Are you sick of doing the same old traditional Squat in your workouts?
Or maybe you are not able to do Squats because of joint injuries or arthritis?
As I mentioned in a previous article, using different exercise variations can be helpful to prevent boredom and gain strength even if you are not able to complete the traditional version.
Today, I will share some exercise variations for the Squat.
Squats are a compound movement. This means that to complete one repetition, you are using nearly every muscle in your entire body. This is why Squats are part of every workout plan. They build strength and burn a lot of calories, making them an excellent choice for muscle-building, weight and/or fat loss or pure weight lifting.
By using the following variations, we can shift the focus slightly to enhance some muscle groups worked and decrease force that is put on joints.
Squat Variations you need to try!
Close Stance Squat
Image by Fitnessblender
Feet should be a little bit closer than hip distance apart. As everyone has a different anatomic bone structure, I don’t recommend to put your feet any close than that.
Some of us have slightly rotated feet (either in-/ or outward), so by placing your feet right next to each other, your knees may be in a dangerous position. Your knees should always stay straight and you should try to push them out when squatting. Whenever you notice your knees are caving inwards, you are doing the squat wrong and risking knee injury.
This variation of the Squat engages the core and resembles a traditional Deadlift. Thus, you may feel it more in your glutes and hamstrings. If you would like to increase activation, elevate your toes slight and push through your heels.
Also, you will not be able to go very deep with this exercise. Unless you are very flexible, squat as low as you can keep proper form. Your back should be straight the whole time, especially your lower back. Squat depth is not an indicator of how effective the exercise will be. It is true that deep Squats activate your glutes to a higher degree but if you are not physically able to do so without injuring yourself, there is really no benefit to that.
Here we widen the stance as much as feels comfortable. You can change direction of your feet and see where you feel this exercise the most.
If you point your feet out completely, the inner thighs will be activated. I like to keep my feet more straight during this exercise and keep the focus on the glutes and hamstrings. It is very important to keep your pelvis tilted during this exercise. Do not stick out your rear, as that will risk lumbar hyperextension.
Before you descend, contract your core and squeeze your glutes. Now, while going down, keep that contraction and stay in an upright position. To keep your body upright, your glutes have to work really hard. If you bend over or fall over, this means your glutes are not strong enough to complete this exercise properly. Work on activating them first before trying this exercise.
When you are at the bottom, push your feet out and stand up using your glutes. If you do this exercise correctly, you will not feel it in your quadriceps (front of the thighs) at all. Practice with bodyweight first, as always!
One legged Squat
The Pistol Squat is probably one of the most advanced exercises in existence. It is done bodyweight but requires a lot of stability and strength to complete the motion. If you have muscle imbalances, even just practicing pistol squats is an excellent way to train your weaker leg. I will write an article or even make a video on progression with this exercise in future posts!
Bulgarian Split Squat
I use this exercise in every single lower body workout I do. I stopped doing traditional Squats when I had my labral tear for 6 months and instead used this variation to build strength in my lower body.
This exercise is also perfect if you would like to work up to a pistol squat. The back leg makes sure that you do not lose balance. Thus, you can use much more weight and build strength very fast with this exercise. Make sure to sink deep into the hip of the front leg and only push through the heels of the front leg. Keep your core tight the entire time and squeeze the back glute as well! You should not feel this exercise in the front the thighs at all. If you struggle to feel this exercise in your glutes, try super setting it with Glute Bridges or Donkey Kicks and lower your weights, until you are using proper form.
This is one of the best squat variations to increase glute and core activation.
As you are holding the weight in front of your body, your core has to work hard to keep your body from falling forwards. In addition to that, in a traditional goblet squat, you go down very deep and push your knees out as much as you can.
This is basically the squatting position little children use when they are taking something off from the ground. As we age and start sitting more, our muscles surrounding the hip-joint get very tight and we are not able to squat without bending over completely. Thus, I would recommend to practice goblet squats daily. I do them every morning and hold the bottom position until I feel my muscles activate and my hips open up.
Also, this squat variation can be done if you have knee problems as well. If you are currently experiencing pain and inflammation, stick to the Chair Squat I shared in this article. However, if you only have slight discomfort in your knees and feel like they are a weak point in your body, you can strengthen the muscles surrounding them perfectly with this exercise.
Lastly, this exercise can be used if you experience hip problems as well. When I had my labral tear, all muscles surrounding my hip-joint tightened up. This made it very painful to sit, stand, walk, anything. After the pain was gone, I started doing glute activation exercises and bodyweight goblet squats every day. This helped me to strengthen the muscles and open up my hips, so my body could increase blood flow to my joints and speed up the healing process.
However, if you have an artificial hip, you can try out this exercise but don’t do it if you feel pain or discomfort.
Make it burn even more
You don’t need to use weight at all to get stronger and burn fat. If you would like to increase the challenge, just add some pulses at the bottom of the squat position. Make sure to pulse up and down by using your glutes and pushing through the heals. This is a great technique for muscle-building without having to increase weight.
If you are working out at a gym, make use of the different equipment! Doing Goblet Squats with Kettlebells is much harder than using the same pounds on a dumbbell. The center of gravity is shifted slightly when you are using kettlebells and your entire upper back needs to work hard to keep the kettlebell in place.
Elevate your toes
This is a technique I would recommend anyone who has struggle activating their glutes. Some people suggest elevating the heels to increase squat depth but that actually increases activating of the front of the thighs even more. By elevating your heels, you will not be able to squat low but you will feel the exercise primarily in your glutes, which is how it should be.
If you still need more of a burn, try different combo movements.
Do a goblet squat and immediately complete a repetition of a lunge. Or, pair different squat variations: Complete one repetition of a sumo squat and then go directly into a close stance squat. The possibilities are endless here and all that is needed is a little bit of creativity from your side! I love coming up with new combination movements to challenge myself and keep training interesting.
Are there any other Squat variations you like to use in your workouts? Have you tried these variations?
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