The squat is perhaps the most important movement you can perform in a gym, yes even more so that deadlifts! The squat is great for improving strength, burning calories, and helping with mobility. Whether you are young or old, male or female, a 20-year gym veteran or a brand new gym goer, you can benefit from squats.
The main muscles worked during a squat are your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteals, and the muscles of your lower back. Sadly, squats are often performed incorrectly, which can lead to injury or worse … embarrassment! There are a few potential causes of this:
Trying to lift too much
Not being taught how to perform a squat properly
Performing the wrong type of squat
This last cause may seem a little confusing, but there are a load of different squat variations out there and not everyone is suited to all of them. You wouldn’t get a brand new gym goer to perform a front squat for example! Nor would you get an 80 year old to start squat jumping (unless they were amazingly mobile for their age).
In this article we are going to take a look at eight squat variations and their benefits. Helping you to improve your training routine, and benefit from the right squat for your unique needs.
Squat #1 The Bodyweight Squat
If you have never learned to bodyweight squat properly, then you have no business attempting a barbell squat! The bodyweight squat is the perfect introduction to squatting. Learning the importance of keeping your heels on the ground, your chest out, and your abs braced are all vital for a proper squat. All of these cues are best taught without any form of resistance.
Once you’ve learned how to bodyweight squat you can progress to goblet squats, then barbell squats, and so on and so forth. But that doesn’t mean that you should stop using the humble bodyweight squat.
You can slow down the squat, pause and stretch while at the bottom of the movement, and use this as the ideal warm up before embarking on heavy squatting. This is sometimes referred to as a “pause squat”, but it is still a bodyweight squat. Just real slow!
Squat #2 The Goblet Squat
You learn what a squat is while learning the bodyweight squat, but you master that movement with the goblet squat. The goblet squat may be the best squatting movement on this list. Yes! Even more so than the barbell squat or front squat. The goblet squat allows you to get into the perfect squatting position with ease.
Holding a dumbbell in front of your chest forces you to stay upright, with your chest pushed out and shoulders back. If you don’t get into this position, the weight is going to tip you forward as you go down. This is great for personal trainers teaching new clients, because it really helps them demonstrate the importance of keeping your weight on your heels.
Goblet squats are great for bootcamps or HIIT sessions as they provide a great resistance exercise for the lower body that requires just one dumbbell and is almost impossible to perform with bad form. It is also a great warm up for barbell squatting, and a fantastic introduction to squatting with weight.
Squat #3 The High Bar Back Squat
There are two forms of barbell back squat, and both are excellent. The difference between a high bar and a low bar back squat is (amazingly) where you place the barbell.
You can either rest it on top of your shoulders (high bar) or you can shuffle the bar down so that it is mostly resting on your traps (low bar). This forces you to lean forward more while you squat. We’ll talk a lot more about the low bar squat in the next entry (spoilers: it’s low bar squats at #4), but for now let’s concentrate on the high bar squat.
The high bar squat is the most popular squat there is. It is particularly popular with bodybuilders and physique competitors as the high bar squat is great for hypertrophy (building size). This is because it has a larger range of motion. When it comes to hypertrophy, lower weights and full range of motion are ideal. The high bar squat is also the easiest to learn, and also the safest way to squat.
A true classic exercise.
Squat #4 The Low Bar Squat
The low bar squat is perfect for anyone who wants to squat as much as possible. This is because having the bar further down your back forces you to lean forward. This cuts down the range of motion, making the exercise easier. Powerlifters will normally use a low bar technique when squatting. Provided your technique is sound, the low bar squat will also feel more comfortable resting on your upper back then it does resting on your shoulders in a high bar stance.
Whether you prefer the high bar or the low bar stance, it really is down to personal preference. Neither is superior to the other, and if you were to change from a strength program to hypertrophy (or vice versa) you may even incorporate both versions into your program.
Squat #5 The Front Squat
Performed correctly, the front squat is one of the best quad-dominant squat exercises you could ask for. It is also great for your core muscles, and it is essential to learn if you ever want to get into Olympic lifting. A hint for potential front squatters, squat shoes make this movement so much easier!
Squat #6 The Box Squat
There are really two forms of box squat, and they both have different target audiences. There’s the bodyweight box squat. This is ideal for people who have never squatted before, and don’t like the idea of squatting down as they fear that they will fall.
If you find that your heels keep coming off the ground when you try and squat then this could be you. Placing a box (or bench) behind you, so that you know that when you squat properly you have something to land on can really help people build confidence. It also teaches the “sitting backwards while keeping heels on the floor and chest up” part of squats.
Then there is the box squat that heavy lifters enjoy, where you place a sturdy box in a squat rack. Then you squat down with a barbell on your back, pause, and then stand back up. This makes a regular barbell squat a lot more difficult because you’ve taken all momentum out of the movement. Not for beginners! But a great exercise for strengthening your quads, and helping you to Improve your squat at the bottom of the movement.
Squat #7 Hack Squat (Machine)
Yes, we know that there is an exercise that kind of looks like a deadlift but isn’t that is known as a hack squat. We’re not talking about that, we’re talking about the hack squat machine. An amazing piece of kit that is becoming more and more common in commercial gyms. A great way to really hit your quads, and perfectly designed for a high rep set on legs. Hack squats are also great for new lifters who may not have the coordination required for proper barbell squats.
Squat #8 Jump Squats
We almost didn’t include this last one, because it is often performed so badly that it can actually be harmful. Jump squats are a form of plyometrics (also known as jump training). Plyometrics is amazing at training for explosive power, particularly the jumping movements. The jump squat, when executed correctly (powerful jump, careful landing) is great for those who wish to improve their lifts on barbell or front squats.