9 Squat Variations to Crush Your Leg Day Workouts

9 Squat Variations to Crush Your Leg Day Workouts

Squats are a fundamental compound exercise that targets various muscle groups, primarily the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. But hey – doing the same ol’ basic squat, week after week can get boring.

Not to mention, it’ll also reduce the gains you’ll get (as your muscles get used to the same movement).

Squats are a cornerstone of any effective leg day fitness routine, targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously for maximum efficiency. Incorporating variations of squats not only keeps your workouts engaging but also ensures that you're targeting different muscles from various angles.

Below are nine other exercise squats to elevate your leg day routine and take your gains to the next level.

The Benefits of Doing Squats for Your Workouts

Squats are often hailed as the king of exercise for good reason. Beyond sculpting powerful legs, squats offer a myriad of benefits that extend far beyond the lower body. One of the most notable advantages is their ability to engage the core muscles. As you squat down and stand straight and tall, your core muscles act as stabilizers, working with your lower body to maintain proper form and alignment. This engagement not only strengthens your core but also improves overall stability and balance, translating into better performance in various physical activities and reducing the risk of injury. 

Moreover, squats are incredibly effective at enhancing mobility, particularly in the hips, knees, and ankles. The full range of motion required during squats helps improve joint flexibility and function, making everyday movements easier and more fluid. Whether you're bending down to pick up groceries or reaching for items on a high shelf, improved mobility gained from squats can greatly enhance your quality of life.

Another lesser-known benefit of squats is their impact on bone density. Weight-bearing exercises like squats stimulate bone growth and help maintain bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions as you age. By incorporating squats into your workout routine, you're not only building stronger muscles but also investing in the long-term health of not only your body weight but bones.

Furthermore, squats are a highly efficient calorie-burning exercise. Due to their compound nature, squats engage multiple muscles simultaneously, leading to greater energy expenditure compared to isolated movements. This makes squats an excellent choice for individuals looking to shed excess body fat and improve overall body composition.

In essence, squats are a versatile and indispensable exercise that offers a plethora of benefits for both physical fitness and overall well-being. Whether you aim to build strength, improve mobility, or enhance your physique, incorporating squats into your routine is a surefire way to maximize your fitness gains and reap the rewards of a stronger, healthier body.

Muscles Worked By Squat Workouts

Squats are renowned for their ability to target a wide range of muscles simultaneously, making them a staple in any lower body routine. The primary muscles engaged during squats include the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. The quadriceps, located at the front of the thigh, are primarily responsible for extending the knee during the upward phase of the squat. The hamstrings, on the other hand, located at the back of the thigh, work to flex the knee and extend the hip during the upward phase. These muscles work in tandem to provide the necessary power and stability to execute the squat movement effectively.

Furthermore, the glutes, comprising the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, play a crucial role in hip extension and stabilization throughout the squat. Engaging the glutes not only helps generate power during the ascent of the front squat but also ensures proper alignment of the pelvis and spine, reducing the risk of injury. Additionally, the lower back muscles, including the erector spinae, engage isometrically to support the spine and maintain an upright posture throughout the movement of the overhead squat. This activation of the lower back muscles is essential for preventing rounding of the back and maintaining proper spinal alignment, especially when performing heavier squats.

Moreover, stabilizing muscles such as the core, calves, and even upper back also come into play to support proper squat form and execution. The core muscles, including the abdominals and obliques, act as stabilizers to maintain torso alignment and prevent excessive forward lean or backward during the high bar squat. Strong calf muscles contribute to ankle stability low bar squat, and assist in maintaining balance throughout the movement. Additionally, the upper back muscles, including the traps and rhomboids, help stabilize the shoulders and maintain proper positioning of the barbell during back squats.

9 Squat Workout Variations

Adding variations to your squat routine can help target different muscles, improve flexibility, and prevent workout boredom.

Here we go! Below are nine bodyweight squats to add diversity and challenge to your leg day routine.

Bodyweight Squat

The bodyweight squat is a fundamental movement that serves as a great starting point for beginners. It targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while also engaging the core for stability. To perform a bodyweight squat correctly, you stand tall with your feet slightly wider, and toes pointed slightly outward, and lower your body by bending your knees and hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your chest up and back straight throughout the movement.

How to Do a Bodyweight Squat With Proper Form

To ensure proper squat form during a squat exercise, focus on keeping your weight on your heels, knees aligned with your toes, and your back straight. Engage your core muscles to maintain stability throughout the movement. As you ascend, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top for maximum activation.

Sumo Squat

The sumo squat variation targets the inner thighs more intensely compared to traditional squats. To perform this type of squat, take a wider-than-shoulder-width stance with your toes pointed slightly outward. Lower your body by bending your knees and hips while keeping your chest up, then push through your heels to return to the starting position.

Goblet Squat

Goblet squats are excellent for improving squat depth and targeting the quads, glutes, and core. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest, squat down by bending your knees and pushing your hips back, then return to the starting position by driving through your heels and squeezing your glutes at the top.

Front Squat

Front squats emphasize the quadriceps and core muscles while also engaging the upper back and shoulders for stability. To perform a front squat, hold a barbell or dumbbell in front of your shoulders with your elbows high, then squat down while keeping your chest up and back straight.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats are unilateral exercises that target each leg individually, helping to address strength imbalances. Place your left or right foot elevated behind you on a bench or platform, then lower your body into a squat position by bending your front knee while keeping your torso upright. Push through your front heel to return to the standing position.

Dumbbell Sumo Squat

Similar to the traditional sumo squat, the dumbbell sumo squat adds resistance to target the lower body muscles more intensely. Hold a dumbbell between your legs with both hands, assume a wide stance, and squat down while keeping your chest up and back straight.

Single-Leg Squat (Pistol)

The single-leg squat, also known as the pistol squat, is an advanced variation that challenges balance, stability, and lower body strength. Stand on your left leg with the other leg extended in front of you, then squat down as low as you can while keeping your extended leg off the ground. Push through your heel to return to the starting position.

How to Perform a One-Legged Squat (The Pistol Squat)

To perform a pistol squat, start by mastering the squat exercise and gradually progress to single-leg stability exercises. Focus on maintaining balance and control throughout the movement, and use a bench or support if needed to assist with balance initially.

Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is a classic strength-building exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. To perform a barbell squat, position the barbell across your upper back and shoulders, then squat down by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Keep your chest up and back straight throughout the movement.

How to Set Up Properly For The Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is a classic strength-building exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. To perform a barbell back squat, position the barbell across your upper back and shoulders, then squat down by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Keep your chest up and back straight throughout the movement.

How to Do a Proper Barbell Back Squat, Step By Step

Initiate the squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knees while keeping your chest up and back straight. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then push through your heels to return to the starting position.

Squat Variations for Beginners (Box Squat)

The box squat is an excellent variation for beginners to learn proper squat mechanics and build confidence. Place a box or bench behind you, squat down until you lightly touch the box, then push through your heels to return to the starting position.

7 Common Mistakes When Doing Squats

While squats are highly beneficial, certain mistakes can compromise their effectiveness and even lead to injury if not addressed. Here are seven common mistakes to avoid when performing squats.

Heels Coming Off The Ground

Raising your heels off the ground during squats shifts the body weight forward and reduces stability, increasing the risk of injury to the knees and lower back. This mistake often occurs when individuals lack ankle mobility or when they shift their weight onto the balls of their feet hip width apart.

To avoid this, focus on distributing your weight evenly throughout your feet slightly wider, keeping your heels planted firmly on the ground. Engaging your core and glute muscles will also help stabilize your body and prevent your heels from lifting.

Furthermore, if ankle mobility is an issue, you can incorporate mobility exercises and stretches into your warm-up routine to improve flexibility. Additionally, wearing weightlifting shoes with an elevated heel can provide support and assist in maintaining proper posture during squats.

Squatting Over Your Knees

Allowing your knees to extend past your toes during squats can place excessive stress on the knee joints and can lead to strain or injury. This often occurs when individuals initiate the squat by bending their knees first, causing them to shift forward and over their toes.

It is not wrong for your knees to extend over your toes, but if it bothers your knees this is how to fit it! focus on initiating the movement by pushing your hips back first as if you're sitting back in a chair. This will help maintain proper alignment of your knees over your toes throughout the squat.

Another helpful cue is to imagine pushing your knees outwards slightly as you descend into the squat. This engages the glute muscles and helps stabilize the knees in a safer position. Additionally, practicing squats with a box or bench behind you can provide a visual cue to control the depth of your squat and prevent your knees from traveling too far forward.

Knees Collapsing In

When your knees collapse inward during squats, it places uneven stress on the knee joints and can lead to instability and potential injury. This mistake is often caused by weakness in the hip abductor muscles or poor neuromuscular control.

To address this issue, focus on activating your glute muscles throughout the squat and consciously driving your knees outwards in line with your toes.

Strengthening exercises such as clamshells, lateral band walks, and hip abduction exercises can help improve the strength and stability of the hip abductor muscles, reducing the likelihood of knee valgus collapse. Additionally, practicing a squat properly and gradually increasing the intensity can help reinforce proper movement patterns and prevent the knees from collapsing inward.

Leaning Too Far Forward

Leaning too far forward during squats places excessive strain on the lower back and increases the risk of injury. This mistake often occurs when individuals lack core strength or when they focus too much on lowering their torso instead of pushing their hips back.

To avoid this, focus on maintaining an upright torso throughout the squat by engaging your core muscles and keeping your chest up.

Additionally, focusing on pushing your hips back and sitting into the squat, rather than bending forward, can help distribute the bodyweight squats more evenly and reduce strain on the lower back. Practicing squats with a lighter weight or using a mirror to monitor your form can also help reinforce proper technique and prevent leaning too far forward.

Not Engaging Core Muscles

Failing to engage the core muscles during squats can lead to instability and poor form, increasing the risk of injury. This mistake often occurs when individuals neglect to brace their core or when they lack awareness of proper core engagement.

To address this, focus on actively bracing your core throughout the squat by drawing your belly button towards your spine and maintaining tension in your abdominal muscles.

Engaging the core not only provides stability and support to the spine but also helps maintain proper alignment of the torso and pelvis during the squat. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing techniques can also help enhance core engagement and improve overall squat performance.

Using Incorrect Foot Placement

Incorrect foot placement during squats can affect your balance, stability, and overall squat mechanics. This mistake often occurs when individuals position their feet too close together or too far apart or allow their feet to turn outward excessively.

To correct this, focus on positioning your feet wider than shoulder width with toes pointed slightly outward, maintaining a stable base of support throughout the squat.

Ensuring proper foot placement allows for optimal distribution of squat weight and helps engage the correct muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Experimenting with different foot positions and stances can also help determine the most comfortable and effective left or right foot placement for your body.

Lack of Warm-Up and Mobility Work

Failing to warm up properly and address mobility limitations before performing squats can increase the risk of injury and limit squat performance. This mistake often occurs when individuals skip or rush through their warm-up routine, neglecting to prepare their muscles and joints adequately for the demands of squats.

To avoid this, incorporate dynamic warm-up exercises that target the lower body muscles and focus on improving joint mobility and flexibility.

Dynamic stretches such as leg swings, hip circles, and ankle mobilizations can help increase blood flow to the muscles, improve range of motion, and reduce the risk of injury during squats. Additionally, incorporating mobility drills and foam rolling techniques can help address specific areas of tightness or restriction, allowing for smoother and more efficient squat mechanics.

How to Start Squatting Like A Pro

No matter which squat variation you add to your workout routine, take note:

  • Start each squat session with a thorough warm-up. This increases blood flow, raises your core body temperature, and prepares your muscles and joints for the demands of squats.
  • Address any mobility or flexibility limitations that may affect your squat form. Focus on hip, ankle, and thoracic spine mobility. Adequate flexibility in these areas allows for a more comfortable and effective squat.
  • Proper breathing is crucial during squats. Take a deep breath before descending into the squat, brace your core, and maintain that breath until you reach the top of the movement. This intra-abdominal pressure helps stabilize your spine and enhances overall strength.
  • Gradually increase the intensity by incorporating the principle of progressive overload. This can involve adding more weight plates, increasing the number of repetitions, or adjusting other variables such as tempo.
  • Allow adequate time for recovery between squat sessions. Overtraining can lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and an increased risk of injury. Listen to your body and give yourself enough time to recover.

Mix and match these squat variations, keep it spicy, and watch those gains come to life. Your legs will be living their best life.

Squatting like a pro requires mastering proper form, progressively overloading, and incorporating variations to challenge your muscles. Start by learning the basic squat mechanics, focusing on maintaining proper alignment and engaging the targeted muscles. Gradually increase the intensity by adding resistance, such as barbells or dumbbells, and exploring different squat variations to keep your workouts dynamic and effective.

Click here to Join IBEX Training and start your free trial today!