I would like to know the functional difference between performing a basic squat and performing a front squat.
There is not much difference between a front squat and a basic squat if we were to apply this question to the definition of “true function.” However, a shift in muscular emphasis takes place. In other words, function is a multi-dimensional, integrated movement that involves the control of SYSTEMS (neural, active, passive), allowing load to be transferred and movement to be smooth and effortless. When observing the pattern of movement involved between a front squat and a back squat, the movement patterns are very similar; it is the load placement that stimulates a “shift” in muscular emphasis. One must remember that the brain does not think muscles (this is where traditionalists get confused); it recruits patterns.
We are not stating that these movements are exact; in fact, there’s no such thing. In actuality, the emphasis shifts from a muscular standpoint within the same basic pattern. The front and back squats are still ankle, knee and hip movement synergies!
THE MUSCULAR DIFFERENCE
Performing the front squat with a more vertical torso mandated by supporting the bar on your upper chest increases the involvement of the superficial posterior spine muscles. While the anterior load placement tries to pull you forward, the “forward preventors” increase in activity for you to maintain load placement throughout the movement pattern (front squat). This increased activity and eventual adaptation will probably help more people than not. A glance at the average posture will prove this statement correct.
The bottom line is, you should analyze patterns, not muscles. Perform movements that closely relate to your client’s goals, wants, needs and most importantly their ABILITIES. Good luck!