You can tell a lot about someone from how they perform a squat — more specifically, their body’s strength and weaknesses. The typically two-legged exercise requires learning how to efficiently use your glutes (not just your quads!), and properly activate and engage your core. You’ll also need enough hip and ankle mobility to drop it low — without leaning forward or lifting your heels. But it’s an especially functional move, considering how many times we sit down and stand up throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often see a squat challenge weaved into trainers’ workouts.
“The squat is a great lower body exercise that also incorporates your core musculature,” says Prince Brathwaite, a trainer on Daily Burn 365 and owner of Trooper Fitness in New York City. “Squats also burn lots of calories due to the fact that you engage several large muscle groups during the movement.” The exercise requires effort from your glutes, quads and hamstrings — aka the body’s biggest muscles, which produce that extra calorie burn.
Hold off on doing hundreds of basic bodyweight squats, though. The standard squat can get repetitive with a capital P for plateau. But try a new squat challenge more often and you’ll call on new muscles groups (not to mention brain waves!). “Our bodies are great at adapting to the stimulus we put on it. Eventually [a squat] will not have the same affect it did the first time you performed it — but we can keep the body guessing by changing up the way we do the exercise,” says Brathwaite.
From testing your core stability to getting your arms involved, these 21 squat variations provide the creativity and extra push you need to reach your goals as you drop it low.
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Step Up Your Squat Challenge with 21 Creative Variations
Don’t forget proper squat form as you crush these creative takes. Weight should stay in your heels as you lower your hips down and back toward the floor. Make sure to keep your chest up and shoulders down as you go. Then, inhale as you lower and exhale to stand for quality ab engagement. Ready, set, squat!
1. Box Squat
Master your squat form with this variation. Find a low chair, box or bench to lower your seat onto, then drive off your feet to stand back up.
2. Overhead Squat
Put your hands in the air if you want to fire up your core even more. You’ll target your abs and back muscles by simply lifting your arms by your ears, as you lower your hips and butt toward the floor.
3. Goblet Squat
There’s nothing like adding a little — or a lot — of weight to an exercise and seeing how much harder your muscles must work. Hold a heavy dumbbell at your chest to make your quads, glutes and hamstrings go into overdrive, while your upper body stabilizes the weight, too.
4. Wide Stance Squat
Stepping your feet a little wider than hip-distance will allow you to get lower into your squat. Glutes and inner thighs, engaged!
5. Narrow Stance Squat
Step your feet closer than hip-distance and you narrow your base of support, meaning your core works harder. Your thighs will also feel the burn.
6. Partial Squat
Taking your squat from full to half range of motion will really get your lower body muscles humming. Research shows sprinkling in the partial variation can increase strength and muscle gains.