If you want better hips, butt and thighs, or more athletic strength and power, there's nothing quite like the squat.
But let's face it. Planting both feet, tossing a barbell on your back and doing a traditional squat can get either A. boring, or B. intimidating. But there are many different squat variations, and by sprinkling them into your workout routine, you can target a body part or movement more efficiently, and also have exercise options if you just can't make it to the gym.
So without further ado, here are my 13 favorite variations of the squat exercise, with video links for each.
1. Back squat. In a back squat, you place a barbell across the back of your shoulders and upper back -- which gives you a very good mechanical advantage against the weight, making it a good option for lifting heavy weights and working your quads, butt, lower back and abs. But proper form can be tough to learn, so only include back squats in your workout if you can do them properly.
2. Front squat. You can do a front squat by holding (racking) the weight (a barbell or dumbbells) on the front of your shoulders, then squatting. Compared to the back squat, the front squat is superior for strengthening the lower back and can be easier on the knees if you make sure to keep your butt out behind you as you squat.
3. Lateral squat. The lateral squat is a side-to-side squat motion and is good for improving hip mobility and lateral movement strength.
4. Goblet squat. The goblet squat is a good exercise for learning how to squat. You simply hold a weight (such as a dumbbell or a medicine ball) close to your chest as you squat. By clutching the weight closer to your body, you reduce the potential stress and awkwardness of something like a back or a front squat.
5. Split squat. To both improve balance and isolated leg strength, nothing beats the split squat. To do it, put one foot in front of your body, and the other foot behind you (on a bench, a chair, a step or even a stability ball) then squat while you're in that lunging position.
6. Drop squat. A drop squat is especially good for teaching an athlete how to properly land after a jump (e.g., a basketball player who needs more stability after jumping for a rebound), and can also be a great cardio workout if you do a series of drop squats in rapid succession. To do a drop squat, explosively "drop" into a squat position while pushing your arms out in front of you. Then stand quickly and do it again.
7. Isometric squat. Isometric squats are good if you want to build quadriceps and butt strength but have bad knees or can't move through your full range of motion. To do an isometric squat, you hold a squat position, preferably at close to a 90-degree bend in the knees. You can also do isometric squats with your back against the wall, which is common in group classes at a gym. With isometric squats, you can "isolate" a specific section of the squat and strengthen that part of the movement only. For example, if you find yourself weaker toward the top of a barbell squat, you could do isometric squats in that position.
8. Stability-ball squat. The stability-ball squat is another good variation for learning how to squat properly, since you're leaning against and guiding a stability ball up and down a wall as you do the movement. This variation is also good if you're coming back from an injury and need to do a squat motion with low stress on the legs, or your legs are sore after a run.
9. Jump squat. The jump squat is an explosive version of the squat, in which you actually jump and your feet leave the ground. It's usually done with a full arm swing and body weight or with a lighter weight than a regular squat, and is great for improving power and explosiveness and getting a good cardiovascular workout.
10. Hack squat. To do a hack squat, hold a barbell behind your body (against the back of your thighs), then squat and touch the weight to the ground before standing again. It's a slightly awkward movement, but places very little stress on the lower back, while primarily strengthening the quadriceps (the front of your legs).
11. Single-leg squat. The single-leg squat is hard to learn, but is excellent for improving balance, helping with side-to-side stability and teaching your legs how to generate force in an isolated position. Be sure to keep your back and knees in proper alignment while doing this variation of the squat, even if it means you need to put a hand out and touch a wall or rail for balance as you're learning.
12. Overhead squat. Overhead squats can significantly challenge mobility and you know your body is moving well if you can do a full squat while holding a weight overhead. To perform an overhead squat, hold a barbell, broomstick or other weight overhead as you squat. This exercise requires excellent shoulder range of motion and good balance, too, so it can be used to identify flexibility or balance deficits.
13. Sissy squat. Like the hack squat, a sissy squat really isolates the front of your legs and can also make you very strong, very fast. To do a sissy squat, keep your hips and waist straight, then bend your knees to allow your body to fall backward as your knees come forward. Lower your body until your knees are almost fully flexed or near the floor, then stand back up to your starting position. Just watch the video.
Ultimately, the squat is an essential movement pattern, and you should be including some form of it in your training on a weekly basis. I personally start each day with 50 body-weight squats, then do one of the squat versions above during my weekly weight training workout.
Do you have questions, or your own squat variations to add? Leave them below. And check out more exercises that give you the most bang for your buck on the Get-Fit Guy video channel.
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