Front Squat Machine Vs. Barbell Squats

Young man lifting barbell, low angle view

The squat is a fundamental component of any advanced weightlifting program. This exercise primarily targets the quadriceps and is a foundational exercise for more advanced lifts, such as power cleans (see reference 1). You can perform squats using a variety of equipment, although the barbell is most common. Front squat machines can provide a number of advantages and disadvantages over the classic barbell version.

Muscular Gains

Like any free-weight exercise, squats with a barbell are generally more effective in producing muscular gains than with a front squat machine. Machines help balance the bar and support a portion of the load, placing less emphasis on the smaller stabilizer muscles in the back, legs and abdominals. Gains in maximal strength are similar between free weights and machines, although barbell squats provide greater benefits to neuromuscular coordination and balance.

Connective Tissue Adaptations

Squats with a barbell as opposed to a front squat machine provide greater benefit to the bones, tendons and ligaments supporting the muscles involved. In free-weight exercises, significant stress is placed on the axial skeleton and connective tissues. As a result, bones increase in density and connective tissues increase in tensile strength. Front squat machines bear part of the load and stabilize the load, placing less emphasis on the axial skeleton, tendons and ligaments.


The front squat machine is safer for people who are learning to squat correctly. These machines are equipped with mechanisms that prevent the weight from falling on the lifter, and the guided path of the bar provides less room for technical errors that could lead to injury. Improper front squat technique with a barbell could result in severe injury.


When learning the front squat, using a machine can be an simple and effective device for training coordination and basic technique. Because of the safety mechanisms, you generally don't need a spotter when using the front squat machine. Some front squat machines do not require the hassle of adding or removing heavy weight plates, as they rely on a pulley or lever system. Unlike the barbell, you can adjust the settings on the front squat machine so you don't have to deadlift the bar off the ground. This additional maneuver can add another degree of difficulty in the barbell version.