The squat is an incredibly important movement – and despite what Instagram would have you believe, it has many more benefits than simply growing the booty! As well as strengthening and toning the glutes, it is a vital movement to master to strengthen the entire posterior chain, which is key for good posture and for avoiding lower back pain.
The classic squat is one of the key movements to master when you’re looking to strengthen and tone your body – but there are a ton of variations you can explore to keep the movement interesting. Before we share a few of our favourites, let’s quickly recap the technique for a standard squat.
Begin by standing tall, with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, toes facing straight ahead or slightly pointed out. Make sure you are standing tall, shoulders back and core engaged (find out how to engage your core here). Imagine that there is a chair behind you and that you’re sitting down on to it: bend your knees and lower the body, making sure that your back stays straight and that your knees do not cave inwards. When your knees are at about 90 degrees, engage your glutes and drive through the heels to power yourself back up into a standing position.
So, now you’ve mastered the basic movement – let’s take a look at some variations you can explore.
In a sumo squat, your stance is much wider – you will begin with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, much like the classic sumo pose. By squatting in this position, more emphasis is placed on the muscles of the inner thigh. You can use a dumbbell or kettlebell here for added resistance
Grasp a dumbbell vertically, supporting one end by cupping your hands around it, as shown in the photo below. Keep your elbows tight to your body as you lower yourself down into a squat position, ensuring that your back stays straight and your core remains engaged. Your elbows should remain within the line of your knees.
A wall squat is a great finisher to any leg workout, to really feel a burn in the quads and glutes. For a classic wall squat, simply lower yourself into a squat position with your back flat against a wall, until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and hold.
This variation is a little more challenging, as it requires you to lift your toes as you hold yourself in the squat position. This will really intensify the burn and get your quads and glutes working hard.
We’re going to introduce a little plyometrics into your training! A classic jump squat is like a normal squat, except when you drive up through the heels, you use more power and propel your body up into a jump before landing back down in the squat position.
In this variation, begin in a wide stance, a little narrower than a sumo squat. Lower your body as you would in a regular squat, but on the way up, exert more force so that you lift yourself up off the ground. Propel yourself upwards by driving through the heels, and land in a slightly narrower, regular squat stance, before jumping up again. This final time, when you land, bring your feet together in a narrower stance. Focus on coming back to the squat position straight away after each jump – don’t land with your legs straight and then squat. Try to land softly, by touching down with the balls of your feet to absorb the shock – landing on the whole of your foot will jar your ankles and knees.
Once you’ve mastered the sequence, you can change it up – try doing 2 squats in the super wide and narrow positions. So it would go: Super Wide – Wide – Narrow – Narrow – Wide – Super Wide – Super Wide and so on.
A cossack squat is very similar to a lateral (side) lunge. To perform this exercise, begin by standing in a wide stance, as you would with a sumo squat, but with your legs straight. Shift your weight onto your left foot and at the same time, lift up your right toes so that your right heel stays on the floor. Slowly lower yourself, shifting your weight over your left leg. Aim to sit down and keep your hips forward. Your left foot should be firmly planted and your right leg should be straight, toes pointing up to the sky. Allow yourself to lower fully into the squat.
Drive up through the left foot to come back into a standing position. Straighten the left leg and point your toes up, as you bend your right one and plant the toes back on the floor. Gradually shift your weight over to your right foot and repeat the movement on that side.
The cossack squat is a great exercise to add into your lower body workout, because it explores movement in a plane of movement that is often neglected when we train. For example, most weightlifting and cardio exercises occur within the sagittal plane that divides the body into its right and left sides. The cossack squat occurs in the coronal plane that splits the body into its ventral (belly) and dorsal (back) sides. Working across different planes helps to prevent overuse injury and muscular and joint imbalances or weaknesses.