Are you looking for the exercise with the biggest bang for your buck? Squats are your new best friend. Not only will squats give you a great derriere, but they also build muscles all over, burn more fat, and are functional and practical.
Squats build muscle and strength in your lower body and throughout your entire body. When squats are done properly, they are so intense that they can trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone throughout your body. These hormones help improve your overall muscle mass when you train other muscle groups in your body.
Squats are extremely functional meaning they help your body perform real-life activities more easily and stronger. You’ll be able to pick your toddler up. You’ll be able to move the couch by yourself. Squats also boost athletic performance. You’ll be able to jump higher and run faster. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
There are probably well over 50 different squat variations. Some with weights. Some without. Some with fancy toys like kettlebells and TRXs. I’m a big fan of squats with toys. However, before you progress to squats with weights and other fitness equipment, you need to master the basic bodyweight squat. Once you’ve can do multiple sets of squats in perfect form, it’s time to change it up and build that muscle!
The Best Squat Variations
The sumo squat is a great alternative to the traditional squat. The sumo squat requires a slightly wider stance and your toes are pointed out a 45-degree angle that not only opens your hips to increase mobility, but also isolates and engages your glutes to help lift, tone, and strengthen your derriere. You’ll also stretch and work your inner thigh adductors.
How to do a Sumo Squat: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Point your toes at a 45-degree angle outwards. Keep your chest up and your upper body straight. Suck in your belly button to activate your core and bend your knees into a squat slowly. Lower yourself as far as your comfortable with your knees parallel to your toes. Push through your heels as you return to the start position.
Challenge Yourself: Once you have mastered the bodyweight Sumo Squat, add in a kettlebell by holding it with both hands. Additionally, you can hold a dumbbell or kettlebell against your chest or use a barbell.
Squat jumps are a plyometric exercise designed to build power. Traditional squats help you build static strength and muscle tissue while jump squats help you develop explosive power that will benefit you in sport and life. You might not think of it, but everyday movements like getting up from a chair require power. Jump squats also have an element of cardio as the exercise will increase your heart rate and make you sweat.
How to a Squat Jump: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your bottom down as if you were doing a bodyweight squat. Instead of slowly lifting yourself back into the start position, push through your feet and jump into the air. Land lightly as possible into the squat position. Repeat.
Challenge Yourself: Squat jumps with a TRX allows you to get into a deeper squat. Once you have mastered the squat jump, then you can try the 180 squat jump. As you jump into the air, turn your body 180 degrees and land in the squat facing the opposite direction.
There is nothing more humbling than learning to do single-leg squats. Single-leg squats will allow you to see your weaknesses in full force. Humans are naturally dominate on one side, so if you’re right handed then, your right side will most likely be stronger. One of the best ways to create a more balanced body is to do single-leg exercises. Single-leg exercises, like the single-leg squat, teach you to stabilize and control your body effectively or else you fall over. Single-leg squats are one of the best strength exercises for runners as the strength gains directly translate to your running.
How to Do a Single-Leg Squat: Single-leg squats can be done with the assistance of a TRX or gymnastics. Begin with arms extended out in front of your body or holding the TRX. Balance on one leg with the opposite leg extended either straight in front of you or lifted and held at your side. Squat down as far as you can while keeping the elevated leg off the floor. Push through the heel and rise back up into the start position. Remember to switch legs. Alternatively, single-leg squats can be done while standing on a box where the lifted leg can dangle over the edge of the box.
Challenge Yourself: Add weight. Or pause and hold the bottom position for 5 seconds before slowly rising.
Goblet squats are the perfect squat for beginners as it has multiple benefits. First, the goblet squat requires you to hold a weight against your chest. The weight causes people to tighten their core muscles and teach them to “fall” into the correct squat stance, or you might fall over. Second, goblet squats allow you to go deeper than a simple bodyweight squat meaning you’ll activate and use more of your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps muscles.
How to Do a Goblet Squat: Stand with your feet a hair wider than shoulder width with your toes pointed just slightly out. Hold a weight, either a kettlebell or dumbbell, against your chest. Drop down into a deep squat while keeping your chest up the entire time. Brush your elbows down the inside of your legs and push your knees out at the bottom. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you return to the start position.
Challenge Yourself: Add more weight. Or, add the “heartbeat.” As you lower down into the bottom position, extend your arms with weight out in front of you. As you rise back into the start position, bring your arms and the weight back to your chest.
Back Squat with Barbell
The back squat is one of the best functional exercises amongst the various compound lifts. However, it is not for those who can’t do a simple bodyweight squat as it places significant demands on key spinal stabilizer muscles. If you’re interested in trying out this awesome strength and power building exercise, try it first with a fitness professional or an experienced weightlifter who can give you guidance and pointers to ensure you are doing the exercise properly.
How to Do a Back Squat with Barbell: Start with just the bar (or even broomstick) before adding any weight. Feet should be shoulder width apart with toes slightly turned out. Place the bar right at the base of the neck across the top of your trapezius muscles (aka, squeeze your shoulder blades together and let the bar rest on top of them). Reach your arms backward and grab the bar with your palms facing forward. Find a comfortable hand position. Most people prefer to place their hands on the grips on the bar. Keep your chest up and elbows down. Lift the bar off the squat rack and reposition your feet. Sit back and squat as low as possible while keeping your eyes and chest up. Continuously press your knees out. Press through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you rise back to the starting position.
Challenge Yourself: Slowly add more weight.
Squats are one of the best exercises that you can do to build muscle and strength. Once you’ve mastered the simple bodyweight squat, it’s time to challenge yourself and create the strongest and best version of yourself yet with these five squat variations! Ready for a 30 Day Squat Challenge?