Squat Variations

We all know squats are a great lower body exercise, but did you know there are a ton of variations you can do? You can switch it up so you don’t get bored, but also so you target different muscle groups. Knowing variations also helps if you are lacking certain equipment.

Types Of SquatsPhoto Credit: Malingering via Compfight cc

Barbell Back Squat


This is the most known. I love barbell back squats. It does take some practice though, so make sure if it’s your first time trying it you ask a personal trainer at your gym for help. You also don’t need to squat all the way down. Go as low as you can while keeping good form. If you can’t get down to 90 degrees, work on mobility and flexibility (usually in the hips). You can also place weight plates underneath your heels to help you squat down a bit lower.

Dumbbell Squat

Dumbbell Squats

This is a great alternative to the barbell squat if you don’t have a barbell or if you don’t feel comfortable trying it yet. Where you want to place the dumbbells depends on you. You can have them like this photo does, or you can rest them on your shoulders. I actually prefer the latter.

Sumo Squat

sumoYou can do this with a dumbbell or with a barbell. This type of squat will target a few different muscles as well, such as the adductors (inner thighs), and place a bit more emphasis on your glutes.

Barbell Front Squat


You may have seen another variation of this, where elbows are out in front and the bar is in your hands, but I think this one is a bit easier for most people. With the other pose, you need a good amount of wrist flexibility. For this one, just make sure to place the bar on the meaty part of your front shoulders. The first few times you may get a bruise there – I have before!

Also, if you have a tough time getting low with back squats, try front squats! The way the bar is placed in the front allows you to have a bit more hip/lower back mobility, and have the ability to squat a bit lower. Again, if it’s your first time doing this, have a trainer assist you.

Overhead Squat


I would only suggest this variation if you have good shoulder mobility. This exercise will challenge your whole body, as a lot of core strength is involved to balance the barbell over your head! This lift is a bit trickier, so please have a trainer with you the first time to give you the proper cues! One thing to remember always is to keep your core tight.

Goblet Squat


You can do this with either a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Make sure to keep the dumbbell or kettlebell tucked right into your chest. As always, don’t lower yourself past where you’re able to. Your back should never be rounded with any of these squats. I like doing these when I’m going to do some higher reps of squats, and I love doing low reps of barbell back squats to work on my strength.

Bulgarian Split Squats


These don’t look traditional squats, but they are still an amazing lower body workout. These will really target your glutes and quads. If these are too challenging for you, do traditional split squats (both feet on the floor). Don’t worry about adding weight at first. Try them bodyweight and go from there (since it can be tricky to balance at first).

General Tips

  • Keep your core tight during the whole exercise.
  • Think chest up, shoulders back. This will help you have good form and not round your back.
  • Grip the bar or dumbbells hard, and as one of my favorite trainers, Tony Gentilcore says, “melt the bar in your hands.”
  • Don’t force it. Don’t go lower than you’re comfortable.
  • Sit back into your heels when squatting. Go down slow, then drive it up with power.

Which of these squat variations do you do on a regular basis? Which ones haven’t you tried?


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  1. Squats are my favorite move. I have done all of these versions, but my favorite is the barbell back squat.
    Sara @ lifebetweenthemiles recently posted…A day of remembranceMy Profile

    • I also love barbell back squats. My least favorite is probably sumo…for some reason those are challenging for me!

  2. Good article. Thanks for posting. Keep up the good work.

  3. Goblet squats are my jam!! I do them pretty much every time I go to the gym. I’ve done Bulgarian split before too, but they make me a little nervous because of the whole balance thing. I’d rather skip doing them in place of getting an injury, but the few times I have done them – OW! They are DEFINITELY a workout!

  4. I’m a big fan of dumbbell and sumo squats, but should incorporate more of the others! Thanks for the inspiration to mix it up!
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  5. I’m a big fan of squats! I can’t exercise right now (pregnant- doctor’s orders for another 4 weeks) but I so wish I could right now. Pinning this for later. Thanks!
    Melissa Swenson recently posted…24 weeks, Spring fun, & an anniversaryMy Profile

  6. I’ve been using dumbbells lately and I also really like doing squats with the weights at shoulder-level. When my arms are down at my sides, I don’t know, I find that distracting. I tried squatting with the dumbbells overhead a week or two ago…and promptly fell on my ass. Holding them high is a lot trickier than I was expecting! Have to work on that. :)
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