to squat at least their bodyweight, and that shouldn't require years of training to get there.
I'm a recreational skier, but it is my primary athletic passion. I also really enjoy training. I enjoy strength training more than endurance and conditioning work, but realize that further strength is not going to help me the way condition & endurance gains will, so I'm happy to work on those areas now. I still would like to actually back squat 2X BW, getting close, maybe I'll just lose weight instead :).
Bottom line, for folks looking to improve general fitness for skiing and life, increasing mobility to be able to get their body into a full squat position (without weight) without falling over is going to put them leaps and bounds above the general North American public. Go on from there and you are laughing.
Edited by gramboh - 11/16/10 at 4:58pm