Close
Browse
FILTER BY CATEGORY
More Categories Less Categories
FILTER BY TYPE
SEARCH KEYWORD

BLOG

5 Advanced Squat Variations You Haven’t Tried

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.

Spanish Squats

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.

Key Points

  • Wrap a medium to thick resistance band around a secure bar, and step inside of the band so it is resting just underneath the back of your knees. The band should have enough tension that you have support and are able to lean back a slight amount and can maintain the vertical shin position, but not too much tension that it is really pressing into the back of your legs.
  • Unlike regular squats where there is a lot more dorsiflexion in your ankles, make sure that your shins remain in a vertical position as this will really target the quads, which is the main purpose of this exercise. Due to the vertical shin position, your knees will not travel as close to your toes as they will during most squatting variations.
  • Form a tripod base by keeping the weight on the mid to back part of your feet, and by keeping your toes down, particularly your big and baby toe. These parts of your feet should remain in contact with the floor for the duration of the exercise. Pretend that you are suctioning or screwing your feet to the ground.
  • Use a depth that allows you to maintain proper form for 100 percent of your reps. Your torso should remain in a relatively upright position.
  • Keep your anterior core muscles braced and rib cage lightly tucked towards your hips, and “reset” before each rep.

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.

Negative 1.5 Rep Front Squats

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.

Key Points

  • Aim to use an Olympic-style grip. If you are not able to get your upper body into the correct position, opt for a cross-style grip.
  • Form the tripod base I described above with each foot, and maintain it for the duration of the exercise.
  • Keep your torso in a relatively upright position. Make sure that you drive your elbows up towards the ceiling and keep your upper arms so they are parallel to the floor, otherwise the bar will roll forward and will likely cause your torso to tip forward.
  • Use a depth that allows you to maintain proper form for 100 percent of your reps. Your torso should remain in a relatively upright position.
  • Keep your anterior core muscles braced and rib cage lightly tucked towards your hips, and “reset” before each rep.
  • You can make this exercise easier by decreasing the amount of weight on the barbell. Conversely, you can make this exercise more challenging by increasing the weight on the barbell.

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.

Negative Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats & Overhead Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Hold

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.

Key Points

  • Get into a split squat position, elevating your back foot on a bench or box. Bend both of your knees to approximately 90 degrees (if it feels more comfortable, your back leg may be slightly more extended), and keep most of your weight on your front leg.
  • Form the tripod base I described above with your front foot, and maintain it for the duration of the exercise.
  • Hold a kettlebell in a bottoms-up position and press the kettlebell so it is in an overhead position.
  • If you do not have the overhead mobility to perform this exercise (most people who don’t will try to move the weight overhead by hyperextending their lower back, flaring their ribcage, excessively shrugging their shoulder, or leaning to the opposite side that the kettlebell is on), you can either hold the kettlebell down by your side, or you can keep your arm in the starting position of the bottoms-up press.
  • While maintaining this position for the duration of the exercise, perform a rear foot-elevated split squat and take three to five seconds to lower yourself down to your full depth, then push back up to the starting position.
  • Your head, torso and hips should be level and in a stacked position. Do not allow your lower back to hyperextend or rib cage to flare.
  • Use a depth that allows you to maintain proper form for 100 percent of your reps. Your torso should remain in a relatively upright position.
  • Keep your anterior core muscles braced and rib cage lightly tucked towards your hips, and “reset” before each rep.

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.

Single Leg Sissy Squats

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.

Key Points

  • Stand inside a squat rack or doorway, or you can rest your fingertips on a fixed bar (set a barbell up in a rack or use a Smith machine), or can use a suspension trainer. Use as much help from your upper body as needed.
  • Stand on your forefoot, lift your heel so it is off the ground, and have a slight bend in your knee. Make sure that all of your toes remain in contact with the ground, particularly your big and baby toe.
  • Keep your torso in a relatively upright position.
  • Perform a single leg squat and lower yourself down to your full depth, then push back up and return to the starting position.
  • Unlike other lunging or single leg squatting variations, close to all of the movement will come from the knee (not the hips) and your knee will travel well ahead of your toes. As a result of the above, your depth will likely be less than during other squatting variations.
  • As for your non-working leg, you have the option of bending it to 90 degrees and positioning it ahead of your body, or extending it backwards. Whatever option you choose, keep your non-working leg close to the center of your body as this will prevent your hips from rotating.
  • Use a depth that allows you to maintain proper form for 100 percent of your reps. Your torso should remain in a relatively upright position.
  • Keep your anterior core muscles braced and rib cage lightly tucked towards your hips, and “reset” before each rep.

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.

Negative 1.5 Rep Skater Squats

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.

Key Points

  • Stand on one leg, and have a slight bend in your knee. As for your non-working leg, you have the option of bending it to 90 degrees, or extending it backwards. Whichever option you choose, keep your non-working leg close to the center of your body as this will prevent your hips from rotating.
  • Form the tripod base I described above with your foot.
  • Keep your anterior core muscles braced and rib cage lightly tucked towards your hips, and “reset” before each rep.
  • Use a depth that allows you to maintain proper form for 100 percent of your reps. Your torso should remain in a relatively upright position.
  • For the duration of the exercise, your head, torso, and hips should be in a stacked position. Do not allow your lower back to hyperextend or rib cage to flare.

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.


A message from GGS…

Understanding how to get more results in less time so you actually enjoy exercise and can have a life outside of the gym isn’t hard, you just have to understand the Blueprint and be willing to trust the process.


If you'd like to know:

  • How much you should exercise
  • What to do for exercise
  • How to put it all together into a plan that works for YOU

The good news? It's simpler than you think!

Tell me how!

About The Author: Meghan Callaway

Meghan Callaway is a strength coach in Vancouver, Canada with over 14 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 is the creator of the recently released Ultimate Pull-Up Program, and believes that working out should be fun, mentally and physically rewarding, and empowering. Meghan has an extensive athletic background and has played competitive soccer for 27 years, and also grew up playing ice hockey and baseball on boys teams. Connect with Meghan on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Want more articles like this?Join Our Free Newsletter
Follow us via

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOU

5 Common Mistakes That Might Prevent You From Reaching Your Pull-Up Goals

The pull-up is one of my favorite exercises, and for an abundance of reasons. To state the obvious, pull-ups are…

What You Need to Know to Get Started With Powerlifting

Powerlifting — images featuring well-muscled men wearing singlets, sniffing nose tork and clapping their chalk-covered hands together as they stalk…

SHARE