(True true, Molly. So true)
I know, you’re like Molly. Come on. We’ve already discussed squats like a lot. And yeah, that’s true, but did you know there’s approximately 400 different ways to squat? Alright, maybe not 400, but there is definitely more way to squat than just one, and they all work the legs and body in different ways. We’re going to tackle a mere six squat variations today, so squat down and take a seat, and get ready to learn. (And just wait until we get to the deadlift post, then I get really excited).
The basic, the one that needs to be mastered before all other versions, the bodyweight squat.
The bodyweight squat works all of your leg muscles, with an emphasis on your glutes if we’re doing it right. Since many people are quad dominant from sitting all day, an emphasis on the glutes is important. To really achieve this, we need to shift our weight backwards. For a proper squat, we should start the motion by pushing our hips back and then lowering down, keeping weight in our heels as we descend. As we push up through the movement, the weight should still be in our heels, focusing on squeezing the booty on the way up.
The next progression from the bodyweight squat is the goblet squat. This entails holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest right in the center. The goblet squat can actually make the motion easier, as it gives you a counterbalance to the sitting back motion of the squat. A lightly loaded goblet squat (5-10lbs) can be a helpful counterweight while learning the proper mechanics of a squat, but any load higher than 10lbs shouldn’t be used until the basics of the squat are mastered.
The sumo squat is a progression that can be learned with the bodyweight squat. It is a more glute and hamstring dominant movement than the basic squat, and can take some getting used to. The wide stance with the toes pointing out allow for a deeper squat, engaging the glutes more. Just be sure you’re still sitting back like in a normal squat, and be sure your knees follow your toes!
This progression shouldn’t be attempted until the goblet squat has been mastered. As well, upper back mobility needs to be progressed enough to allow for the bar to be on your back (across your traps for high bar squat or your rear delts for low bar squats) while keeping a neutral spine. The back squat is the same mechanically as the basic squat and should be approached the same. However, there are a few extras in the back squat. It is essential that you brace your core (keep it tight!) since your spine is now loaded and needs to be supported. As well, be sure to breathe and progress in weight only as you see fit.
The front squat is different in that the bar is in front of your body. The barbell is racked across your shoulders. Moving the barbell from your back to the front of your body changes where the weight is placed on the body. The front squat causes your quads (the front of your legs) to take more of the weight, rather than your glutes and hamstrings. As well, the front squat is more spine friendly, as it doesn’t directly load the spine like the back squat does. The main issue we run in to with the front squat is that you actually need enough shoulder and lat mobility to keep your elbows up and the weight stable. As long as you have the ability to keep those elbows pointed forward the whole time, the front squat is a great strength move to hit all parts of the leg.
Guaranteed this is the best exercise you aren’t doing. I love split squats. The basic split squat almost looks like a stationary lunge but instead of placing the weight evenly on both legs, you sit back into the front leg more, creating more of a squat motion than lunge. Regular squats (all variations) allow for one leg to take more of the weight than the other, which can lead to imbalances if not corrected. The split squat forces both legs to work the same during their sets, helping to lessen the strength differences between the legs and helping with muscular balance. The progression to a split squat is a Bulgarian split squat, which elevates the rear foot rather than keeping it on the floor.
This allows for much more weight on the front leg, placing a much higher demand for single leg strength and stability on that leg. Until you get the hang of it, feel free to hold on to something stable for balance, but make sure it’s only for balance and you aren’t helping to pull yourself up. As well, since one leg is balanced on a higher surface, you can sit back much further into that front leg, which recruits the glutes more. Add in split squats to your routine and watch your squats improve!