5 Squat Variations you NEED to Try
It’s no secret squats are the king of all exercises. No other exercise is more metabolically demanding or better for building muscle than squats. Sure the leg press, leg extension, and leg curl machines are decent options for targeting various portions of your legs, but no single exercise provides more muscle-building, fat-torching benefits than squats. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that squats are without a doubt our FAVORITE exercise!
The best thing about squats is there are tons of variations that you can use in addition to or in lieu of back squats. Here are five of the best ones to try next time your leg day rolls around. Simply replace the barbell back squats at the beginning of your workout with one of these bad boys, or combine all 5 of them into one leg destroying, squat-focused training session.
Get ready to squat A LOT!
Top 5 Squat Variations
Goblet Squats are the perfect “gateway” squat into the land of weighted squats. It’s ideal for young athletes learning to squat properly with a load on their body and also incredibly effective for improving mobility in older lifters who’ve built their life around leg extensions, leg presses, and hack squats.
To perform the goblet squat:
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your body at chest level
- Pull your shoulders down and back
- Start lowering by sitting down and back
- At the bottom, your elbows should be inside your knees, feet flat, knees pushed out tracking over the feet
- Reverse the movement by maintaining an upright torso, while forcefully contracting the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
The front squat is an excellent squat variation for targeting your quads. It’s also a great upper body and core builder too since you have to keep the weight from pulling you forward. The front squat is similar to the back squat except the bar is placed across the front of your shoulders rather than your upper back.
To perform the front squat:
- Begin with the barbell across the front of your shoulders
- Hand grip for the bar is the same as that of a clean -- focus on driving your elbows up so the upper arms are parallel to each other and the ground.
- Feet are between hip and shoulder width apart, with toes pointed out 10-15 degrees
- Tighten your core, set your shoulders down and back, and begin to descend by breaking at the hips and sitting back
- Focus on driving your knees out over your toes and continue to lower until your hips are at least parallel to the ground
- Drive through your midfoot to stand back up forcefully squeezing the glutes and quads
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
The Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) is one of the best leg strengthening and mass building exercises for athletes. It’s essentially a back squat on one leg! These are great for lifters with mobility limitations, previous knee / back injuries, or those with significant strength differences between their two legs.
As a unilateral exercise, RFESS are also ideal for athletes, as in most sports, athletes are generating force off one leg at a time. For this reason, it absolutely makes sense to train on one leg. RFESS are also a great option for the home lifter who doesn’t have access to unlimited weight plates, but does have access to heavy dumbbells.
To perform the RFESS:
- Begin in a lunge position with the top of your foot of the non-working leg on a box or bench roughly knee height
The pistol squat is unlike any other squat in how it seamlessly melds strength, balance, and flexibility. It takes an amazing amount of coordination, and few people can successfully complete it their first time around. In fact, most guys squatting over 400 lbs probably wouldn’t be able to perform this exercise.
If you’re a bodyweight exercise enthusiast and squats, lunges, and jumps have become too easy, then this is next progression you need to keep the leg gains coming. Now, a free full-range pistol squat is incredibly tough, so for our purposes here, we’ll have you squatting to a box placed behind you to help you learn the movement pattern.
To perform the Piston Squat:
- Begin standing on one foot
- Tighten your core and slowly lower into the bottom of a squat with the non-working leg moving forward
- Touch your glutes to the bench or box and drive up
- Once all reps are finished on the first leg, proceed immediately to the other side for specified number of reps
The landmine squat is an amazing tool for helping any athlete learn to sit back during a squat and those who have mobility limitations preventing them from safely performing other variations of the squat. It’s also great for those who have a bad habit of shooting the knees forward while squatting since the placement of the bar essentially forces your hips back, keeping your knees over your toes.
To perform the landmine squat:
- Stand directly over the end of the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart
- When you descent to the bottom of the squat, your hands should be in the middle of your legs
- Grasp the end of the bar and forcefully contract your leg muscles to stand up
- At the top, your hands should be in front of your pelvis, and your shoulders, hips, and heels should all be in alignment.
Squat Till You Drop!
Squatting is an essential movement pattern for all humans, not just high level athletes. That doesn’t mean you’re relegated to doing endless sets of barbell back squats your entire lifting life. If you’ve hit a plateau or just sick and tired of doing back squats all the time, give one or all of these variations a shot and unleash a flood of new leg day gains! Just be in store for the massive DOMS that will ensue.
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