Squats are a girl’s (and guy’s!) best friend, right? Regardless of where you are at in your fitness journey everyone has done a squat or two. This movement is full body, incorporating multiple muscle groups such as your Erector Spinae, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, and Gluteus Maximus to name a few. Apart from helping you to gain size and strength in your legs, squats also are vital in strengthening a person’s core. While I have seen people squat in countless ways in the gym, some good, some bad (some REALLY bad, yikes!), I have recently come across a few variations of squats that even I hadn’t tried out before, and that’s saying something! Changing up your gym routine and the exercises you do will not only keep your workout fresh, it also will engage muscles that don’t normally get targeted. Hopefully you find the five squat variations below new, interesting, and worthy of making you limp up the stairs the next day.
1) Bottoms Up Goblet Squat
Front loaded squats are a great way to focus on building strength and size in your Quadriceps. Departing from the usual barbell front squat, kettlebells can be used in order to add some variety. Goblet squats with the kettlebell have a few benefits over that of the bar. These squats are easy to understand and learn, they allow for activation throughout the core and back, they use only a small amount of equipment, and while the kettlebell gives some resistance to the squatter, it does not promote forward collapse. So what exactly makes this squat go “bottoms up”? That’s simple, just turn it upside down!
Set up for this squat with a comfortable foot position, this depends on your own personal preference. Grab the handles of the kettlebell, facing them downwards. Keeping your chest up and head neutral, sit back into the squat until your hamstrings tap your calves. (Remember to keep those knees from collapsing in!) Push upwards back to a standing position and repeat.
2) TRX Jump Squat
While most squats seem to focus on strength and hypertrophy, lets shift our focus to raising that heart rate! A fun way to incorporate suspension training into your leg day and squat routine is with a TRX Jump Squat. This movement will not only focus on Quad, Hamstring, Inner and Outer Thigh, Hip Flexor, and Glute development, it will also incorporate some upper body muscle groups. TRX Jump Squats will help you to warm up your shoulders and biceps while your heart rate sky rockets!
Position the TRX handles above your waist, facing palms towards one another and step back. Place feet wider then shoulder height then lean backwards, allowing the straps to fully extend. Bend at your knees as you sit back into the movement. After dropping hips below parallel, begin to stand up. On the way up, towards the end of the movement, add an explosive jump. This exercise can be done for either repetitions or time. If you’re really feeling up to it try using intervals for this exercise!
3) Sandbag Shoulder Squat
Designing your workout program often times includes dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells, but have you ever considered adding a sandbag or two into the mix? While this tool may seem a strange fit to your workout routine, it works! Sandbags are a great tool because of their shape. The way in which a sandbag moves forces the lifter to use their muscles in order to stabilize and maneuver this non traditional tool. Sandbags will not only test your strength, but your stamina as well. In order to get comfortable with the sandbag you may begin by trying a squat simply holding the sandbag, then progress to a back squat with the bag.
The sandbag shoulder squat begins by picking up the sandbag and positioning it comfortably over one shoulder, hooking your arm around the sandbag. From here position feet as you see fit, sit back through your heels until parallel, then stand back up. Make sure to alternate shoulders throughout your sets. As you become more comfortable working with sandbags you can progress to heavier weight, eventually using multiple bags.
4) Overhead Squat
Do you want to challenge yourself? Do you find conventional squat variations just not extreme enough? Well then the Overhead Squat is for you! This “expert” level modification is taken from Olympic Lifting and will not only be full-body strengthening, it will also test your balance and core strength. A barbell (with an additional plate or two once you master the movement) is the only equipment needed for this exercise.
Begin this movement with the barbell on the floor, foot position wider than shoulder width. Grab the barbell by bending over and gripping it, palms facing towards the ground. Your grip should be wider then foot width. Lift up the barbell, temporarily resting it on your chest, then lift weight overhead. Once the barbell is in the air, fully extend your arms keeping your elbows near your ears to ensure the bar is slightly behind your head. Make sure to keep your shoulder blades retracted. Once this starting position is maintained slowly bend your knees until you are parallel to the ground, keeping your back straight throughout the movement. Push through your feet and stand back up with weight, keeping the bar locked out above head. Breathing is key with this exercise therefore inhaling as you bend your knees, and exhaling as you stand up, will help you to maintain proper positioning and alignment. Repeat this movement for desired repetitions. Remember this is an advanced movement, so if your form begins to fail take a break before beginning again!
5) Zercher Squat:
The Zercher Squat is a fun, and painful, way to burn out your Quads. Apart from this main muscle group, Hamstrings, Glutes, and Calves will assist in this motion. The Zercher Squat is a movement that is considered advance. So if it’s your first day slipping those Nikes back on, take it slow! All you need for this variation is a barbell. As for all exercise movements, safety is first! Performing this squat in a squat rack with the safety bars in place is a good way to ensure that if you need to bail-you’re covered.
Begin by positioning the barbell above your waist and below your chest (rack height should line up here), clasp hands together and place the bar between the forearm and upper arm. Lift the bar up so it rests on your forearms. Position feet, toes slightly pointed outwards, in a medium width stance. Keeping your head looking up, begin to lower the bar by bending your knees and sitting back. Continue in this motion until you are parallel to the floor. Once this depth is reached exhale and began to push upwards, straightening your legs and standing back up. Repeat for desired number of reps (or until you just can’t do anymore).
Just because squats are one of the core functional movements almost everyone incorporates into their workout routine doesn’t mean they have to become dull or boring. Using these modifications (and there are many more out there, folks) you will challenge yourself, building up strength and endurance. I encourage all of my clients to try out something new, and switching up this quintessential movement is a fun way to do so. Thinking outside of the box will improve you as a lifter, mentally as well as physically. So next time you head to the squat rack think of one of these style of squats! I promise you, you will be thanking (or cursing) me the next day.
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3.“TRX Squat Jump.” TRX Squat Jump. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2014. http://www.weightraining.com/exercises/trx-squat-jump
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