Add a little spice to your boring squats. (GIFs: Demand Media)
Without a doubt, squats are the best exercise to build lower-body strength and establish functional movement patterns. When done properly, they target your glutes, hamstrings and quads and incorporate core stability. And there’s no exercise that will make you look as good from behind as squats will. But squats – just like any other exercise – can get repetitive, and if you don’t vary the way you’re doing them by adding weight, changing your leg position, adding additional movements, etc., your body will adapt to that movement pattern and you’ll stop seeing results.
To prevent that, here are six essential squat variations you can incorporate into your strength-training routine. Master proper form on the basic body-weight squat first, then move on to more challenging variations as you build your strength. Your quads and glutes might be burning by the end (not to mention the potential soreness the next day), but your posterior will thank you.
1. Pistol Squat
As one of the most advanced squat variations, you’ll need to make sure you’ve built up enough single-leg strength and core stability to master the pistol squat. It’s even more advanced than the single-leg squat, since you’ll bend deeper as you hold one leg out in front of you. Start with the single-leg squat and build up to the pistol squat.
HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Slowly shift your weight to your right leg as you extend your left leg out in front of you. Raise your arms in front of you at chest level to help you balance. Engage your core and hinge from your hips to squat down, maintaining your balance on your right leg. Go as low as you can without touching the floor. Then drive through your heel to stand back up.
2. Plie Squats
Channel your inner ballet dancer for a more challenging squat. This variation changes your footing and widens your stance to target more of the muscles along your inner and outer thighs while still recruiting glutes, quads and hamstrings.
HOW TO DO THEM: Stand with your feet several inches wider than hip distance and your toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. You can either place your hands on your hips, raise and lower your arms like a standard squat or hold your hands in a fist in the middle of your chest. Bend your knees and your hips to lower toward the floor. This time your back will stay perpendicular to the floor instead of bending slightly forward. Drive through your feet to return to standing.
3. Jump Squats
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that squatting can improve your jump height. So why not take that a step further and incorporate jumping into your squat routine? This plyometric variation is a bit more advanced, so make sure you’ve completely mastered basic squats and have healthy knees before attempting.
HOW TO DO THEM: Assume the same stance as a regular squat – feet slightly wider than hip distance and feet turned slightly out. Squat back and down from your hips and bring your arms back behind you for momentum. Really drive through your feet and jump straight up into the air from the bottom of your squat, arms swinging up overhead as you do. Land with knees bent to absorb the shock and go straight into your next squat jump.
4. Split Squat
A split squat may look more like a lunge than a squat, but the principles of the squat still apply here. For an added stability challenge and more single-leg work, you can elevate your back foot on a box or a bench as you go through the range of motion.
HOW TO DO THEM: Begin holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders and your feet several feet apart, one in front of the other. Keeping the barbell in place and your back straight, bend both knees and lower down until your back knee almost touches the ground. Both knees should be at 90 degrees and your front knee shouldn’t extend over your front toes. Hold for a moment before returning to standing. Complete your reps on one leg before switching legs.
5. Dumbbell Sumo Squat
The trick here is to recruit abdominal and back muscles to keep your chest from being pulled forward by your dumbbells. HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your feet turned out at 45 degrees. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, let your arms hang directly in front of you between your legs. Bend both of your knees and lower yourself down so that the weights almost touch the floor (without bending your chest forward). You’ll look (and probably feel) a bit like a sumo wrestler. Drive through your heels and return to standing.
6. Single-Leg Squat
Single-leg work can be very challenging for most people, but it’s also very beneficial because it can correct any imbalances you might have. For example, if your right leg is stronger than your left leg, your right leg might compensate for the left in a traditional squat. But in a single-leg squat, you’re balancing on only one leg at a time, so that leg must do all the work.
HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Slowly shift your weight to your right foot until your left foot is completely off the ground. You can let your left foot hover there or extend your left leg slightly out in front of you. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to squat down, keeping all your weight in your right leg. Keep your arms in front of you for balance. Press through your right foot and return to standing. Make sure you do the same number of reps on both sides.
The original article “12 Essential Squat Variations to Try“ appeared on LIVESTRONG.COM.
By Rachel Grice
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