The squat is a fundamental movement that involves nearly every muscle in the body. In addition to targeting the muscles in your lower body, such as your, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and adductors, the squat also targets your core muscles. On top of this when doing a back squat or overhead squat you’ll also work the muscles in your shoulders, arms, chest, and back.
As a compound exercise, (multi-joint movement), it is an efficient way to work multiple muscles and build overall strength. The squat is an exercise that mimics many important everyday movements, such as sitting in a chair and getting up, so when executed correctly, squatting can help improve posture, as well as the balance and mobility required to perform these daily-life tasks.
In this article we explore 5 different squat variations and how to perform them, as well as tips on how to progress your squat for both beginner and advanced level squatters.
1. Barbell Back Squat – The back squat is one of the most complete lower body exercises you can perform with a barbell. To perform a barbell back squat step under a barbell, (supported in a squat rack), brace your core and lift the barbell out of the rack. Take a deep breath and step out of the rack; place your feet at a width that feels natural to you and squat down allowing your knees and hips to hinge forward, all while maintaining an upright torso position. To complete the movement stand back up to your starting position, pushing through your heels (without locking your knees).
2. Bulgarian split squat – The Bulgarian split squat is a challenging variation of classic squat that focuses on unilateral training (one leg at the time). This is a great exercise to improve strength, hypertrophy, stability and balance. To perform a Bulgarian split squat, stand in front of a bench or box and place on foot on the bench behind you. Engage your core with your chest high and eyes looking straight ahead. Bend your front knee and hinge slightly forward at the hips, allow your front knee to travel forwards and squat down until your back knee almost touches the ground. Press back to standing by pushing through your grounded foot, using your left quad and glute to power the upward phase of the exercise.
3. Goblet squat – This is a great variation for beginners and for those suffering with lower back pain or spine compression issues as this exercise does’t load the spine. Instead this is a front-loaded exercise and can be performed using a kettle bell or dumbbell. To perform the goblet squat, grab your chosen weight and place it in front of your chest, stand with your feet hip or shoulder-width apart. Squat down as far as your range allows, maintaining an upright torso position. Drive through the heels as you stand and squeeze your glutes as you return to a tall standing position.
4. Zombie squat – Zombie squats are a variation of the front squat that involve balancing the barbell on your shoulders and keeping your arms straight out in front of you. The added benefits of performing zombie squats include improved balance, increasing core engagement, and promoting correct postural alignment, thereby improving your squatting technique. Additionally, having the arms extended can help to improve shoulder mobility and flexibility. To do a zombie squat stand in front of a squat rack with a barbell. Straighten your arms in front of you and lift the bar off the rack and onto the front of your shoulders. Step back away from the squat rack with a straight back and knees slightly bent. Slowly squat down by bending at the knees, whilst keeping your arms out to keep the bar balanced on your shoulders. Pause for a moment before pushing yourself back up to an upright position, pushing through your heels.our knees).
5. Pistol squat – This squat variation will challenge your balance and stability by working your lower body muscles, engaging your core and stabilising muscles. It is a very challenging movement that requires high levels of mobility. To perform the pistol squat stand on one leg with your other leg extended in front of you. Squat down as low as you can, keeping your chest up and your core engaged, then push back up to standing through your heel. This advanced exercise not only demands a high level of strength it also requires you to have a high amount of mobility in your ankle and hip joints, and as such it can take time to master. If you are having trouble balancing, start off with TRX assisted pistol squats and then once you’ve mastered this movement progress to unassisted pistol squats.
Now that we’ve run through 5 different squat variations, here are some tips for beginners and advanced squatters that will help introduce variety into your programme. By regularly changing your programme you’re introducing new stimulus which will help you progress over time improving your perforce along the way. Additionally by occasionally rotating exercises or activity your risk of injury will decrease.
5 tips for the beginners:
- To practice proper form start with bodyweight squats, building strength and mobility before adding weights.
- When moving on to the barbell back squat, start by performing it with an empty bar to get comfortable with the movement. Remember a standard Olympic barbell weights 20kg on it own, so you’ll need to master this before adding weight.
- Incorporate box squats, this involves squatting until you are sitting on the plyometric box at the bottom of the squat, then returning to standing. Doing this will help you to maintain proper form and control throughout the movement, unlimitedly perfecting your equating technique.
- Elevate your heels if you have tight ankles or limited mobility. A popular way to achieve this is by using a plate to elevate your heels.
- Only lower to the level at which you still maintain control of the movement – proper form is more important than depth of the squat.
5 tips for the advance squatters:
- The secret to progression is variety, do this by increasing the weight, volume or decrease rest time. Aim to change only one of this variables at the time.
- Incorporate pauses or quarters at the bottom or the top, this increases your time under tension and makes the movement more challenging.
- Add resistance bands or chains to the barbell. By doing this you will increase the force required to move the bar as you complete the range of motion. Accommodating resistance modifies the strength curve of a movement.
- Use the tempo training method by slowing down the eccentric phase (lowering) or concentric phase (lifting) of each repetition. Performing movements at a slower tempo will increase your time under tension and stimulate your muscles to promote growth.
- Incorporate deload weeks to allow recovery and prevent overtraining.
Written by Melita Luksic