Not All Squats Are Created Equal
When you say the word “squat,” I picture a person squatting with an Olympic bar on their back, but that is not the only kind of squat out there. There are so many variations of squats that all work the body in different ways.
Here are some of my favorite ways to squat.
#1 Air Squats for Conditioning and Toning
Air squats are just squats without weight. You are literally just squatting the air. Air squats are often done quickly and powerfully to increasing intensity for conditioning, endurance, and cardio. The greatest thing about an air squat is that it doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere. How many repetitions can you do in a minute? Give it a try!
Quick How-To: Stand tall, maintaining good posture, with feet hip width apart, and toes turned out slightly. Keeping your body upright, lower yourself by pushing your hips backward and bending at the knee. Bring your hips down slightly lower than your knees before returning to a stand. Drive your body back upward by pushing off your heels to really engage your glutes (bottom). Perform each repetition with full range of motion as fast and fluidly as possible without losing form.
Tip: Do not let your knees travel past your toes and do not let your back round.
#2 Jump Squats for Power and Cardio
Turn those air squats into jump squats by blasting your feet off the ground for each calorie-burning plyometric rep. (Plyometrics is just a fancy word for jumping.) Your heart will race, your skin will sweat, and you’ll be melting fat while you sculpt muscle. Who doesn’t want a chance to burn fat and tone up at the same time?
Quick How-To: This exercise is performed exactly like an air squat. The only difference is you are using more explosive power in your quads and glutes to drive your body up off the ground at the end of each rep (gym slang for repetition). So, instead of starting and ending in a standing position, each rep will start and finish with your body fully extended (legs straight and body upright) in the air. As soon as you land softly on the ground, you will immediately descend back down into another squat to continue the exercise.
#3 Overhead Squat for Flexibility, Form & Core Strength
Oftentimes, people don’t know exactly how to do a proper squat in the beginning. Overhead squats can help you discover any tight or weak muscles that may be preventing you from squatting correctly. Plus, it is amazing for strengthening the core too.
Depending on your skill level, an overhead squat can be performed with a variety of different tools like PVC pipe, dowel, or Olympic bar. You can even practice the overhead squat with your hands overhead without any weight. The more flexible your shoulders and hips are, the easier it will be to maintain good posture during all variations of squats.
Quick How-To: Start this exercise by standing up straight and tall with the bar directly overhead using a wide grip (almost twice as wide as a normal grip). Keep arms locked out above the head for the entire exercise. With legs hip width apart and toes slightly pointed outward, slowly lower your body down the same way you perform a proper squat, descending at the hip and pushing your knees outward. The goal is to keep your torso upright and bar centered over the head in line with your ears, shoulders, hips and heels. You eyes and head should remain facing forward during the entire range of motion.
Tip: If your bar comes too forward, you either need to widen your grip or improve shoulder mobility. Tightness in the ankles and hips can make it difficult to complete full range of motion while keeping your heels planted on the ground and maintaining an upright posture. The more you do this exercise, the more flexible you will get.
#4 Back Squat for Strength and Sculpting
Once you have your form down, you are ready to add some weight. The back squat is your traditional weighted squat using an Olympic bar, plate weights, and squat rack. This exercise is a staple exercise for any strength routine. It’s not only excellent for strengthening and toning the glutes and legs, but it also strengthens the core. If you want a shapely bottom and nicely developed quads (thighs), this exercise is a must.
Quick How-To: Start the exercise standing in a squat rack. Load the weight onto your shoulders, slightly below the neck. You will perform the squat using the same form as an air squat, maintaining an upright torso as you descend, driving back up with your heels. This exercise is done more carefully and slower than an Air Squat or Jump Squat since the focus is more on strength than speed or conditioning.
#5 Plié Squat for Inner Thighs & Glutes
Skip the Inner Thigh Machine and grab a kettlebell for plié squats instead. This ballet-inspired exercise is an awesome exercise to stretch, strengthen and tone your inner thighs. They also work the glutes in a totally different way. Believe me, you’ll feel the difference.
Quick How-To: Stand with one kettlebell or dumbbell weight in both hands. With feet wider than hip width apart and toes turned out about 45 degrees, descend as low as your flexibility will allow while keeping the back straight, body upright and face forward. Drive back up to a standing position, pushing off the ground with your heels.
#6 Single Leg Squat for Tone Thighs and A Perky Bottom
Before you totally freak and think “I can barely do a squat using both legs, much less one leg”, don’t fret. I will give you some tips to do this exercise no matter what your limitations are. Why are single-leg squats (also called pistol squats) so special? Since working out using one leg requires more balance and stability, one-leg exercises engage muscles you don’t normally use when you have both legs to stabilize you. If you’ve never attempted them, you will be amazed how different it feels compared to a regular squat–all because we just took one leg out of the equation.
Quick How-To: Start standing with feet hip width apart. Lift one leg up and extend it out forward. Your flexibility will determine how straight and high you’ll be able to stretch your leg out in front of you. Using your weight-bearing leg, lower yourself down just like you would a normal squat and return to a stand while remaining on the one leg. Try not to put your other foot down between reps.
Tip: If you are unable to complete full range of motion, use a chair or bench to assist you. Instead of starting in a standing position, start sitting and stand up using only one leg. Remaining on one leg, descend back down toward the chair but only touch the chair before repeating the exercise.
#7 Thrusters for Time Crunches
What if you can work more muscles in the same amount of time it takes you to squat? Wouldn’t you want to do that, especially if you are crunched for time? Thrusters combine a squat with an overhead shoulder press for a killer full body workout. Thrusters work the shoulders, upper back, core, legs, and glutes. Not only does this exercise strengthen your entire body, it will also get your heart rate up like crazy. Prepare to get winded and sweat like a pig – but don’t worry, this exercise will make you look like a fox in no time.
Quick How-To: Using a squat rack and an Olympic bar, stand facing the bar with feet hip width apart. Pick up the bar with palms facing out and bring it in front of your shoulders to your chest . Keeping the bar at chest level, descend at the hips like a normal squat. At the bottom of the squat, powerfully drive upward, using your momentum to help thrust the weight overhead (like a shoulder press) as you stand. Return the weight to your chest and repeat the exercise.