Many people agree that squats are the king of all strength training exercises.
And it’s for a good reason.
The benefits of squats go beyond increasing lower body strength and size.
Squats have a huge hormonal response and greatly impact the nervous system. This effect increases growth of all muscles. Not only that, squats will also improve your flexibility and reduce risk of injury when running.
You should always find ways to make your workouts more challenging. These variations will make your workout more interesting and challenge you in different ways. After a month of doing these exercises consistently…..your legs will be bigger and stronger and you’ll be more flexible.
The main muscles worked by squats are the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and the lower back.
Make sure you learn to do each variation properly. And always do full range of motion. There were claims that deep squats stress the knees but research shows that’s not true. Deep squats burn more calories and improve knee stability.
Here are the top 12 bodyweight squat variations. Never skip leg day again.
#1. Bodyweight squat
How To: Begin with feet shoulder width apart, then pull the shoulders back and stick your chest out. You can place hands on the side or behind your head (prisoner style) or out in front…..whichever you prefer.
Then squat by dropping your butt as if you are going to sit on chair. The pressure should be on your heels (your toes may slightly go up if you’re a beginner). Go as deep as you can. A full squat is when you go down until the thighs rest on the calves. Rise to starting position and repeat.
Pointer: Make sure your knees don’t go past the toes when squatting.
#2. Isometric squat hold
How to: Start with feet shoulder width apart then lower yourself and pause when the thighs are parallel to the floor. Then hold that position for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Pointer: Always use a timer when doing isometric exercises. It’s easy to give up if you don’t time yourself.
#3. Jump squat
This is a great explosive exercise. I may note…. research shows that programs with plyometric exercises like jump squat increase strength more than regular strength training.
How to: Start in the normal squat position. Then squat as deep as you can. Then explode from the bottom by jumping off the floor. Return to starting position and repeat.
#4. Bulgarian split squat
Also called the split squat. This exercise improves flexibility by stretching the hamstrings.
How to: Stand in a split stance, with the rear foot elevated on a high surface like a chair or a box. Keep your torso upright and the front foot flat on the floor. Then lower yourself until the rear knee slightly touches the floor. Slowly rise to starting position and repeat.
Pointer: Make sure the front knee doesn’t go past the toes.
#5. Close stance squat
This exercise is more challenging than the classic squat and it also improves balance and stability.
How to: Stand with the legs a few inches apart (or even touching each other). Put hands out in front to help maintain balance. Then drop your butt until the thighs rest on the calves. Rise to starting position and repeat.
#6. Sissy squat
Don’t you just love the name? This exercise is very effective for targeting the quadriceps. It’s also not easy to execute.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and raise the heels. Then hold onto a pool, or a door handle for support. This is the starting position.
With hips and waist straight, bend knees to allow body to fall backwards as knees come forward. Lower body until knees are almost fully flexed or near the floor. Reverse the movement by extending the knees as heels return to floor.
#7. Hindu squat
This exercise allows the knees to go past the toes and heels to be lifted off the floor when you squat.
How to: Stand upright with feet shoulder width apart. Quickly squat as deep as you can, lift the heels off the floor and put hands behind you. Then push through the balls of your feet to return to starting position. As you rise bring the hands in front by swinging them in a circular motion from back. Return to starting position and repeat.
#8. Frog Squat
Other than activating the glutes and quads this exercise also undoes the effects of sitting down all day by stretching the hamstrings.
How to: Assume a stance wider than shoulder width, and then lower yourself until the thighs rest on the calves. Touch the inside of your knees with your elbows. Then raise your hips until the legs are fully extended with the elbows still touching the knees. Lower yourself and repeat.
#9. Rolling Squat
This can be done as an endurance exercise. It also helps activate the ab and core muscles.
How to: Do a normal squat then at the bottom, lie on your back, lift the legs up and thrust your hips off the floor. Then quickly place feet on the floor and rise to starting position. You can use your hands to push off the floor if you don’t have enough momentum.
#10. Pistol Squat
This is a one-legged exercise and requires strength and balance to execute.
How to: Stand on one foot, put hands out in front then squat until the thigh rests on the calves. Keep the dormant leg straight and don’t let it touch the floor. And remember to keep the active foot flat on the floor.
You can also use a table or a chair for support when doing the pistol squat.
#11. Shrimp squat
This is also a one-legged squat but more advanced than the pistol squat.
How to: Stand upright then bend one leg and grab it’s ankle from behind with one arm. Then put the other arm out in front and lower yourself until the rear knee slightly touches the floor. Then rise to starting position and repeat.
The shrimp squat will challenge both your strength and balance.
#12. Rolling pistol squat
This is just like the rolling squat but you do it with one foot.
How to: Stand on one foot then lower yourself (as you would when doing a pistol squat) then at the bottom, lie on your back….thrust hip off the floor and reverse the movement.
These squat variations are enough to build extraordinary lower body strength. Repeating the same exercise doesn’t bring great results. Always change things up when you get used to an exercise.
Avoid doing exercises which are too challenging for you. Slowly build up strength and eventually you’ll be able to do the most advanced bodyweight exercises.
Which of these squat variations have you been doing?