Boy oh boy do we love to squat.
A movement that offers so many benefits for building lower body strength. When performed correctly, squats hit your glutes, quads and hamstrings, while also helping to build a strong and stable core. Whether you are chasing a triple digit squat or want to fit comfortably into your work clothes again, squats are a staple movement to incorporate into your training program.
That doesn’t mean you only have to barbell back squat (and often you shouldn’t just jump under a barbell without preparation). There are so many awesome variations that can be utilised throughout your training phases to make the most out of your training and ensure you lift safely and effectively for you body.
Here are 6 of our favourite squat variations.
Consider these when looking at your next squat focussed day.
The goblet squat shifts the weight of the load to the front of your body which produces a more upright torso position which can help to strengthen your core and shoulders. This variation helps to develop the fundamental movement pattern before introducing a barbell. When paired with tempo work and bands, it can also kill your legs and aid well with lower body development.
Application: we use this variation a lot with many of our new ladies, as well as incorporating them into our higher intensity conditioning sessions using a lighter load.
A paused squat has our lifter coming to a complete stop at the bottom of the movement then exploding out of the hole (standing up fast and strong). We use this variation for a few reasons depending on where we may incorporate this into a training block.
Application: It can teach a lifter how to be more explosive out of the hole. We can overload her “bottom position” to reinforce where her weight should be distributed as she descends into the hole. It also allows her to “control the weight” more efficiently by gaining experience in the hardest position of the movement. A paused squat can be utilised in either a high bar or low bar position depending on the specifics of her goals and how comfortable it feels for her.
Forcing a tempo on your squats increases the time under tension which places a higher demand on stability through the entirety of the movement. By “greasing” the movement from top to bottom, our ladies find that this variation increases awareness around overall position as they begin their descent, right until they hit the hole. We can incorporate a shorter tempo of 2 seconds right until 5 seconds (spew!). By increasing the time under tension, this also produces a favourable outcome for muscle development.
Application: we use this variation if we find that our lifter is inconsistent with her positioning on the descent. We also use this variation to help a lifter to maintain mid-foot pressure to ensure she doesn’t fall forward as she descends. Slowing down the movement allows you to focus on developing a more efficient movement pattern and teaches our ladies to “control the weight”.
Heels elevated banded squats
If you want to feel the burn, try squatting on an elevation to get your quadriceps on fire. Squatting with the back of your feet elevated takes some demands off the hip and places more demands on the knee which has your quads saying hello!
Performed with a barbell in a high position, a front loaded plate or a goblet squat, will have you performing a more upright squat which in turn trains your core to remain in the upright vertical position. When coupled with a band just below the knees, the knees must work to stay out which in turn helps to activate the glutes.
Application: we use this variation to build lower body muscle to support lower body strength gains. Coupled with tempo’s and/or pauses, this is a variation that our ladies love and hate. It is tough work but the muscular gains that can result are exciting!
Note: make sure to start this movement at a reduced load. You may find that how much you load on this variation will be very much reduced compared to you standard back squat (but it kills 10x more!).
Anterior loaded squat with heels elevated
Loading the front of the body with arms extended causes a great “bracing” effect which will activate the core. By raising the heels onto an elevation, we are able to take some demands off the hip to help with further range of motion to execute a deep squat. When coupled with a long controlled tempo, we ask our lifter to focus on keeping her hips stable as she lowers into the squat and minimise any wiggle as she comes down and into the hole.
Application: we use this variation to help a lifter work on stacking her ribs and hips as she comes down, in order to help minimise the “butt wink” that can often be seen. We use this as a screening movement (elevation height will vary) to determine range of motion at the hip along with control of her lumbopelvic region. Alongside using this variation to help with technical changes, we love to utilise this variation to help lower body muscular development.
The pistol squat is a challenging bodyweight movement that can lead to increased unilateral leg development which in turn can help your bilateral squats. They can also help with stability, balance and awareness of movement. This movement requires our lifter to hold a stable base over her foot which can be really challenging.
Here you see a version whereby Ro is performing a pistol squat onto a bench. If the lifter has the strength and mobility profile at the knee, ankle and hip, the bench can be removed allowing the lifter to go all the way down.
Application: we use this as an accessory movement to support unilateral strength development. We also use this with a controlled tempo and a soft touch onto the bench to teach her how to control her weight and build stability in her lower body.
Bulgarian split squat
Out of all the variations above, this squat hands down takes the cake with the most disliked amongst our ladies. Why? Because it kills!
The Bulgarian split squat is an awesome variation that we use in our accessory work. A fantastic exercise that when performed correctly can target your glutes and hamstrings, and produce exceptional results for shaping your lower body. It is a great functional movement that challenges strength, stability, mobility and overall control of your entire body as maintaining your position from top to bottom can be very challenging.
Application: this variation can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells and also can be just as challenging by keeping it with bodyweight only. We love to use this variation to build unilateral strength and development to support a wider base for future gains in your compound lifts. For our ladies who have goals associated with body composition, if you have the mobility profile to execute this safely, you better believe you will meet this variation at some point in your training.
The squat is a compound movement that offers so many benefits for overall strength (not just on your lower body) that can help push your goals forward. If you are struggling with the traditional barbell back squat, there are so many other variations that you can use that can also help you to build muscle and movement patterns to help get you onto a barbell if that is what you hope for!
There are lots of benefits to gain from incorporating other variations into your program.
Tell us about your favourite variation!