Let’s face it, leg day can be tough for some of us! We all know the importance of maintaining our lower body strength, but for whatever reason leg days seem to be the first workout we cut out of our weekly workout schedule when short on time. Sure, part of this is because we don’t get the instance gratification of seeing our hard work pay off in the mirror like we do after a killer upper body workout, but I also believe a big part of this is due to leg days simply getting stale and boring.
To help, I’ve listed a few of my favorite squat variations for you to try this winter when your are feeling the lower body blues and feel like skipping leg day. Not only will these exercises mentally freshen up your workouts but they will also provide physical benefits by changing up the same basic squatting exercises over and over. Squat variations can be separated into two categories: bilateral (two legs) and unilateral (one leg) exercises. Check out some squat variations below:
Bilateral Squat Variations
Goblet Squat: Demonstrated below with a dumbbell, the goblet squat is an excellent exercise to practice proper squat form as it’s simple and incorporates the fundamental movements needed to complete a basic squat. If you are new to squatting this a great starting point and will allow you to advance into more difficult lifts and variations once you master!
Tips: Hold a weight (kettlebell, dumbbell, or weight plate) up to your chest and push your hips back to sink your heels into the ground. Keep your chest upright and exhale back into a standing position.
Sumo Squat: This squat is similar to a standard squat but with a wider stance and toes pointing outward. This change in foot position puts an emphasis on working your inner thigh adductor muscles (the muscles that pull your legs together).
Tips: Follow all the tips listed above and experiment with your feet width and angle of your feet pointing outward. Not every sumo squat will look exactly the same so remember to listen to your body and that variation is a good thing!
Front Squat: Although more technical than a standard squat if learned properly it’s a great variation to target your anterior chain (front of body). The front squat is demonstrated with a body bar as seen below but is often performed within a squat rack utilizing a barbell.
Tips: This exercise takes some practice before feeling comfortable performing. There are two common grip techniques for front squats, I’m going to focus on the cross arm grip as it’s easier to learn and safer. The key to successfully performing a front squat is to first learn how to properly place the bar onto the “dimples” of your shoulders so the bar has a spot to comfortably rest without rolling around. To find these dimples stand tall and raise your fully extended arms so they are parallel with the ground. This should create a dimple on top of your shoulders. Place the bar on these dimples with your arms still extended then cross your arms so your hands are securing the bar above your shoulder. Be sure to keep your elbows held high so your triceps stay parallel with the ground while completing your squat. Keep your balance and practice!
Offset Weighted Squat: I rarely see this exercise performed in the gym but it’s one of my favorite squat variations because it has many applications to daily tasks we complete each day in real life such as picking a grocery bag, child, or luggage off the floor. This is a great way to practice correct squatting while having an uneven load!
Tips: You can perform with almost any weight (kettlebell, dumbbell, or even a barbell if you want a real challenge). Be sure to start light because it will feel awkward when you start. Only load one side of your body with weight and perform a regular squat while maintaining correct form and keeping your balance.
Unilateral Squat Variations
Split Squat: Isolate one leg at a time by performing a split squat. This exercise is similar to a lunge but your feet remain stationary throughout the entire movement. Start by performing with just your body weight and then progress into dumbbells and other forms of weights. Below I demonstrated the exercise by using a landmine which requires additional core activation and balance to perform the exercise.
Tips: Be sure to have enough distance between your feet so your knee does not track significantly (a little forward movement is alright) pass your front toe. If you feel wobbly then widen your feet for more stability.
Bulgarian Split Squat: Similar to a standard split squat but with your back leg elevated off the ground. This makes the exercises more challenging as you need to keep your balance.
Tips: Use a TRX or plyo box to elevate your back leg off the ground approximately 2-3ft. Be sure to keep a strong core and straight back while performing the exercise.
Pistol Squat: If you want to test your balance and strength this is your exercise! This exercise is performed using one leg with no other points of contact (no TRX, wall, bar, etc.) just your own strength and balance! Below I demonstrated a pistol squat down to a box, but if you are daring you can remove the box and see if you can touch your butt to the ground and stand back up. Good luck!
Tips: Extend your arms and raised foot out in front of you to help counter balance your weight.