Jefferson Squat vs. Back Squat: Which One Is Right for You?

Hopefully by now you are not a stranger to squats (any version). Lifters have many squat variations to choose from, making it somewhat unclear when looking at which squat variation(s) best suit their individual goals and needs.

Therefore, in this article we will discuss the king of all squatting movements, the back squat, and how it compares to the Jefferson squat when assessing strength, muscle hypertrophy, and application to sport.

The Jefferson Squat

In an earlier article I discussed the origins of the Jefferson squat, how they can be performed, and what athletes and coaches need to know before integrating them into training regimens.

The Jefferson squat differs from the back squat in that the movement is often an assistance lift done to isolate a specific muscle group (quads and glutes), rather than being a stand-alone expression of pure squatting capacity.

[Want more info? Check out our guide to the Jefferson squat here!]

The Back Squat

As one of the most widely seen and performed barbell movements (as well as bench presses and deadlift), the back squat is often regarded as the king of barbell strength movements, as it is the key to many strength and power sports like Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting.

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#j2fitweightlifting coaches @mikejdewar and @ndefrei hitting some tandem ECCENTRIC SQUATS (3-5 seconds slow pace on way down) to heavy triples today (80-170kg). The goals here are to teach tightness, tension and vertical positioning on the way down, as well as improve squat patterning. Lastly, the rebound out of the squat must be taught so that athletes can change directions rapidly and under control to transition over to heavier squats, cleans, and even snatches. #strong #olympicweightlifting #weightlifting #cleanandjerk #snatch #squat #deadlift #crossfit #crossfitter #nfsports #nfsportssponsoredathlete #stronger #strengthtraining #frontsquat #fitness #workoutmotivation #diet #liftheavy #abworkout #powerclean #crossfitopen #hypertrophy #abs #jacked #backsquat #powerlifting #strengthtraining

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Generally speaking, it can be performed two main ways; low bar or high bar placement, each of which can build significant amounts of strength, muscle mass, and develop sport-specific abilities. (powerlifters, functional fitness athletes, and strongmen and strong women).

[What more info about the front squat? Read here to see the full breakdown of the back squat vs. front squat!]

Unlike the Jefferson squat, the back squat is a lift that serves itself, often the standard expression of maximal squatting strength in powerlifting (low bar mainly) and is a foundational strength movement for Olympic weightlifters (high bar). The Jefferson squat is often done with lower loading and for higher volume to best isolate the quads and glutes to serve as an assistance exercise to strengthen and bulletproof. the back squat.

Maximal Strength

The back squat reigns supreme when looking at which movement will allow for the most amount of loading to be applied. Unlike the Jefferson squat, the back squat is placed upon the back, forcing the lifter to withstand the load, brace, and move. The synchronization of nearly every muscle unit and leverages  in this total body lift will allow lifters to challenge and continually train strength.

Muscle Hypertrophy and Endurance

When it comes to muscle hypertrophy and endurance, both exercises can actually be used in similar fashion and can produce significant increases in quadriceps volume and hip performance. The Jefferson squat is highly isolated approach to training the quads and hips, often done with much less loading and less stress on the lumbar spine. The back squat can also be done in higher volumes, however require a lifter to withstand moderate to heavy loads for great amounts of time (60-120 seconds) while performing higher rep based sessions.

Sport Specificity

As far as weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman/strongwomen, and functional fitness sports are concerned, the back squat is ideal since it mimics the exact competition lift mechanics necessary for a successful performance. Whether a lifter is squatting for maximal strength (powerlifting), squatting to build positional strength specific to another competitive lift (weightlifting), or building general fitness capacities necessary to their sport, back squats are the best option.

That said, Jefferson squats and other squatting variations offer athletes a way to increase training volume (sets x reps) without risking excessive loading to the spine and joints, making the Jefferson squat a good option for hypertrophy based phases and/or lifters lacking upright squatting mechanics.

Final Words

The back squat is one of (if not THE) most significant builders of strength, muscle hypertrophy, and sport specific capacities making it paramount for nearly every athlete. While the Jefferson squat can offer immense unique training benefits, coaches should program Jefferson squat with moderate loading and tempo and assess the impact added squat training will have on the long and short term goals of their athletes. 

Featured Image: @thej2fit on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

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