Are all squats equal?

The other night, this question became the topic of our dinner conversation. My husband surely knows the way to my heart. He likes to tease me about how excited I get each time I read a great new research article. But, he had lifted legs a few days earlier and noticed his personal preferences. It brought up a good discussion point and I wanted to share in case you’ve ever wondered the same.

As with anything, your goals ultimately drive the answer to the question “what’s better?” Are you looking for pure maximal strength, power, or solely function? You also need to factor in the health of your low back, hips, knees and ankles. A lot, right? Well, let me break it down for you.

A loaded front squat requires more core and upper body strength along with your lower body strength. If you are new to doing loaded squats, you may have to practice getting the coordination right. Holding the barbell properly for a front squat can be tough if you have limited flexibility in your wrists. Yet, the position is beneficial when you want to lift heavier. If you’re not lifting maximal loads, though, you likely won’t be limited by this factor regardless of which you choose.

A goblet squat allows you to assume a more functional, natural position. You are able to slightly point your toes out allowing the hips to open into more external rotation. This allows you to get into a deeper squat and sit your hips in the space between your feet. The goblet squat is more of a mobility exercise. It’s great if you are a beginner at working loaded squats or are working through movement restrictions in your lower body. You want to hold the kettlebell up and close to your body near chest height. Your elbows are inside of your knees and can slightly push your knees outward. By holding the weight closer to your body, you don’t have to use as much core strength.

Is there any science behind squatting?

Research shows most people with osteoarthritis (OA= bone arthritis) should stick to squatting between 30-90 degree knee bend. Partial ranges of motion are best to reduce the shear forces on the knee joint. A knee with OA can sometimes be compared to a tire with uneven wear patterns. Finding the movement that does not aggravate the “worn-down” spot can be key. The goblet squat might just be your answer if you want greater control over the movement. The goblet squat allows for your hips to handle more of the weight, taking some tension off of your knees.

When you lift, you can challenge yourself by controlling several factors. You can increase the time under tension, meaning the velocity with which you perform the movement. The longer the time under tension, the more muscle fibers are recruited. Or you can manipulate the weight (force) you are using. This gets into the force vs. velocity curve which if you’re interested, let me know and we’ll dive into that topic in a different article.

The key take away…

1.       Goblet squat is a great exercise for the majority of people. For those who have a history of knee issues, you can control your range to stay a little higher. You want to remain pain-free with this. To make this squat harder, increase your time to complete the squat.


2.       Do you want big strength/hypertrophy gains? Add the front squat to your routine.


Give both of these a try next time you’re at the gym. See which one feels better to you. You might be surprised at the weight difference you use with each.

Written by: Dr. Shari

Orthopedic Physical Therapist, Exercise Scientist



Malone, T. Patellofemoral Concepts for Rehabilitation. Medbridge online access 2/27/17.