SIX EXCELLENT VARIATIONS OF THE SQUAT (AND HOW TO PERFORM THEM)

No workout routine is complete without the infamous Leg Day, and no Leg Day is complete without the almighty Squat: a compound movement that engages muscles throughout your lower body.

What the Squat Works

Your quadriceps and gluteus maximus will put in the bulk of the work. However, several other muscles play important roles in the squat  including your core, lower back, and hamstrings. The calves play a minor role as well, which is increased for those who perform the exercise without shoes.

The Squat is considered a “Big Three” movement in bodybuilding—alongside the Deadlift and Bench Press—and is also a major component of powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and CrossFit-style training.  This whole-system, lower-dominant exercise is recommended as part of virtually any training regime.

Regardless of ability level, sport, or goal, there is sound reason to include the Squat in your program, as long as you execute the movement pattern safely and correctly.

How to Squat

Before loading any weight, ensure you have proper form first.

  1. Start with feet roughly hip width apart, toes pointed forward or slightly outward (never inward). Set your chest proud, back upright—but no exaggerated so that your abdominal wall becomes stretched. After all, we need an engaged core movements this complex. Set those shoulders down and back; brace your core before lowering. 
  2. An ideal bar path will be straight up and down over your centre of mass (mid-foot). Lower your butt, allowing the hips to shift back, until your upper leg becomes parallel to the floor, keeping core tight and shoulders set. With sufficient mobility and confidence you may squat below parallel. Studies suggest minimal additional muscle fibre activation to gain from going lower than parallel on squats, but is nonetheless encouraged so long as an athlete experiences no discomfort.
  3. Push up with your legs, driving through the floor at mid-foot. Your hips should be pressing forward, powered by the glutei and hamstrings, and your knees should follow the path of your toes (pushing outward slightly to prevent them from caving in). Avoid completely locking out the knees at the top, especially under heavy load. Pause briefly, then repeat as prescribed. 

Variation Setups

  1. Back squats should rest the barbell on the natural “shelf” of the upper traps, with hands close to the shoulders and elbow back. Minimize un-rack rituals to save energy: one small, precise step back with each foot, and no more than a couple of minor adjustments once in place.
  2. Front squats must position the barbell on the natural front shelf atop the chest, with one or more fingers per hand keeping the bar in place. Activate the lats to ensure elbows remain high in front; the back must also remain upright to retain the shelf.
  3. Goblet squats, whether with kettlebell or dumbbell, should see the weight as close the body as possible—ideally touching the torso for most or all of the movement—to ensure proper posture. Keep elbows low and under the weight, with your lats and core turned on.

Squat Variations

Bodyweight Squat

The bodyweight squat is a classic exercise that requires no equipment and can be performed anywhere. Simply perform the squat as you are, controlling your entire body throughout. Try 10 to 20 reps per set with up to one minute of rest in between.

Jumping Squat

You can make bodyweight squats more effective by adding a jump: push up explosively from bottom position so that you leave the ground at the top of the movement off your toes. Absorb impact by dropping back down into the bottom position upon landing, then jump up again; repeat this pattern nonstop for as many reps as you can in 20 to 30 seconds, then rest for twice as long. Repeat up to 5 times.

Plyometric Squat

Add some resistance to your jumping squat and add a pause at the bottom. Perform this high-octane movement for 5 to 10 reps at all-out effort, with ample time for recovery between sets. We like using light kettlebells, weight vests, or the hex bar to load up this exercise.

Goblet Squat

Add light-to-moderate weight to the bodyweight squat with a dumbbell or kettlebell by performing goblet squats. Hold the weight in both hands, keeping your elbows tucked beneath the weight, and the weight against your chest. This simple variation challenges the whole body and encourages an upright posture throughout the full range of motion Aim for 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 15 reps.

Barbell Squat

Add heavy weight with barbell squats: front, high bar, and low bar squats are all viable options depending on your preference. Do not lift heavy without sufficient core strength. And be sure to warm up properly first! This is an advanced technique that will take hundreds of total repetitions to excel at, and thousands to master. Aim for several sets of 3 to 6 to build all-over lower-body strength, or 6 to 10 reps for massive legs.

Front Squat

Placing in barbell in front, instead of on the back, is known as a Front Squat. With similar mechanics to the Goblet Squat—in which the load is also in front of the body—the Front Squat can help those who may suffer knee or low-back discomfort during heavy or deep back squatting.

This variation can target the quadriceps more than its back-loaded counterpart. It also typically allows for greater depth and challenges both the latissimus dorsi and abdominal muscles tremendously. However, you should expect to lift a significantly lighter load than your back squat.

Below are different ways to perform the Squat, a classic movement and essential component of any effective training program.

Bodyweight Squat

Difficulty: Easy

Goal: Learn and understand the movement; warm up and cool down; stretch

Workload: Try up to five sets of 10 to 20 reps per set, resting one minute or less between sets.

Jumping Squat

Difficulty: Moderate

Goal: Build cardiovascular strength, condition lower body muscles

Workload: Aim for maximum reps possible in 20 to 40 seconds, then rest for twice as long. Repeat five times.

Plyometric Squat

Difficulty: Advanced

Goal: Develop explosive power

Workload: Aim for 5 to 10 reps at a tempo of 1-2-X-0. Rest 2 minutes between sets. Repeat 5 times.

Goblet Squat

Difficulty: Moderate

Goal: Build lean mass, develop muscular endurance

Workload: Aim for up to five sets of 8 to 15 reps. Rest one minute between sets.

Barbell Squat (BACK)

Difficulty: Advanced

Goal: Develop next-level strength, size, and power

Workload: Aim for up to five sets of 5 to 10 reps. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.

Barbell Squat (FRONT)

Difficulty: Advanced

Goal: Quadriceps-dominant version of barbell squat engages the lats and may be more comfortable on the low-back and knees.

Workload: Aim for up to five sets of 5 to 10 reps. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.