7 Squat Variations You Need To Try

Young woman leaning on a squats rack

Pick a squat, any squat, what squat will you pick?

Ahhhhhh squats. Like moths and light-bulbs, fish and chips or Starsky and Hutch, they go hand in hand with leg day and are an essential part of any workout.

Some love them, some hate them, but squats, just like protein shakes, come in many different shapes and sizes…and flavours.

So what are these splendiferous variations? Well let’s start with the most famous of them all.

The back squat

Young strong girl in the gym doing squat in the sport gym. Beautiful athletic woman with beautiful athletic body lifting weights or doing exercises with barbell.

She could probably do with moving those knees in a touch actually…

What is it?
If you workout, and you don’t know what a back squat is, then you need to have a long hard look at yourself. If you are new to all this, then get to know the back squat, as you’ll see it, and hopefully perform it, a lot.

In simple terms, you place a bar across your shoulders, at the base of your neck, steady/hold it with your arms, and lower yourself down. There has been a lot written about squats over time, from how to fix your squat to a list of the worst squatting mistakes, but in general, you need to keep your movement steady and make sure you dip nice and low.

Why should I do it?
The common back squat works your lower back, your quads, hamstrings and is generally the King of the Gym. For toning your bottom, it is perhaps the most popular exercise but less specifically, it works pretty much all of your legs, so is perfect for bodybuilders and athletes alike.

The hack squat

how to do the hack squat

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
You don’t need to be that buff to do it in fairness.

What is it?
It doesn’t really look that pretty. To perform a hack squat you hold the bar behind you, around the top of your bottom, and then lower your body, letting the bar dangle below. To do this, you need to lift the bar off the ground, which in turn leads some to putting it in the deadlift camp.

Why should I do it?
You might be able to squat 100kg normally, but with a hack squat, you can only lift as much as your grip will allow, and that is not only why you should start light, but is also why a hack squat is a great way to improve said grip. Apart from your grip, you also work the quads, as well as engaging the other leg muscles.

Finally, if you struggle from spinal problems, or are deloading, then you have an exercise that you can work with, as there is no spinal compression with this variation.

The goblet or sumo squat

sumo squat with kettlebell

Image source: Flickr
Let the US Military show you how to do it

What is it?
They both work on the same principle, in the same way, but essentially you need to have a wider stance, a dumbbell or kettlebell held at the chest and then lower yourself like you would with any squat.

Why should I do it?
With this variation, you again miss out on spinal compression, and you again work the legs, especially the quads. More specifically, it is a very good exercise for working the inner thigh adductors, without going on that god awful machine where making eye contact is similar to the introduction to the most of the material on PornHub. Furthermore, it is a great way to improve balance and posture, as you need to ensure you don’t lean forward.

The one legged squat

pistol squat training

Image source: YouTube
Also known as the “pistol” squat

What is it?
This can be a variation on a variation if you like. The clue is in the name, but to perform it right, put one leg out in front of you, balancing on the other, and then perform whatever squat you have picked. To begin, go weightless and pick a sumo or back squat when you add in some weight.

Why should I do it?
If you can master this, then your balance will be near to that of a ballerina. You will also see improvements in your core strength, due to the stability you need for the movement and of course you will engage your lower body muscles.

The Zercher squat

What is it?
Try and do it better than him.

Named after Ed Zercher, a strongman from Missouri in the 1930s, this is in many ways a bridge between deadlifting and squatting. To perform it, bend your elbows at your side, akin to a bicep curl, and place the bar in the crook of your elbows. Then with a wide stance, squat until either the bar touches your thighs, or your elbows go between your knees.

Why should I do it?
Like the hack or sumo, there is less spinal compression, but there are once more other benefits. For a start, you engage your arms, as they are very much needed to hold the weight. You also engage your hips, and that in turn is good for posture.

The front squat

Fit young woman lifting barbells looking focused, working out in a gym with other people

A common site at many CrossFit “boxes”

What is it?
Put simply, it’s the back squat, with the bar at the front of your neck. Becoming more and more popular, arguably due to the rise of Olympic lifting and CrossFit, it has been shown to be just as good an exercise as the back squat.

Why should I do it?
Apart from the benefits that you’d come to expect, a front squat has also shown to be a good alternative to back squats for those with knee or joint problems. Additionally, if you want to train the upper back then front squats are a good exercise.

The overhead squat

Silhouette of young adult girl doing heavy duty squats in gym with barbell

Probably easier to do it with the lights on in fairness

What is it?
The last in our list, is perhaps the most difficult to master. Putting the bar above your head, just as you would at the end of a clean and jerk, you then perform the same movement you would with a front or back squat.

Why should I do it?
Like the one legged squat, this will have huge benefits when it comes to balance. Also, as you need to stabilise the bar you will engage your core muscles, and in turn improve your muscular control. For those looking to improve their clean and jerk, or similar Olympic weightlifting movements, then this is a great exercise for working on the midpoint of the snatch.

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