Squats are an effective body resistance exercise that strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. But adding squat variations into your leg day routine can help work slightly different muscle groups, like your back and core, and keep things interesting in the gym!
Keep reading for 9 squat variations that can help you build muscle and increase your lower body strength.
First, we have the OG squat. Once you master this foundational move, you’ll be in great shape to switch through the other variations on this list and beyond!
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly out, and your arms down at your side.
- Start to hinge at the hips and bend your knees to sit back like you’re going to sit down and allow your arms to raise up in front of you. (Avoid letting your knees fall inward and focus on keeping your spine neutral.)
- When your thighs are parallel to the ground, push up through your heels to return to your starting position.
- Place the bar on your shoulders, slightly lower than your neck, while standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the bar with both hands just outside your shoulders in a comfortable position.
- Point your elbows down and back, brace your core, and begin lowering down by hinging at the hips and bending your knees.
- Find the bottom of the movement while keeping your core engaged, spine neutral, and chest upright.
- Focus on pressing your whole foot into the floor and drive upwards to return to standing.
If you’re new to squats or looking to improve your squat depth, a box squat is a great way to push yourself to go a little lower!
- Position yourself in front of a bench or a box, so you touch it lightly when sitting down in a squat.
- Do a basic squat, lower down until your bottom touches the seat, then stand back up.
The hack squat is a great way to add depth and focus on strengthening the quads in comparison to the standard back squat! The Hack Squat can be performed on a hack squat machine or a smith machine.
On a Hack Squat Machine...
- Add your desired weight and position your back and shoulders against the pads. Extend your legs with a slight bend at the knee and release the safety handles.
- Bend your knees, stopping when your thighs are parallel to the ground, and push back up to start.
To perform a Hack Squat on the Smith Machine...
- Step forward in front of the smith machine and lean back onto the bar, so the bar is sitting on your upper traps.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, sit down into a squat. Keep your spine neutral throughout the entire movement and focus on keeping tension in your quads and glutes.
- Once you hit the bottom of the movement, push up through your heels to return to the starting position.
Back squats might let you lift heavier, but front squats will challenge your muscles like never before. Because you’re holding the weight in front of you instead of letting it rest on your shoulders, your core goes into overdrive. Your upper back will have to stay engaged to maintain good posture while your quads experience a higher load in this squat variation.
- Load a barbell onto your front side. Keep the bar level and place it so that it touches the top of your chest and the front of your shoulders.
- Reach your elbows as far forward as you can and adjust your grip to lock the weight into place. (Option: Cross your arms to keep your elbows level and get a more comfortable grip on the bar.)
- Let the hips release first and lower down into a basic squat. Avoid hunching or leaning forward by keeping your back engaged and holding your elbows as high as possible.
- Once you hit the bottom of the motion, press through your heels and return to standing.
This squat is another front-loaded variation. Zercher squats are a great way to strengthen the lower body but also challenge your biceps and shoulders like no other squat will!
- Place the barbell in the crease of your elbows and squeeze the biceps to "hug" the weight close into the body.
- Once the weight is in place, find a comfortable squat stance. Bend at the knee and begin to lower down into a deep squat, letting the elbows fall inside the legs. (If your elbows hit your knees and prevent you from squatting lower, that means your feet are too narrow, and you need to widen your stance.)
- Once you reach the bottom of the movement, push through your heels to return to standing while keeping your chest up and the weight close to the body.
As if those front-loaded squat variations weren't tough enough, the zombie squat is another variation that's great for building monstrously strong quads!
- Find your squat stance and position the barbell to be resting on the front of your shoulder muscles. Once the bar is stable in this position, extend your arms out in front of you at shoulder height.
- Begin to bend at the knees and hinge your hips back to lower down into a squat while keeping your torso upright. (If you begin to lean too far forward, the bar will roll forward and fall. So keep your chest up and avoid slouching forward!)
- Go as low as you comfortably can while keeping your chest up, feet flat on the ground, and your hips back.
- Push down through the whole foot to lift your body straight up and return to standing.
Squats are great for working both legs, but side squats are a great way to target and strengthen your legs individually. This squat variation helps avoid muscle imbalances and allows us to train on all planes of motion too!
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing forward.
- Step your right foot out to the side. Shift your weight into your right heel and hinge at the hips to squat down on the right leg while leaving the left leg straight and out to the side.
- When you hit the bottom of the movement, press down through the right foot to return to standing.
- Repeat on the other side.
Bulgarian Split Squats
This single-leg squat variation forces you to engage your core to stay balanced. This move can be done by holding a dumbbell in each hand, loading a barbell on your back, or as a bodyweight exercise!
- Position yourself in front of a bench with a split stance, resting your back foot on the bench. Roll your shoulders back and down to keep your back engaged and chest open.
- Squat down into your standing leg and lower down until your front thigh is almost parallel to the ground.
- Push through your front heel to return to standing. Once you complete one set, switch legs.