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Beyond The Back Squat: 3 Squat Variations To Mix It Up

Whether your goal is to improve your performance or your body composition, the squat is an essential tool for success. Don’t be fooled! Though typically considered a lower body exercise, this “bang for your buck” move offers total-body benefits.

Squatting not only strengthens and develops your leg muscles (most notably your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings), but also the muscles of your anterior core, lower legs, and even your feet. In terms of performance, the squat has a positive carryover to sports performance, your performance in the gym, and your ability to conquer basic daily tasks. And because you’re working with your whole body, squats are also a key element of any fat loss-oriented strength training program.

The barbell back squat is often seen as the king of all squat exercises, but it isn’t always the best option for every individual. Due to limitations in mobility, strength, technical ability, structural differences (for instance, longer femurs), or perhaps a history of injuries, some people are better off skipping the back squat, and opting for variations that align better with their unique requirements.

If this is the case for you (or if you’re an avid barbell back squatter and just want to mix things up), below are three of my favorite squat variations you probably have tried yet. These variations can feel just as empowering as the back squat and will also deliver results.

Landmine Squat  

The Landmine squat is a fantastic bilateral squat variation that strengthens and develops your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and anterior core, and to a lesser degree, your upper body. This is a great option if you’re not able to perform back or front squats with a barbell. If you’re working on improving explosiveness, this set-up is much safer and less technically demanding for performing jump squats than performing them with a barbell on your back. It also allows you to use significantly more weight than holding dumbbells.

Equipment Needed:

  • You will need a barbell and weight plates, ideally the larger bumper plates. If you’re using smaller plates, make sure you pick up the bar by hinging and bending your knees to reach down for the bar, not by rounding your lower back.

Coaching Tips:

  • Set up the barbell lengthwise, with one end positioned directly between your legs.
  • Grip the bar, keep your arms rigid, and drive them into your sides. Pretend that you’re crushing something in your armpits.
  • Before each rep, inhale deeply (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (imagine that you’re about to get punched in the stomach), and actively tuck your ribcage down toward your hips.
  • Simultaneously break at the knees and hips and descend into a squat.
  • You can touch the weights to the ground, or stop just short. Go to a depth that allows you to maintain proper form. Squat depth varies from person to person. Lower isn’t always better if your form deteriorates.
  • Squat down with control, never allowing your muscles to disengage. For the duration of the exercise, keep your torso relatively upright and your spine in neutral alignment. I like to use the canister analogy.
  • Squeeze your quads, glutes, and hamstrings to stand up and lock out at the top, exhaling as you stand up. Do not allow your ribcage to flare or your lower back to hyperextend.
  • Maintain a tripod foot for the duration of the exercise (i.e. your weight is distributed primarily on the mid/back of your feet, and your toes remain in contact with the floor, particularly your first and last toes).
  • Your knees should remain in line with your feet. Do not allow them to cave in or fall out.
  • At the top position, reset before the next repetition, keeping all of the aforementioned cues in mind.

Regression:

You can make this exercise easier by using less resistance, or by performing a box squat variation in which you sit down to a box or bench.

Progression:

You can make this exercise more challenging by adding more weight plates, chains, or by using band resistance. You can also perform negative reps and take three to five seconds to lower yourself down, or you can perform jump squats.

Band-Resisted Negative 1.5-Rep Goblet Squat

The band-resisted negative 1.5-rep goblet squat strengthens and develops your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and anterior core. This double squat variation is a great option when you have minimal equipment, or want to give your glutes a little extra work. While the 1.5 rep negative goblet squat is tough enough, add some more resistance with a band and you will be blown away by how much more you feel your quads and glutes working.

Equipment Needed:

You will need a dumbbell or kettlebell and a resistance band to perform this exercise.

Coaching Tips:

  • Loop a resistance band under the middle of both feet and rest it on your upper traps (not your neck — this is important!)
  • With the band in place, get into a squat stance placing your feet approximately hip to shoulder width apart. You can turn your toes out slightly if it’s more comfortable.
  • Before each rep, inhale deeply (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (imagine that you’re about to get punched in the stomach), and actively tuck your ribcage down toward your hips.
  • Squat down, taking three seconds to achieve your full depth. As you descend into the squat, simultaneously break at the knees and hips. Stand up halfway and squat back down to your full depth before returning to a full standing position. That is one rep.In this video, in order to maintain extremely high tension in the band from start to finish, I intentionally didn’t go quite as low as I usually do with other squat exercises.
  • For the duration of the exercise, keep your torso relatively upright and your spine in neutral alignment.
  • Squat down with control, never allowing your muscles to disengage. For the duration of the exercise, keep your torso relatively upright and your spine in neutral alignment.
  • Squeeze your glutes, quads, and hamstrings as you lock out at the top, and don’t allow your ribcage to flare or your lower back to hyperextend. The resistance band makes the lockout significantly more challenging.
  • Maintain a tripod foot for the duration of the exercise (i.e. your weight is distributed primarily on the mid/back of your feet, and your toes remain in contact with the floor, particularly your first and last toes).
  • Your knees should remain in line with your feet. Do not allow them to cave in or fall out.

Regression:

You can make this exercise easier by performing it as a bodyweight squat with no resistance band, or by using a lighter resistance band. You can also perform regular goblet squats without the negative half-rep.

Progression:

You can make this exercise more challenging by using a thicker resistance band, or by using a heavier kettlebell or dumbbell.

Band-Resisted Single-Leg Squat  

This exercise strengthens your lower body, most notably your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. The single-leg squat is a fantastic option if you are working out at home or in a hotel and don’t have access to a gym. While the single-leg squat is a challenging exercise itself, adding the band resistance ups the ante in a major way, lighting your quads and glutes on fire.

Equipment:

You will need a resistance band to perform this exercise. The thicker the band, the more challenging the exercise will be. You can perform this exercise in a squat rack or in a doorway.

Coaching Tips:

  • Loop a resistance band under the middle of your standing foot, and rest it on your upper traps (not on your neck — this is important!).
  • Stand in a doorway or squat rack and lightly grab onto the sides.
  • Lift your non-working leg, either extending it into a pistol squat position, or bending your knee and holding it behind you resembling a skater squat
  • Maintain a tripod foot for the duration of the exercise (i.e. your weight is on the mid/back of your standing food, and your toes remain in contact with the floor, particularly your first and last toes).
  • Before each rep, inhale deeply (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (imagine that you’re about to get punched in the stomach), and actively tuck your ribcage down toward your hips.
  • Simultaneously break at the knees and hips and descend into a squat.
  • Squat with control, never allowing your muscles to disengage. For the duration of the exercise, keep your torso relatively upright and your spine in neutral alignment.
  • Squeeze your quads, hamstrings and glutes, and drive through the mid/back of your foot to extend your knee, exhaling as you stand up.
  • Your knees should remain in line with your feet. Do not allow them to cave in or fall out.
  • Do not allow your shoulders to shrug. Try to keep your arms as relaxed as possible, draw your shoulder blades together and down, and keep your shoulders down.
  • At the top position, reset before the next repetition, keeping all of the aforementioned cues in mind.

Regression:

You can make this exercise easier by using no band resistance, and by using more upper body assistance.

Progression:

You can make this exercise more challenging by using less upper body assistance, or using a thicker band. You can also perform negative reps taking three to five seconds to descend into the squat, or you can perform a pause squat variation pausing at the bottom three to five seconds. Lastly, you can perform 1.5 repetitions by squatting all the way down, standing halfway up, squatting back down and then returning to a full standing position.


A message from GGS…

In our Strongest You Coaching program, we help women just like you reach their health, physique, and mindset goals. Strongest You Coaching is about more than just training and nutrition. It’s about changing your self-talk and inner dialogue, learning to let fitness enhance your life instead of rule your life, and finally healing your relationship with food and your body, all with the help of your Girls Gone Strong Coach, and your fellow Strongest You Coaching group.

Strongest You Coaching is a 9-month online group coaching program that gives you tools to succeed and puts the power to make lasting changes in your hands. We teach you how to finally eat and exercise in a way that you love so you can sustain it forever.
We only open up this program 2-3 times a year and it always sells out fast. If you’re interested, put your name on the pre-registration list now!

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About The Author: Meghan Callaway

Meghan Callaway is a highly respected personal trainer in Vancouver, Canada with over 13 years of experience coaching a wide array of clients, from elite athletes, to post-physical therapy rehabilitative strength training, as well as everyday people who want to feel, perform, and function at a higher level. Meghan has an extensive athletic background and has played competitive soccer for 26 years, and also grew up playing ice hockey and baseball on boys teams. She is still a huge sports junkie and loves to play and watch most sports. Connect with Meghan on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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