By Isaiah Rhodes, NSCA-CPT
Breaking news from Team Obvious: The squat is cool.
Yeah, that’s right: The squat is cool. And we’d bring you live team coverage on that story if we could. The myriad body-changing benefits offered by the squat would be enough to fill a teleprompter, but to touch on the main points, this compound lift helps add mass to your entire body (not just your legs), creates a huge surge in natural growth hormone and holds tremendous athletic carry-over. But you don’t have to step under a plate-loaded barbell to squat. Each of these variations, which all deviate slightly from the traditional squat, holds unique benefits of its own.
1. Bodyweight Squat
If you want to gain strength and size, then doing progressively heavier squats is the way to go. But bodyweight squats are a fantastic tool that can help you notch higher rep counts to enhance muscle quality and burn more calories during your workout. Sans barbell, you are also able to identify and gradually correct form problems that may be plaguing your weighted squats. Bodyweight squats also can be used as a brutal leg finisher. Try 100 total reps — taking as many sets as necessary — at the end of your next leg day.
2. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat, which calls for you to hold a kettlebell or a dumbbell in a “rack” position at the top of your chest, is a close relative of the front squat because it forces you to maintain a more vertical torso. This shifts more of the focus to your quads, whereas the barbell squat emphasizes your glutes a bit more. Try these as the first move on leg day, banging out four to five heavy sets of eight to 10 reps.
3. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
If there was a Drago equivalent in the exercise world, this move would be it … because it must break you. The Bulgarian split squat is basically a single-leg squat that uses constant tension to wreck your gait for days to come. The dumbbell version allows you to go heavier than you might with a barbell while maintaining a higher degree of safety. This is another move to be done early, ideally with four to five of six to eight reps on each leg.
Some people say the squat is an ego thing. OK, we buy that — banging out reps with 405 pounds across your back is epic enough. But let’s see that same behemoth try an unweighted squat. On one leg. With the other leg held straight out in front of the body. Now that’s something to brag about.
Pistols, as they are known in the CrossFit community, require a high degree of balance and, yes, pure functional strength. They allow you to work your legs unilaterally, like you do in most athletic activities, but also provide a huge aesthetic payoff because so much more muscle is called into play to maintain stability on each rep. Start these slowly, trying two to three sets of five to 10 reps per leg.
5. Jump Squat
Our squat is higher than your squat. The jump squat should absolutely be a part of your routine. Barbell squats are about strength. These are about force. The neuromuscular demand of this high-octane move recruits more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which — guess what? — have the most growth potential. Three sets of three to five high-flying reps (literally — squat down and jump back up) ahead of your heavy squat work can actually help you get more reps with heavier weight, an effect known as post-activation potentiation.