While you can’t go wrong with the standard squat, there may come a day when you want to switch things up and try a few squat variations. That way, you can hit different muscles groups — and maybe add a bit more fun to your typical workout routine.
“Adding some squat variations to your regimen helps train your muscles in slightly different ways,” says author and fitness expert Michael Mathews. And doing so can help you avoid overuse injuries and gain more muscle and strength over time, he explains. “Plus, playing with different squat variations every few months can make your workouts more interesting and engaging, which helps keep you motivated,” he tells Bustle.
As a quick refresher, you do a standard squat by planting your feet hip-distance apart, lowering your hips back and down — making sure to keep your knees over your feet — before rising back up. “Squats require numerous muscle groups and simultaneously tone your lower and upper body,” says Brett Larkin, a yoga instructor, CEO, and founder of Uplifted Yoga. “Squats help strengthen your calves, quads, and hamstrings while also working your abdominals, making them an essential part of your workout routine.” They’re also a quintessential exercise in glute-strengthening workouts.
Squats are great, but so are squat variations. Just try not to overdo it on your quest for stronger legs. “Squatting every day is a definite no-no,” Larkin adds. “Giving your muscles time to rest is a crucial part of building strength. The last thing you want is to not be able to practice at all due to injury.” For best results, she recommends choosing a few different kinds of squats to do three to four times a week. Below are seven squat variations to add to your routine.
1. Split Squat
Megan Kaye, an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, is a fan of the split squat. She says this variation, also called a lunge, can challenge you in a new way and help develop your overall strength.
- Take a big step back with one leg.
- Bend the front knee. Ensure knee doesn’t extend past toes.
- Keep both feet pointing forward.
- Lower into a squat by bending both knees.
- Rise back up.
- To add more of a challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
2. Bulgarian Split Squat
According to Pilates trainer Joy Puleo, NCPT, this unilateral or one-legged squat challenges your balance, and thus works a whole host of muscle groups at once. It’s like a split squat, but with your back foot resting on an elevated surface (which is more challenging). By holding yourself steady on one leg, you’ll effectively target your core, calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
- Stand facing away from a 3-foot elevated surface, like a couch, bench, or plyo box.
- Extend your left leg back behind you.
- Rest your foot on the surface.
- Bend your right knee.
- Lower yourself down until your left knee almost touches the floor.
- Keep the majority of your weight in your front leg, with your right foot firmly planted.
- Reverse the movement to rise back up.
3. Jump Squat
According to Larkin, jump squats are a fantastic way to strengthen your entire lower body while also increasing your heart rate for a cardio boost.
- Lower down into a regular squat position.
- Push off from the ground to jump up into the air.
- Land softly with a bend in your knees.
- Push hips back into squat position, then jump back up.
4. Pulse Squat
“A pulse squat is a great variation that exposes the body to different speeds and ranges of motion,” says Cathy Spencer-Browning, an ACE-certified trainer and VP of programming and training at MOSSA. It’ll add an extra burn to your lower body, and also hits your lower back and core muscles as you move up and down.
- Settle into your usual squat.
- From there, quickly rise up and then lower back down in a rhythmic way.
- Don’t rise all the way to the top of your squat or lower as far as you can. Keep the range of motion somewhere in the middle.
- Continue pulsing with soft knees.
5. Front Squat
A front squat is a great way to train the quads, Mathews says. Here, he explains how to do it using a weight rack.
- Position a barbell in a squat rack at about the height of your breast bone.
- Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, palms facing away.
- Step closer to the bar so it presses against the top of your breast bone. Push elbows up and out in front of the bar.
- With the bar resting on the front of your shoulders, lift it out of the rack.
- Take one or two steps back and position your feet a little wider than shoulder-width, toes pointed out slightly.
- Squat down as you keep your back straight and elbows up.
- Push knees out in the same direction as your toes throughout each rep.
- Stand up and return to starting position.
6. Goblet Squat
Mathews says the goblet squat is the perfect addition to any workout routine aimed at developing your quads. “Because you hold the weight in your hands rather than across your shoulders, it’s also easier on your back than other quad-dominant exercises,” he says.
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest with both hands.
- Place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Point toes out to sides at a 45-degree angle.
- With chest raised, bend legs to squat.
- Keep back straight and push knees out in same the direction as your toes.
- Stand up and return to starting position.
7. Sumo Squat
Certified personal trainer Guy Codio says this move strengthens the quads, hamstrings, calves, and inner thighs, as well as your abs, lower back, and glutes. And because it strengthens your back, it can also help improve your posture and overall stability.
- Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Point toes out at a 45-degree angle.
- Lower your hips, as if you are about to sit in a chair.
- Your thighs should be parallel to the ground.
- Make sure your knees don’t extend past toes.
- Slowly rise back up.
Marchetti, P. (2016). Muscle Activation Differs between Three Different Knee Joint-Angle Positions during a Maximal Isometric Back Squat Exercise. J Sports med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4967668/
Yavuz HU, Erdağ D, Amca AM, Aritan S. Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. J Sports Sci. 2015;33(10):1058-66. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.984240. Epub 2015 Jan 29. PMID: 25630691.
Michael Mathews, author, fitness and nutrition expert
Megan Kaye, NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist
Joy Puleo, NCPT, Pilates trainer
Guy Codio, certified personal trainer