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12 Essential Squat Variations to Try

There is no doubt that squatting is the best exercise to strengthen the lower body. If done correctly, they target your hips, hamstrings and four-headed muscles and combine core stability. And there’s no sport that makes you look as good as squatting from behind.

But squatting – just like any other sport – can be repetitive, and if you don’t change the way you do them, your body will adapt and you will stop seeing the results. So here are 11 additional squat variations. First master the correct form of basic bodyweight squat, then turn to more challenging changes. Your four-headed muscles and buttocks may burn at the end, but your rear will thank you.

1- Weight squat

Proper form for body-weight squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

When making any of these changes, it is important to remember how to perform basic squats correctly to ensure that you get the full benefits of each change without risking injury.

  • Keep your back straight, your feet as wide as your hips, hinge your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your buttocks as if you were sitting in a chair.
  • At the bottom of your squat, make sure your knees are consistent with your feet, not bow outwards or collapse inwards.
  • Check that your knees are too forward on your toes (if so, transfer more weight to your heel).
  • When you stand up, use your heel.

2- Prisoner squatting

Proper form for prisoner squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

This change is very similar to normal weight-carrying squats, but it requires more balance and coordination. Since you won’t put your hands up in front of you as a balance, you need to recruit more core strength to keep your torso upright.

  • When you start standing, it’s like you’re going to do a standard squat, but put your hands behind your head.
  • Keep your back straight, chest up, and squat back.
  • You may find that you need to apply more weight to your heel than you would normally squat, but don’t let your toes lift off the ground.
  • Stand up again by pressing through your feet.

3- Push-ups

Proper form for plie squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

Cultivate your inner ballerina and make your squats more challenging. This change changes your pace and expands your position to target more muscles on the inside and outside of your thighs while still recruiting hips, four-headed muscles and hamstrings.

  • When standing, your feet are a few inches wider than your hips, and your toes extend at a 45-degree angle.
  • Either put your hands on your hips or raise and lower your arms like a standard squat.
  • Bend your knees and lower your hips to the ground.
  • Keep your back perpendicular to the ground instead of bending forward slightly.
  • Drive back to standing through your feet.

4- Jump squat

Proper form for jump squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Physical Fitness Research, squatting can actually raise your jump height. So why not go further and incorporate jumping into your squat routine? This variant of muscle training is advanced, so make sure you’ve mastered the basic squats and have healthy knees before trying.

  • Suppose you are in the same position as a normal squat.
  • Squat back from your hips and bring your arms back to gain momentum.
  • Drive through your heel, jump directly into the air from the bottom of your squat, and your arms swing overhead or on both sides.
  • Bend your knees when you land, absorb the impact, and go straight to the next squat jump.

5- One-legged squat

Proper form for single-leg squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

Working on one leg can be challenging, but it’s also beneficial because it corrects any imbalances you may have. For example, if your right leg is stronger than your left leg, your right leg may compensate your left leg in a traditional squat. But in one-legged squats, you balance on only one leg at a time, so that leg does all the work.

  • When standing, your feet are as wide as your hips and your toes are facing forward.
  • Slowly shift your center of gravity to your right foot until your left foot is completely off the ground.
  • Inside the hips, bend your knees and squat, keeping all the weight on your right leg.
  • Press through your right foot and return to standing.
  • Do the same number of repetitive actions on both sides.

6- Goblet Squat

Proper form for a goblet squat.
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While this change is especially suitable for women because it strengthens the hips in a more open position, men can still benefit from it! The only modification to a regular squat is to flip your feet out and add a dumbbell or kettlebell.

  • First of all, the distance between the feet is wider than the hips, and the feet are slightly turned over.
  • Hold the weight in the center of your chest (like a high-foot cup), hinge your hips back, sink into a squat, keep your tailbone pointing to the ground, and use your core strength to lift your chest.
  • Press over the four corners of your foot and return to standing.

7- Back Squat

Proper form for back squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

When it comes to free weight and machine, free weight is the obvious winner. While both machine and free weight can help strengthen your muscles, according to the Mayo Clinic, free weight essentially requires the right technology. Also, if you don’t have a machine, you need more core strength to keep yourself upright.

  • Hold a loaded barbell across the back of your shoulder (or, if you’re a beginner, just hold the barbell) and stand in the basic squat starting position.
  • In the absence of bow back or neck tension, reduce to a squat position and sit back.
  • Support your weight with your back, shoulders, and hands — not your neck — and keep your tailbones curled up below you so your lower back doesn’t arch.
  • Press through your heel and stand up.

8- Front Squat

Proper form for front squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

Front squats are complementary variants of back squats. According to the National Association of Sports Medicine, the variant may be more suitable for those who want to increase lower back strength or lack outside the shoulder range.

  • Start as if you were squatting back, except for holding the loaded barbell (or just the barbell) on your chest, with your elbows pointing down. If you don’t have access to barbells, you can also use dumbbells to make this change.
  • Squat so that your elbow barely touches your knees and then stands up.

9- Split squats

Proper form for split squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

Split squats may look more like bow steps than squats, but the squat principle still applies here. To increase the challenge of stability and more one-legged work, you can raise your back foot on a box or bench as you pass through the range of motion.

  • Spread the barbell across the shoulder, feet apart, one after the other.
  • Bend your knees and press down until your back knees almost touch the ground.
  • Both knees should be 90 degrees, and your front knees should not extend to your front toes.
  • Hold for a moment before you return to standing.
  • Repeat with one leg before changing legs.

10- Dumbbell sumo squats

Proper form for dumbbell sumo squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

This change is similar to a high-footed cup squat. The only difference is how you maintain weight. The trick here is to recruit abdominal and back muscles to prevent your chest from being pulled forward by dumbbells.

  • When standing, your feet are slightly wider than your hips, and your feet are turned 45 degrees outside.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang directly between your legs.
  • Bend your two knees, lower your weight, and let it touch the floor almost (don’t bend your chest forward). You look (and probably feel) a bit like a sumo wrestler.
  • Open your heel and get back to standing.

11- Pistol squat

Proper form for pistol squats.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

As one of the most advanced squat changes, you need to make sure you have built up enough one-legged strength and core stability to master pistol squats. It’s even more advanced than squatting on one leg, because when you put a leg out in front of you, you bend deeper.

  • Keep your feet away from your hips and slowly shift your center of gravity to your right leg while sticking your left leg out in front of you.
  • Raise your arms on your chest to help you keep your balance.
  • Use your core strengths, squat from the hip hinges, and keep your right leg in balance.
  • Keep your body as low as possible without touching the ground, then use your heel to drive you up.

12- Squat Thrust

Proper form for squat thrusts.
Image Credit: Demand Media Studios

Similar to burpee, this exercise combines squats, but it’s more than that because you’ll recruit muscles from almost every part of your body. And like burpees, they may be the new movement you love and hate.

  • When standing, separate your feet from your hips and point forward.
  • Hinge your hips back, squat, and place your hands close to your feet in the same width (or slightly wider) as your shoulders.
  • Transfer your weight to your hands and jump your feet back to put you on top of push-ups. Make sure your body is in a straight line from head to toe.
  • Jump your feet back into your hands, stand up and repeat.

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