Squats are just one of those exercises that are similar to step-children… you either love them or hate them. They are hard, damn hard, and for that reason there is a decent percentage of the fitness loving population who have creative stories about bizarre injuries (that never happened) which apparently prevent people from performing them.
Without having a cowboy approach and simply saying “everyone should squat heavy, all day, every day, no excuses”, it’s important to recognise that for some people there may be some limitations. That said, if you can sit on a toilet you can squat. If you don’t sit on the toilet, you obviously have some kind of gymnastic talent that allows your “aerial approach” to work effectively – and I commend you. So if you are able-bodied and are looking to build a strong, functional, aesthetic physique, “squatting on the reg” is a good idea.
Here are six fun squat variations, using both bodyweight and common fitness equipment. They are roughly listed ranging in degree of difficulty, so start at number one and work your way through.
The gateway into squatting – getting the mechanics right from day one is crucial.
Stand with feet just outside shoulder width with your toes pointed slightly out. Break your hips backwards like you’re backin’ on up to some latin guy in a nightclub and keep sitting back up and down.
It’s very important that you don’t hinge from the knees first, as it will cause most people to bend forwards with the torso to remain balanced. If we are sticking with the nightclub analogy of hip movement, think “subtle, not slutty”.
2. Bulgarian split squats
Bulgarian split squats are a lunge movement, with the back foot elevated. This really targets the glutes and hamstrings hard of the front leg, and adds the complexity of a balance issue.
Make sure to lower the back knee to the floor, and drive directly up through a flat front foot. Aim for a 90 degree bend in both the front and back leg.
3. Sissy squats
Funny name, painfully effective. These can be employed at any stage of a leg workout and are fantastic at isolating the quads.
Grabbing something, or someone, to balance – sit on your toes and focus on driving the knees forwards and down. Keep the hips high and back tight, lowering down slowly until you reach a depth that gives an outrageous stretch in the quads.
This is great to help develop a quad “sweep” and makes you look like a 17 year-old female track star.
Another ridiculous name, another very challenging exercise. Essentially a pistol squat is a one-legged squat, requiring both stabilisation and a whole bunch of weight on one leg.
To ease into these, use a bench-top, a partner, a TRX, or something to help make balance less of an issue and give a slight advantage with weight. As you get stronger and more confident, do it without any aides and ensure that you lower under control to a full depth.
Hot tip: Try to resist the urge to perform these balancing on weird pieces of equipment on a rocky cliff face somewhere… These are an Instagram diva’s go-to selfie moment, but the bizarre set-ups don’t usually offer any benefit to the exercise and just make it plain risky. Try explaining the broken ankle on Monday morning when you were attempting a pistol squat on top of a coconut, on top of a fire hydrant.
5. Barbell front squats
More challenging on core strength than a standard barbell back squat, you should only progress to these when mastering the former.
There are several set-ups in order to hold the bar, depending on shoulder mobility and strength. This will not only feel much more difficult than a back squat, but the bar tends to make you feel like you are being choked a little while performing it. Some girls dig that, some don’t.
6. Zercher squats
Are you sadistic and enjoy WTF looks in the gym? Great! Do these!
The bar sits on the front side of the body and just above the hip – this awesome squat variation will build a super strong lower back and strong glutes.
Hook the bar in an elbow crease and lock arms together. Sit the hips back and avoid having the bar dropping the torso forwards (stay upright). Don’t worry about going too heavy, the important thing is to maintain control and upright posture throughout the rep range.
This movement will definitely earn serious gym cred and confused looks from dudes who feel their manhood being threatened by your advanced squat techniques. Unfortunately the skin on your arms may take a beating. Think of it as aggressive exfoliation with a slight chance of tetanus infection.