As much as I find it hard to believe that anyone could ever, EVER grow bored of squats, variety is the spice of life and when it comes to squatting, we can get super spicey. Extra extra hot.
Whilst some would argue not to fix something that isn’t broken, we think that squat variations allow you to give your training a level up and keep your workouts exciting with new challenges.
Squat variations that up the ante
Squats are tough, but these variations are on par- if not tougher!
Adding plyo to any routine sends your heart rate rocketing and super-sizes your calorie burn. Plyometric training basically means jump training.
How to: Start in your regular squat position, with your feet just outside shoulder width. Sink your weight back into your heels ready to perform your squat, sink your bum back as low as you can but instead of driving up as normal, jump. Explode upwards using all your strength and then land softly. Remember just because you’re jumping - it’s not an excuse to half rep- make sure you’re still nailing your squat depth.
Squatting is hard with two legs right? So try doing it on one. These are one of the hardest bodyweight exercises there is. Pistol squats are a 3 in 1 exercise, training strength, balance and mobility in one killer exercise. Pistol squats are also great for eliminating imbalances. Naturally, we have one leg stronger than the other and what tends to happen when we squat, is that the stronger leg takes charge and puts in more work than the weaker one. Isolating each leg individually in exercises like this one not only increases the intensity of the exercise but promotes a balance in strength as the legs learn to work independently of one another in the lift.
How to: Stand on one leg and extend the other leg out in front of you, keeping it straight. Now maintaining your balance extend the arms out in front of you and sink down into a squat on the supporting leg. Your arms and leg should be out in front of you as your hamstring touches your calves at the bottom of your squat. Driving off your supporting leg, stand back up, without using any help from your arms. This can be made easier by performing half reps onto a bench, sitting on the bench being the bottom of the movement.
Pause squats are nasty as they make you stop and wait at the most scary part of a squat. The moment where you wonder whether you’re going to be able to drive the hefty weight across your shoulders back up again. Trust me, it is much harder to come out of a squat pause, than it is in a regular squat where the motion stays fluid.
How to: Set up the barbell and rack for a regular squat. When you reach full depth, pause and hold in this position before returning to the start. Beginners can pause for 2 seconds and work their way up to pausing for as long as 7 seconds.
Barbell overhead Squats
Taking the bar over your head requires a strong core, good shoulder flexibility and exceptional mobility. The overhead squat is also good as a correct exercise for those with tight pecs and over extended shoulders as in order to perform the lift correctly you’re required to stretch and work on the flexibility and strength of these areas. It's also a great tool to mobilize your thoracic spine, ankles, and hips, and will help you feel more comfortable at the very bottom of a squat, front squat, or snatch.
How to: Take a wide grip of the bar, if your elbows were bent, they should be at 90 degrees. Take the bar overhead so it's in line with your heels. Imagine the bar is an elastic band and stretch it as tightly as possible above your head. Pulling at the bar forces you to stretch out your arms and lock the elbows. Your squat form doesn’t change from that of a bodyweight squat, however now you have a weight overhead to focus on. As you sink into your squat don’t let the bar move forward of or behind your heels and make sure you still reach below parallel before you rise back up to full extension.
Box jumps take plyometric jumps and add a height target. Box jumps improve your speed, power and strength. The only problem with box jumps, is they require something to jump on. Though, this isn’t limited to your gym's plyometric box stack, you can use a gym or even park bench and even stairs if need be.
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Sink into your squat to load the legs into a quarter squat, use your arms to add momentum and launch yourself up onto the bench/box/step. Bend the knees to cushion your landing and squat before then jumping backwards off the bench and onto the floor, again landing softly.
Squat variations to take it down a notch
Squats are tough and sometimes, a full on squat session may just be too much, but that’s not an excuse to skip your workout entirely! Just tone it down.
A wall squat is easier than a regular squat as you use the wall to support the bulk of your weight. These are great for conditioning those who have had previous injuries.
How to: Start with your back against the wall and lower yourself down the wall by walking your feet out. Your thighs and calves should make a right angle, with your thighs parallel to the floor.
A Trx squat can be used either way, it can make a squat harder by adding greater depth and plyometrics, or it can aid the second part of the squat by allowing something to pull yourself back up with, providing extra support.
How to: Grab both Trx handles in front of you, extend the arms and sink down into a squat, using the handles to support you, pull yourself up using the handles as well as the force from your legs.
Nobody wants to be called chicken legs, so be sure to add these squat variations to your routine to build your strength, power and ensure no-one can question whether you skip legs day.