The Squat is known as the “king of all exercises.” But it’s even more than that. Squat would be the very first exercise you ever did in your life—and nobody had to show you how. We all know how to perform the ‘perfect’ squat from a very early age, how else would the 2-year old you know how to pick up a toy off the ground?
People usually stop squatting as they grow up. You could still see some of us casually resting in a squat position whilst waiting on street corners or train platforms. And others take the squat to the gym and build stronger, fitter and more functional lower body, core and with some variations strengthen the upper body, too.
The motion remains the same as when you were a child. You sit down; you stand back up. It then comes down to what weight and how you use it to perform the squat.
Let me introduce you to the four most common variations:
1. BACK SQUAT
Main Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus
This is the most common squat using additional weight to your bodyweight. Full barbell back squat is one of the most effective exercises out there if you are looking to strengthen the lower body.
While squat trains the entire lower body, the back squat places more emphasis on the muscles of the posterior chain, such as the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors, than other squat variations.
How to: Position the barbell on your upper back and hold it with both hands. Lift the barbell off the rack and take a few steps back. Stand with your torso upright and keep your back straight throughout the movement. Bend your knees and hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground, and then extend your knees and hips to return to the upright position.
2. FRONT SQUAT
Main muscles worked: Quadriceps, emphasis on upper back
The front squat is getting more and more popular and we could thank the popularity of crossfit for that. It is a lot harder to cheat the form with front squat.
By locating the barbell across your shoulders in front of the body, the front squat puts much more emphasis on the quadriceps and upper back than the traditional back squat, but still trains the glutes and hamstrings well.
How to: Grab a barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. Put your elbows under the bar until they are pointing forward and the barbell rests across your shoulders in front of you.
Keep your elbows pointed forward throughout the movement. Squat while keeping your weight on your heels. Keep your chest and elbows up.
3. OVERHEAD SQUAT
Main muscles worked: Quadriceps, Abdominals, Shoulders, Back
Overhead squats are best known from Olympic weightlifting. Main benefits for non-competitive trainees would be an effective way to train the lower body while developing balance and mobility.
How to: Press the barbell overhead and, while keeping it over your centre of gravity, perform a squat. Overhead squats demand a certain degree of shoulder mobility to be executed correctly, but taking wide grip on the barbell makes this much easier.
You may find it difficult to use a heavy enough weight on the overhead squat to truly challenge your legs, but that’s not the point here. The hip mobility demands it places on you carry over to all other squatting variations.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
Main muscles worked: Quadriceps, Gluteus
This single-leg squat variation has gained a lot of popularity recently and it certainly deserves it. Unilateral training can have benefits for all lifters, whether for bodybuilding, powerlifting, competitive sports, or recreational training. Working one leg at a time helps improve imbalances between sides, trains overall sense of balance, and allows you to overload the muscles without needing as much weight.
You can use a barbell, dumbbells in each hand of a single dumbbell/kettlebell holding in front of you at your chest. You might be surprised how heavy you can go with split squats so don’t shy away!
How to: Place one foot a few feet behind you on a bench or raised platform. Keeping an upright torso, begin by pushing your hips back, like in a back squat. Allow your back leg to bend at the knee.
Keep bending both knees until you reach the bottom position, which can be when your front leg reaches parallel, and or when your back knee touches the ground. It’s not uncommon to feel a stretch in the quadriceps and hip flexors of the rear leg.
There you go, 4 different variations of squats to strengthen the lower body, work on your core, balance and mobility and your upper body – shoulders, back and arms, too! My advice is to include some type of squat in any training you do, be it bodyweight or working with extra weights.
by Katarina Hruskova