Much like the saying, variety adds spice to life, variations can boost your workout routine immensely. Variations in exercises can be incorporated to negate boredom and plateauing, add intensity, and to target specific muscles within the larger muscle group the base workout addresses. Squats for instance, has many variations however, the most popular version is the regular squats (free or weighted). From the basic version to sumo and pistol squats, the variations not just add to the efficiency of working the leg muscles but also work on some of the upper body muscles.
“It is important that people include squats in their fitness routine as they are the easiest lower extremity exercise that can be done and help build strength in your body,” says Sunil Kumar, a fitness trainer from Bengaluru.
Unilateral and bilateral squats
“In unilateral squats, one leg is placed on a bench or at an elevated position. In this way, each leg is strengthened equally and separately, making it a good rehab workout” says Tanuja Panda, a fitness trainer from Bengaluru.“Bilateral squats, where one has more balance while doing them, strengthens the lower body muscles equally and simultaneously. Body weight squats, and other forms of squats done by adding weights (barbells, dumbbells, etc.) are a part of most strength training routines. They help in burning calories as well.”
A basic air squat is an example of bilateral squats, and a Bulgarian split squat is an example of a unilateral squat.
“Unilateral squats are advanced forms of squatting, whereas bilateral squats are a safe way to do squatting exercises for beginners,” adds Panda.
Different types of squats
Panda lists several squatting technique variations which vary slightly in the muscles they target.
Basic squats or air squats or free squats: It’s a very important version of bodyweight squats that should be done with the correct technique as it builds the base for trying out other variations. It mostly targets the muscles in the lower body and the muscles along the spine and the core.
Assisted squats or supported squats: This is best suited for the elderly, beginners and even those recovering from an injury. One can take support by holding a table, chair or pole and squat while maintaining the correct form.
Back squats: Here, squatting is done by lifting a barbell rod, with or without the plates. The barbell is placed behind the neck which puts the load on the muscles in the shoulders and back. It makes the muscles in the back and glutes strong, whereas doing squats increases the load on the lower body muscles.
Front squats: Here, the barbell is placed in front of the shoulders. It works more on the core muscles and primarily targets the muscles on the front part of the legs – the quadriceps. Front squats can also be done using dumbbells.
Goblet squats: The dumbbell is held closer to the chin while performing this squat which engages the muscles in the core, shoulders, back, glutes, and legs.
Sumo squats: The dumbbell is kept in between the legs while squatting in a wide stance with the toes pointing outwards.
Jump squats: Jump squats are an important strength and conditioning exercise which not only activates the muscles and strengthens them but also increases the heart rate. Hence, it makes it a good cardiovascular workout which is also used as a part of HIIT workouts.
Split squats: It is a type of unilateral squat that is done by placing one leg on the top of an elevated surface (a bench).
Pistol squats: It is an advanced level unilateral squat, where you are squatting with one leg in the air, extended straight to the front of the body. It is usually done by sportspersons and athletes.
How to progress to different squat variations
Sunil Kumar, a fitness trainer from Bengaluru, explains how you can safely progress from the basic forms of squats to advanced versions.
“The first and foremost squat to begin with is a supported half squat and then proceed to supported full squat,” says Kumar. “Progressing to the unsupported bodyweight squats or the normal air squats which when done correctly, can be made a little more challenging by adding a pause in between. While doing the pause squats you go halfway, pause, then go down and come up. This can be varied by changing the angles at which you take a pause.”
After doing bodyweight squats, one can add weights using barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells to progress to the next level which increases its efficiency.
“Further, you can do unlevelled squats or split squats, where one leg is elevated either in front of you or behind you,” adds Kumar. “Next in line is the advanced pistol squats after which one can do the jump squats. It is done by jumping onto a box with both legs for a two-legged squat or on one leg to do a plyometric pistol squat. There are multiple variations that can be done at each level.”
- Unilateral squats are an advanced form of squatting also used for leg-injury rehab. Bilateral squats are a safe way to do squatting exercises for beginners.
- Some of the commonly done squats include basic squats or the air squats, assisted squats or supported squats, back squats, front squats, goblet squats, sumo squats, jump squats, split squats, and pistol squats.
- Adding weights using barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells while squatting increases its efficiency and works the muscle more.