Squatting is one of the main fundamental movement patterns. In the gym, performing bilateral and unilateral squatting exercises strengthens and develops the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and the muscles of the anterior core. Many daily activities and sports-specific movements also involve squatting with either one or two legs.
Many lifters, at least when they are more advanced, tend to gravitate towards performing barbell back squats, and in some instances, front squats. In some cases however, these squatting variations might not be best suited to the individual. In other cases, the lifter has been performing these exercises for quite some time, has mastered the technique, has built up sufficient levels of strength and controlled mobility, and is looking for more advanced options, or at least is looking for more squatting exercises that can complement their back and front squats.
In this article, I will provide you with some of my favorite advanced squatting variations that can either be done in place of barbell back or front squats, or can complement them. And the great news is that most of these exercises require little to no equipment, so they can be performed anywhere, any time.
This innovative squatting variation, which I got from Barbell Physio, is awesome for people who struggle to squat properly without tipping forward, or who really want to improve their quad strength, as the intentionally vertical positioning of the shins totally targets the quads. The vertical shin position also tends to be a lot friendlier on the knees, and allows many people who experience knee pain when squatting to execute this movement pattern pain-free.
I often like to do these at the end of a lower body workout as a quad burning “leg finisher.” While this exercise is technically not that “advanced,” it is deceptively challenging, particularly once the guaranteed quad burn kicks in. I admit, I was very skeptical when I first saw these but I was proven wrong and absolutely love them.
You can make this exercise more challenging by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in a goblet position, by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell on either side, or by performing negative reps and taking three to five seconds to lower yourself down.
This front squat variation strengthens the muscles of the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and anterior core. In this variation, you will take three to five seconds to lower yourself down to your full depth, before standing halfway up, squatting down to your full depth, and returning to the top position. This is one rep.
As each rep will take roughly six to eight seconds to complete, the time your muscles will be under tension is significant. With these, believe me, you do not need to go very heavy.
If you are struggling to perform either of the front squat grip options I provided, you can still reap awesome benefits by performing negative 1.5 rep goblet squats. In this variation, you will hold a kettlebell in a goblet-style position. This squatting variation involves a torso position similar to front squats, but is not as technically demanding or challenging, and is a great stepping stone towards being able to perform barbell front squat variations.
This is likely the toughest and most technically demanding squatting variation in this article, and involves performing a negative rear foot elevated split squat while holding a single kettlebell overhead in a bottoms-up position. While this exercise is less taxing on the lower body, it still does develop lower body and glute strength.
The main benefits of this exercise are that it really develops shoulder and scapular stability, and a tremendous amount of lumbo pelvic stability as the muscles around the spine must work big-time to resist the extension and lateral flexion of the spine.
For the duration of the exercise, your arm should remain completely stable and in a vertical position. This boils down to shoulder and scapular stability, wrist and grip strength, and to some extent, upper body strength. While it won’t be as pronounced a movement as during a pull-up, lightly draw the shoulder blade of the working arm in towards your spine and down towards the opposite hip and maintain this position.
You can make this exercise easier by using a lighter kettlebell, by holding a kettlebell in the regular position versus a bottoms-up position, by holding a dumbbell in place of the kettlebell, or by performing this exercise using a regular tempo. Conversely, you can make this exercise more challenging by increasing the weight of the kettlebell, or by using two kettlebells.
This sissy squat variation is an absolutely brutal exercise that strengthens and develops the quads. It is so much tougher than it looks, and is a great option for when you absolutely want to torch your quads, but do not have access to any equipment. If you have knee issues, I would skip this exercise.
You can make this exercise easier by using more help from your upper body, or by performing this exercise using two legs. Conversely, you can make this exercise more challenging by using less help from your upper body, or by performing negative reps and taking three to five seconds to lower yourself down.
This advanced skater squat variation strengthens the muscles of the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and anterior core. With this deceptively challenging and unique variation, you will perform a skater squat but will take two to five seconds to lower yourself down to your full depth, before standing halfway up, squatting down to your full depth, and returning to the top position. This is one rep.
As each rep will take roughly five to eight seconds to complete, the time your muscles will be under tension is significant. Best of all, this exercise requires minimal equipment and can be performed anywhere, any time.
You can make this exercise easier by performing skater squats at the regular tempo, or by resting your fingertips on a doorway or in a squat rack, and using your upper body for a little assistance. Conversely, you can this exercise more challenging by holding onto a light weight at your chest or two dumbbells by your sides, or by adding band resistance and resting it on your upper traps and underneath your foot of the working side.
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