If you were to ask a group of 100 top leaders in the health and fitness community, “If you could only do one exercise for the rest of my life, what should it be,” my guess is that at least 90 of them will answer with squats. This is a completely made up number, I’ll admit, but suffice to say that the squat–and all of those amazing squat variations–is one of the most versatile and effective movements around. Squatting challenges your legs, your glutes, your abs, your central nervous system, your flexibility, and even your endurance (depending on volume, load, and speed). It’s certainly my favorite movement to do, especially with a weight of some sort.
If you’re new to squatting, be sure to check with a trusted personal trainer or fitness instructor who can check your form and range of motion. Also, I urge everyone–men and women–never to be intimidated by the barbell. Front squats, back squats, even overhead squats for the more technically skilled of us are all fantastic for your looks, your strength, and your overall health.
That said, there are a TON more ways to squat than with just a barbell, and for the sake of challenging your muscles and neuro-motor system in novel ways, it’s a great idea to mix things up every now and then. Read on to check out some of my favorite squat variations that will definitely leave you feeling the burn.
4 Squat Variations That Your Legs Will Love You For (And Maybe Hate You For A Little Bit, Too)
The basic premise of a squat is that you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed out, and chest up. For safety, it’s critical that you keep your lower back flat, abs tight, and your knees are tracking out over your feet (no knock-knees). If your flexibility permits it, you should squat as low as possible, ideally so that the crease of your hips go below your knees. Again, please check with a trainer first to ensure your form looks safe; if it doesn’t, he or she should be able to give you some exercises and stretches to progress your squat-ability.
Check Out These 3 Challenging (and Fun!) Squat Variations:
1) Jumping Squat:
Adding a jump at the top of your squat is a great way to ensure that you’re coming to a full hip extension, which challenges your glutes more. This plyometric variation also adds a little extra challenge to your calves, quads, and hamstrings. This video shows a basic version. For an advanced version, try an 180-degree or touchdown jump squat. Do this one fast enough, and it’ll turn into a sweaty lung burner as much as a leg burner, too.
2) Banded Squat:
Most major gyms should carry exercise bands, but they’re relatively inexpensive and easy to find online or in most major department stores, too. To perform a banded squat, simply loop an exercise band around your thighs and squat–you’ll have to work much harder to push your knees out and keep them in good alignment. Not only does this turn up the intensity for your glute muscles, but it also reinforces the correct muscle activation pattern (a lot of people tend to “forget” about their butt and are too “quad heavy” when they squat), making you better for next time. Fast forward to the one minute mark in this video to get an idea of how this variation works.
3) Sumo Squat:
Because you stand with your feet much wider during this variation (feet wider than shoulder width), your inner thigh muscles (adductors) are targeted more intensely. I like this tutorial because it shows a few great ways to make the movement more challenging.
4) Squat To Press (Thruster):
This is a normal squat with the added challenge of an overhead press. All the muscles typically targeted during a squat are challenged, along with your upper body muscles (including deltoids, rotator cuff, and traps). Do this fast and with a lighter load for more of a cardio challenge. Check out this demo.
This list is in NO way all inclusive. Got any other fave squat variations of your own? Share in the comments below!