WELLNESS
12/07/2013 09:38 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

6 Squat Variations For Total-Body Strength

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By Joe Vennare for Life By DailyBurn

Love them or love to hate them, squats are one of the best exercises for increasing strength and size, while simultaneously burning fat. It's no wonder they're often referred to as the king of all strength training exercises. Still, some gym-goers opt out of squats in favor of more glamorous moves like the bench press and bicep curl. No more! Friends don't let friends skip leg day. And since we're all friends here, we've done our part by compiling a list of six squat variations for every fitness level. All you have to do is keep calm, and squat on.

Squat Science
Want to run faster, jump higher and pack on some muscle? Well then it's time to get low. Because squats engage almost every muscle from head to toe, there's a huge hormonal response and massive impact on the central nervous system. This creates an anabolic environment, making the muscles all over the body poised for growth, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., strength coach and associate professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.

As for how low you should go, it's been said that squats can be dangerous, especially deep squats. But when it comes to performing the complex movement -- assuming you're injury-free and using proper form (see below) -- rock bottom is the way to go. Research shows that the depth of a squat does not actually increase stress on the knees. In fact, a separate study actually suggests that the deep squat might help to improve knee stability. It's also true that going lower with a lighter weight boosts strength better than loading up on weight to perform a partial squat. Keep in mind, all this "how low can you go" talk assumes you're able to nail the basics.

Basic Training
Sloppy squats don't belong in any exercise routine. So rookie squatters should begin with the bodyweight variation.

The Bodyweight Squat
How to: Begin with feet at hip or shoulder width (the exact position will depend on flexibility). Now, roll the shoulders back and down while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Keeping the core engaged and the chest high, add a slight bend in the knees. Hand placement is a personal preference, they can go behind the head, on the hips, crossed in front of the chest or extended in front of the body. Next, sit back into your heels sending your hips and butt back and down, keeping the knees from extending over the toes. While the butt sinks, your chest and shoulders remain tall. At the bottom of the squat, press through your heels, exhale and return to the standing position.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Be sure to master the bodyweight squat before adding weight or performing more challenging exercise variations. If getting low is difficult, it's likely there are some mobility issues standing between you and the squat. Implementing a dynamic warm-up and mobility techniques like foam rolling will improve these deficiencies. After the bodyweight movement becomes second nature, it's time to up the ante by adding weights and taking on more advanced variations.

Squat It Out
When it's time to step up your squat game, there are lots of ways to make that happen. Start by using this exercise list as a guide to getting lower and moving more weight. Keep in mind, these variations aren't meant to be completed in one workout. Think of it as a checklist. Start at the top of the list and master each move, over time, before progressing to the next.

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Squat Variations

Tell us: Which was the toughest squat variation for you master? What do you look forward to — or dread most — on leg day?

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