Today I want to write about my all time favorite lift… the squat. There is simply something amazing about loading your bodyweight on your back (or more if you’re a beast) and dropping down to the floor. I love it so much that I specifically picked a strength training program where I can squat 3x a week.
Squats require a great deal of strength and grace to execute properly, and as of late, there has been a lot of emphasis going around on proper squat depth. Ideally one would hit a squat ass to grass every time, but to reap all the benefits of squatting, you at least need to make a modicum of effort of sinking below “parallel”.
This is something I personally struggle with when I barbell squat really light weights. My “warm up sets” seem to be a struggle as far as keeping my balance all the way down. Once the weight starts getting heavier I feel a little more centered and capable, but then again – when the weight gets to a certain point of heaviness, I find myself “sticking” at the bottom of my squat if I get to the proper depth. I have found for me, widening my stance a little bit, death gripping the bar, and using a lower bar placement all seem to help me maintain my form a little better.
Still, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve upon my squats… I want to be better, stronger, and hit that ass to grass every opportunity possible. In my research, I’ve learned that the best possible way to assist squats is with more squats. There are so many squat variations out there – overhead, front, one legged, box, zercher, hack – I’m sure with a little bit of trial and error you can find one that suits your training needs. Since I’m training with strength goals in mind, I generally throw some variation into the end of a workout using a lighter weight for higher reps. That way, I get my heart rate up a little bit, but essentially it’s so that I can execute this variation flawlessly and reap the unique benefits of each variation.
(Keep in mind I am not a fitness professional, just some creep that works out in her basement and pretends to know everything, so your personal needs may be different than mine.)
That being said, here are some squat variations that I like to add to my workouts. Whether you are shopping for some assistance moves, or just looking for some new moves to add some variety to your current workout, these different types of squats can help you attain a happy healthy butt.
I’m forewarning you folks, I’m not a fitness model. I took these pics in a hurry in the creepy basement, I am by no means as thin, muscular, or athletic looking as I would like to be, and basically I’m convinced nobody looks attractive while they work out. That being said, I’m doing these demos for you guys because I couldn’t find ones I wanted to steal off the internet.
Goblet Squats: I personally think the easiest way to poke holes in your barbell back squat form is to put the weight in front of you and give it a go. I do enjoy doing front squats from time to time, but my wrists are cranky, and I can’t seem to find a comfortable way to rest the bar across my collarbone when I’m trying to work in a higher rep scheme. Enter – the goblet squat.
Start with your feet in a traditional squatting position.
Cup a kettlebell (a medicine ball or even a dumbbell can work in a pinch) at your chest.
Then… Get low. Get your ass as close to the ground as you possibly can, concentrating your weight on your heels.
Stand up, and start over again.
I like these because they allow you to work on your full range of motion, while encouraging good squat posture. Plus, they feel so very good. Usually between my hips and knees I sound like a hyperactive popcorn machine cracking and popping at first, but after I get a set or so deep, that pretty much comes to a stop. (on a side note, if you’re looking to suck wind, try a tabata alternating these with kettlebell swings. This makes for a nice beat down after a heavy leg day).
Overhead Sumo Squats Overhead squats are so lol to me. They definitely make you feel insanely beast, but they require extreme flexibility as well as intense focus and perfect form. They are fun to do every once in awhile, but after a heavy leg day, you may not have the juice left in the tank to execute them properly, setting yourself up for death or brain damage.
All that aside, I highly advocate any movement that requires holding weight overhead. Personally, I find that it requires me to activate my core muscles and gives me an awareness of what such muscles consist of. Having a strong core not only helps you move heavier weight, but it acts like a girdle keeping your spine stable and safe. You can do any sort of squat holding a plate overhead, but I thought I would demonstrate a Sumo squat because we are doing variations here, and sumo squats put demands on your muscles differently than standard squats, so we might as well throw them into the mix.
First, set yourself up in a sumo squat stance – legs extra wide, toes pointed outward.
Hold a plate (or a medicine ball – I don’t recommend dumbbells just because it doesn’t require you to use your core as a whole holding two things overhead, if that makes any sense – you can “cheat” more easily if you keep your arms separate – if you are distributing the weight of a single plate between your two arms, your core is doing most of the work).
Suck in your gut, maintain a nice tall posture, and then sink your butt to the ground.
Stand up with control, and repeat. You can add a calf raise at the end for a little extra burn (and kill two birds with one stone if calf raises were on your agenda.)
Bulgarian Split Squats: I think it’s important to throw in a variation of squats that require each leg to work separately. There will come a point in your training, probably sooner than later, where you realize one side of your body is more dominant than the other side. Although my regular go to is lunges, it’s safe to say I don’t need to spell those out for you guys. An alternate variation that definitely kicks my ass is Bulgarian Split Squats. I usually do these with a loaded barbell on my back, but for convenience (and a demented twist) I’m going to demonstrate how to do them with plate pinches.
Start with your arms at your side pinching plates that are heavy enough to put a little stress on your grip, but not so heavy that you can’t comfortably complete the following exercise. Plate pinches are a great way to improve your grip strength, which can ultimately help you move heavier weight around on your big lifts.
Tuck one foot behind you onto an elevated surface. A bench works well, so does a chair.
Find a decent distance that you can comfortably squat down. If you need to, place a rolled up mat on the floor so that your elevated knee touches it. I find that how far you distance yourself from the bench is a matter of personal opinion and comfort, but you can easily adapt where you stand to make this movement more challenging.
Do however many you like, then alternate legs.
You can do this with dumbbells, barbells, or even just body weight. I think integrating movements that isolate each leg helps bring the weaker one up to speed.
I know that I always advocate lifting heavy in a lower rep range, and I absolutely do. You should be squatting, benching, deadlifting hard and heavy. These exercises are meant to supplement the ones that you already go heavy on.
Although I try to demonstrate these with excellent form for you, I again stress that I’m not a personal trainer. Take this post for what it is — my personal opinion. If you think these are shitty representations of these exercises, or that the exercises themselves are useless, dangerous, or you don’t feel like doing them – then don’t!!
Also, if you’ve never exercised before, don’t be an idiot and start off with this stuff. Talk to a doctor or something and then worry about fine tuning your training program. Get help from an expert before you put blind faith into some rando from the Internet.
What kind of squat variations are you guys into? Any good ones to add to my list? Pics and vids encouraged!
Random Question of the day: in an attempt to keep this blog my personal blog throughout the format I’m playing with this month, I decided to answer a random question about myself daily. Today’s question- What is your favorite sport to watch? It’s a toss up between football and hockey. I love my Steelers, love my Penguins (and the Avalanche), and I like watching said sports for different reasons. I guess if it came down to going to see a game live, though – I would totally go with hockey. I grew up in an ice arena, and I totally attach a sentimental value to that.