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10 Squat Variations To Add to Your Workout

Bulgarian split squats, hack squats and goblet squats are just a few of the moves you can try

Person doing a Bulgarian-split squat outside

Time to add some new moves to your workout repertoire? When you’re ready to level up to a more challenging version, sports and exercise medicine physician Matthew Kampert, DO, is here to walk you through it.

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“Incorporating squat variations into your training regimen can help target different muscle groups, and enhance overall lower body strength and functionality,” Dr. Kampert says. “They can also help keep you from getting bored!”

5 of the best squat variations

There are at least 40 squat variations (but probably more!) that you can try adding to your workouts. Which squat variation is best? Well, that depends on what you’re trying to achieve — and what your fitness level is.

To figure out what’s best for you, Dr. Kampert recommends calling in some professional, in-person assistance.

“It’s always best to consult with a fitness professional who can provide personalized guidance based on your individual goals and abilities,” he advises. “They’ll be able to make sure you’re using proper form and technique, which are the keys to staying safe and maximizing the moves.”

He shares a few of the best, most popular and most effective squat variations.

Bulgarian split squats

Bulgarian split squats are a unilateral exercise, meaning they work one side of your body at a time. To do them, you elevate one leg behind you on a bench or platform while the other leg performs a squatting motion. This lets you target each leg individually.

“They can be easily modified to increase or decrease difficulty, helping to address muscle imbalances and improving stability and balance,” Dr. Kampert says.

But he warns that if you don’t use proper form, Bulgarian split squats can put strain on your knees. They also require more balance and coordination than other squat variations, which can be challenging for some people — especially for beginners.

Jump squats

Jump squats are exactly what they sound like: Regular squats that explode upward into a jump.

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“This type of movement engages fast-twitch muscle fibers, which is the key to developing power and explosiveness in the lower body to improve your athletic performance and vertical jump height,” Dr. Kampert says.

But jump squats aren’t for everyone. They’re high-impact exercises that require an existing level of strength and conditioning. Otherwise, you risk injury to your knees and ankles.

Goblet squats

Goblet squats are easy to learn and safe for beginners to perform. To do them, you hold a weight — typically a dumbbell or kettlebell — close to your chest while you perform a squat.

“This help helps to improve your squat depth and form by counterbalancing the weight in front of the body,” Dr. Kampert explains. “Goblet squats also engage the core muscles, promote proper alignment and encourage a more upright torso position.“

But he warns that this variation is limited by the amount of weight you can hold. It can also quickly become uncomfortable for the arms and upper body, especially during longer sets.

Sumo squats

If you’ve ever seen sumo wrestlers assume the position before a match, you can imagine what the squats that are named after them might look like.

“Sumo squats involve taking a wider stance with the toes pointed outward,” Dr. Kampert relays. “They’re known for targeting the inner thigh muscles more than traditional squats do.”

Sumo squats let you squat deep but without the risk of leaning too far forward, making them a more comfortable option for people who have limited hip mobility or tight hip flexors.

But there’s a trade-off, Dr. Kampert cautions: “To safely perform this stance, you have to have adequate flexibility in the hips and ankles.” It’s also important to note that this movement may not engage your glutes and hamstrings as well as other squat modifications and variations.

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Isometric holds

Isometric exercises involve holding a position that maintains the same muscle length, which causes your muscles to tire out. This can help you maintain muscle strength, improve muscle function and recover from injury.

To incorporate isometric holds into a squat, hold your squatting position for a few additional seconds at the bottom, midpoint or quarter-point of the move.

“This targets different muscle groups and can improve your overall squat performance,” Dr. Kampert says. “It can also help you build strength and stability in specific ranges of motion."

5 types of barbell squats

Want to add weights to your squats? Again, it’s always best to work with a trainer, coach or other fitness professional to be sure you’re doing so safely.

“Listen to your body and only lift weights that you can handle with proper form,” Dr. Kampert advises. “Always avoid making large jumps in weight, which can increase the risk of injury. Instead, progressively overload your squats by gradually increasing your weight over time.”

Here’s a look at the types of barbell squats you may want to work into your routine:

  • Back squats are done with a barbell resting on your upper back, targeting your quads, hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
  • Front squats are like back squats but with the barbell resting on the front of your shoulders, emphasizing your quads and core.
  • Overhead squats require significant mobility and core strength to raise a barbell or weight over your head as you squat.
  • Zercher squats involve holding a barbell in the crook of your elbows, which targets your quads, core and upper body.
  • Hack squats, which target your quads, are done on a special gym machine or by holding a barbell behind your legs. They may be easier on your lower back than traditional squats.

One more important tip for barbell squats: Be sure to choose the right footwear, opting for shoes with a flat, stable sole to provide support and stability during squats.

“Avoid shoes with excessive cushioning, as they can affect your balance and technique,” Dr. Kampert states.

Don’t forget to warm up before you squat!

Never underestimate the importance of warming up your body for the moves you’re about to do.

“Be sure to begin your squat session with a dynamic warm-up to increase blood flow to your muscles and joints,” Dr. Kampert says.

To prepare your body for the workout ahead, incorporate movements like:

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Dr. Kampert also suggests doing some warm-up sets, or lighter versions of the sets you’ll do during your main workout. They help increase blood flow, lubricate the joints and prep your muscles for what’s to come before you start your actual sets.

Rest days matter, too

It can be all too easy to become consumed with trying to master a move. But make sure you allow time for rest and recovery between squat sessions.

“To support muscle repair and growth, and to prevent overuse injuries, it’s important to incorporate rest days into your workout schedule,” Dr. Kampert urges, “and always be sure to prioritize proper nutrition and sleep.”

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