Can’t back squat anymore? Don’t enjoy it? No problem. Here are seven squat variations that’ll do the trick.
The squat is essential, but the back squat isn’t the best variation for all lifters or all body types. There are many reasons for this: body proportions, injury history, and preference, for starters.
Somewhere, someone declared the barbell back squat the pinnacle version of the movement, probably because it’s an industry-standard in the competition circuit. And it’ll be that way until someone creates a strength association that uses a specialty bar for the squat, the football bar for the bench press, and the trap bar for the deadlift.
The truth is, the best squat variation depends on what suits you and helps you reach your goals. So, let’s take a look at the other options.
There’s a reason this is at the top of the list. It’s uniquely useful: it’s a back-loaded position that allows your hands to stay comfortably at torso level. This shoulder-friendly bar position makes the squat much more accessible, especially for larger lifters lacking shoulder mobility.
A growing number of strength coaches and professional athletes are deferring to the safety bar. You can pursue high performance and heavy lifts with less stress on the joints.
Variation 2: Front Squat
The front-loaded position allows the load to be counterbalanced, keeping your torso more vertical and reducing stress on the lumbar spine.
The front squat trains the quads a bit more intensely due to the forward knee tracking and, ultimately, deeper knee flexion. It’s easier to use the full range of motion. It’s also a smarter option for lifters dealing with lower back issues or struggling with long femurs or ankle mobility restrictions.
There are a couple of ways to hold the bar: the clean grip (more common) and the California cross-armed style. If neither feels great because you have shoulder mobility, T-spine, or wrist issues – or your arms are simply too beefy to make the clean grip feel comfortable – use a pair of lifting straps.
This variation is a saving grace for taller lifters who have a long reach, a long way down, and possible mobility issues. It’s the perfect tool to grease the groove for good squat patterning with appreciable loading.
Using the Hatfield method allows you to sit back slightly when squatting to reduce stress on the lower back. Remember, this movement only works with a safety bar. Since the bar is placed on the shoulders hands-free, don’t try this with a barbell since it’s more prone to fall off your back.
This one comes with a lot of benefits. First, it eliminates the need to put a bar on your back or hold the load in front while squatting. If you’re a lifter with limited equipment or have shoulder issues preventing you from comfortably putting a bar on your torso, elevating your heels and holding dumbbells at your sides is a smart alternative.
You can still lift a fair amount of weight with this method. Using a slant board or full wedges under the feet is the real game-changer, however. This enables you to squat deeper than you normally would due to the flexed starting position of the ankle. This creates more space for the knee to travel forward without being stymied by limited ankle mobility.
Go deep enough so that your hamstrings cover the calves on each rep. You want your torso as upright as possible.
Variation 5: Tempo Goblet Squat
Goblet squats are frequently the rite of passage to other squat variations that involve more loading. They’re limited by the strength of the upper body where progressive overload is concerned.
If you’re an average lifter who’s interested in lower body training as well as health, then take a different perspective on weight and loading. Slowly lowering a moderately-loaded goblet squat to make lighter weight feel heavier is a game-changer for your conditioning. Focus on 3-4 second eccentrics to accumulate more time under tension.
If you’re in a poorly equipped gym, this is a smart option to make a workout challenging.
This movement is underrated. It’s a real help for ROM, quad stimulation, and general lower-body development.
The second leg stays out of the way to allow the front leg to do the majority of the work. The kickstand or B-stance squat is easy to load up if needed. Think of it as the middle ground between barbell bilateral stance squats (if you suck at them) and giving up on them altogether in favor of other lifts.
Moreover, this is great for the knees and ankles since it relies on the mobility of both for appropriate range to be reached.
Variation 7: Zercher Squat
To increase core activity of virtually any major movement, simply throw in a Zercher hold where you carry the bar in the crook of the arm.
Doing squats, good mornings, lunges, loaded carries, or even shrugs in this position requires the body to do a whole lot more bracing through the trunk since you’re carrying the bar slightly farther away from the body. For Zercher squats, the bar is positioned in a place where the elbows can comfortably stay down while the knuckles face the ceiling the entire time.
I like putting my hands together and linking the fingers to help enforce this. This can be a bit tough on the elbow/ante-cubital region, so wear a hoodie to do this exercise.
Pro tip: Put Fat Gripz on the bar where the elbows go. It’ll increase the surface area and disperse the pressure. They’ll feel great.
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