You know that the humble squat is one of the best exercises there is for shoring up lower body strength—and you're probably already working them into your fitness routine pretty regularly. Good for you. Outside of building muscle, squats can amp up Human Growth Hormone production, improve your flexibility, reduce your risk for injury in your other athletic endeavors like running, and more (just check out 7 Reasons to Never Neglect Squats!)
But, while most of us do the traditional back and front squat, there are several other variations on the classic move you'd be remiss to forget. Whether your goal is to get shredded, stay in shape, or simply to feel (and look) good, you should be switching up your squat variations regularly, says New York City-based personal trainer Nick Rodocoy.
Here are the top seven squat variations that will help you to build a rock solid physique.
1. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is a key beginner strength and conditioning move. The exercise incorporates the fundamental movements needed to complete the basic squat and will allow you to advance to more difficult lifts or variations. For this move, hold a kettlebell up to your chest and use your hips and back to sink the weight into the heels.
Tack on a barbell and your body calls in support from your lower back and core, meaning they get a serious workout, too. Here, it’s important to maintain proper form, which is actually dependent on body type. According to Kenny Valentin, a trainer and USAW National-level Olympic Weightlifter, “People with a wider frame should keep their foot stance more widespread; those with a smaller frame should keep a narrower foot stance; and always keep your feet pointed slightly outward—this will prevent your knees from buckling in and allow you to exert more force and explode on the rising lift.”
Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, and core.
The barbell front squat activates the anterior chain (front half of body) more than the back squat. Again, proper form is crucial when racking the barbell on your shoulders: “Activate your lats by rounding your shoulders and shrug to provide the perfect shelf; and remember to take a deep breath when lowering into the squat, then exhale and explode on your way up,” says Valentin.
Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, core, and lats.
The bulgarian split squat requires more balance and stability than the standard split squat because your back foot is elevated. Since the leg and lower back are taken out of the lift, the weight goes directly into your hips, says Rodocoy.
Leg strength is crucial for the pistol squat as it requires balancing in a crouch position on one leg. To retain balance, keep your arms and free leg stretched out in front of you. For starters, Rodocoy suggests using a bench to assist you, then as you progress in this variation, tack on weight and perform it on a flat surface.
Muscles worked: quads, core, hamstrings, and glutes.
The overhead squat is a tricky, difficult variation to perform because if not done correctly, you could seriously injure yourself. But, it's worth mastering. This move is crucial for weightlifters as it helps build strength to complete the snatch and clean and jerk, says Rodocoy.
“When having the weight overhead, your shoulder blades should be squeezed together with arms locked in place; your hands should be aimed towards the ceiling—not driving the weight back; and you also want your head to be poking through your arms to keep the weight in line with your shoulders, hips, and heels," says Valentin.