04-15-2014

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

barbell-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

Front-Squats

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

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

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

Split-Squat

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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02-19-2014

Should You Squat All The Way Down?

This is a common question I have gotten as a personal trainer, and one that is “controversial.”

I thought of this post after I saw elite runner Lauren Fleshman post a video of her team mate doing a barbell squat. Someone commented that she should be going all the way down, and then debate ensued. Well, Lauren answered with a great, informative response, and others were debating. I’ll post her answer in a bit.

The question I always get is, “Should I squat all the way down?” (Ass to grass if you will).

how low should you squat

You may hear this a lot (that you should), but I’m going to tell you that you shouldn’t (my opinion). Here are 2 reasons:

You don’t have the flexibility or mobility to do so. Your hips might be tight. Your lower back might be tight. Or your core may not be strong enough. If you try to squat lower than you can, you could end up hurting yourself, and your form will definitely suffer.

The “tuck.” If you don’t have the flexibility, then your lower back will certainly tuck under, which puts a lot of stress on your lower back. Here’s what this looks like:

 

What causes the tuck? Here’s what trainer Tony Gentilcore says:

A vast majority of people (not everyone) are sitting in posterior tilt all day, and as a result the hamstrings tend to get stiff(er) relative to the anterior core.

Ask someone to take a video of you squatting, so you can determine if you have a tuck. If you do, Tony has some great videos to help fix the problem.

I urge you not to force yourself to squat lower than you are able to! At the same time, don’t be one of those people who loads up the bar with weight, and just squats a few inches. I read somewhere that doing loaded squats and only squatting like 1/4 of the way down puts way more pressure on your knees than going parallel. So if you can’t go parallel OR a little above parallel, work on mobility first, and then attempt to squat.

If squatting to parallel is an issue for you, try out front squats.

The different placement of the bar helps you use your core more, and it helps a lot of people go deeper than a back squat. You could also try placing plates under your heels in a back squat, to help you go a bit lower. I did this with my brother, and in a few weeks he was able to remove the plates.

Okay, back to Lauren Fleshman. So someone told her to squat all the way down, and she told that person that he didn’t know about runners mechanics and why they don’t squat all the way down. I asked her to explain and this was her response:

lauren fleshman

 

I squat to 90 degree, mainly because I can’t go all the way down yet. But for me, I think 90 degree squats are fine. Trust me, you will feel it. It is tough. To recap, here’s what you can do to improve your squats:

  • Work on flexibility and mobility. Foam roll! Foam roll right before squatting too to help with range of motion.
  • Put plates under your heels to help you go a little bit lower. The plates elevate your heels, which helps if you lack flexibility.
  • Try a front squat. If you’re intimidated to try it with a barbell, try it with a kettlebell first.
  • Go to parallel or slightly above – nothing wrong with that.
  • If you can’t squat at all, work on bodyweight squats to get the form down, then slowly add weight with dumbbells. Also do other leg exercises instead, like lunges, split squats, leg press, etc.

Do you do barbell squats? Have you tried front squats?

Would anyone like a post going more into depth about squat variations, perhaps with a video?

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