5 Squat Variations to Help You Target Different Leg Muscles

By Isabella Broggini

Ahh the squat, everyone’s least favorite exercise, if only the damn thing weren’t so good for us! When you squat, you are using a combination of all of your main leg muscles (i.e. quads, glutes, and hamstrings) as well as your core, so this is an essential exercise for those looking to tone legs and sculpt abs. Although your muscles may be screaming at you when you’re in the process of completing a set of squats, they will thank you later.

The squat is a compound exercise, meaning that it works multiple muscles at the same time, making it an extremely efficient and effective workout. When it comes to this exercise however, people often get stuck in a rut of doing the same squat variation over and over again, a routine that tends to get pretty demotivating. If you identify with this scenario, you’re in luck: today we’ll discuss 5 different squat variations to liven up your routine, as well as what squat variations are best for targeting which muscles.

1. The Swiss Ball Squat

This squat variation is great for beginners and for those who do not yet have enough core strength to support themselves in a regular squat. To perform this variation, simply place a Swiss (stability) ball between a wall and your lower back, hold your arms straight out and lower into a squat position. If you’re looking to target your quads while making sure to maintain proper squat form, this exercise is for you.

2. The Front Squat

Front Squat

Good for those more experienced weightlifters looking to target the same main muscles as the back squat (i.e. quads and glutes) while putting less pressure on the knees and lower back. To perform this squat variation, you will simply pick up a barbell with an overhand grip with your hands about shoulder-width apart, raise your forearms (upper arms) until they are parallel to the floor resting the barbell on your shoulders, and then simply lower down into a squat position while maintaining this barbell placement. Those new to the front squat who do not yet feel comfortable using a barbell can still benefit from the movement by using two dumbbells as a regression.

3. The Classic Back Squat

Back Squat

One of the most commonly used squat variations; many lifters favor the back squat because it allows them to lift a heavier load than most other squat variations. Back squats don’t require as much mobility in the shoulders, hips, and ankles as their front squat counterpart. Back squats can also be a good substitute to front squats for those who do not have enough wrist mobility to maintain the appropriate position of resting the barbell on the shoulders throughout the exercise. If you are looking for a squat variation that focuses more on the glutes and less on the quads, doing back squats is your answer (bonus: it will also make dropping it low at the club a lot easier). The one downside of back squats is that they put more pressure on the knees and lower back than other squat variations, especially when lifting heavy weights. Therefore, it is crucial that you are performing the back squat with correct form, and if you tend to suffer from knee or back pain you may be better off skipping this variation.

4. The Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squat

If you thought that regular squats were your worst enemy, think again: enter the Bulgarian split squat. As with many things in life, what is least enjoyable to do in the moment tends to have the most benefits in the aftermath; and the Bulgarian split squat is no exception. This squat variation requires more balance than all other variations we have spoken of so far, therefore your body will need to engage your glutes and core more in order for you to maintain your stability. The added engagement of glutes and core during the split squat will allow you to put extra emphasis on sculpting your abs and toning your butt. To perform the Bulgarian split squat, simply get into a lunge position and place your back foot onto a knee-height bench or box, lower down slowly as you would in a lunge, switch legs and repeat so that you don’t turn out lopsided. If you want to increase the Bulgarian split squat challenge (because you’re secretly a superhero) you can add weight to the exercise. You can either perform the exercise holding two dumbbells at your side, or by front-loading it; by resting one dumbbell against your chest and holding it with both hands or by holding a barbell as you would during a barbell front squat.

5. The Single Leg Squat

This squat variation comes in handy for those who want to work on stability and core strength without lifting too heavy. Like in the Bulgarian split squat variation, working one leg at a time during this exercise requires your body to increase core engagement in order to maintain your balance. Therefore, this is a great exercise to do if you are looking to strengthen your core and to increase coordination. Single leg squats can also be a safe way to work on your core stability that will eventually help you maintain better form during the heavy loaded squat variations (i.e. back squats and front squats.) In addition to working your glutes, quads, and core, unlike other squat variations this exercise is also great at targeting you calve muscles. When you first experiment with the single leg squat, it can be beneficial to squat to a bench or box that is a little below knee height. This will help you maintain your balance throughout the exercise and it will also allow you to check if you are getting low enough in your squat. When squatting, you should always go low enough so that your quads (i.e. tops of your thighs) are at a minimum parallel to the ground.

We hope that these 5 squat variations will help you fall in love with squats all over again, or at least help you hate them a little less. Need help? Contact Us Today!

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