One of the best leg workouts you can do is the squat. But you won’t be restricted to the same-old with these options.
Anyone involved in the fitness industry for any length of time will have heard the famous quote describing the squat exercise as "the king of all lower body exercises." Squats work more muscle than any other lower body exercise, thereby burning more calories. You also get a good cardio workout when you squat!
If you already incorporate squats in your workout, it’s possible you always perform the squat the same way when there are, in fact, several ways this exercise can be performed. Performing the squat in different ways offers several benefits. Here are a few.
- Reduce the risk of injury. If you only ever perform the squat in one way, you increase the chance of an overuse injury.
- Prevent boredom.
- Can be used to target different muscle groups. Specific variations therefore can be used to meet your specific goals.
- Offer more complete development among the muscles.
- Can be used by strength athletes to lift more weight (specific variations).
This article looks at how you can use some intelligent variations of the squat to place more stress on certain muscle groups than others. You can then use these variations to benefit your training by targeting the specific muscle groups you want to work.
Changing the position of the overloadPlacing the overload to the front of the body has two benefits. First, the trunk can be kept more upright, placing more stress on the quads. Second, placing the load directly over the quads means the quads will receive most of the stress.
Range of movement
There are many variations to how deep you can perform a traditional back squat. The involvement of the hamstrings and gluteus is greatly increased when you perform squats below parallel. So if you’re trying to target the hamstrings and gluteus, you’ll need to perform squats below parallel.
Although there is no less activation in the quads when you squat past parallel, you could increase the overload in the quads by only squatting to parallel (as in box squats) as the decrease in the range of movement would enable you to use more weight.
Raising your heels
By raising your heels as you squat, you can keep your trunk more upright, therefore placing more stress on the quads.
Range of movement and raising your heels
Specific parts of the quads can also be targeted to receive more stress by manipulating the range of movement. When squatting with your heels raised, go down to the bottom position of the squat. Then come a quarter of the way up (a quarter of the range of movement). Next, squat back down again to the bottom position and then complete the movement by coming all the way up (full range of movement). This variation of the squat, commonly known as the cyclist squat, effectively targets the Vastus Medialis (teardrop shape muscle of the quads).
Taking a narrow stance in the squat places more stress on the quads. Turning your toes inward will target the Vastus Lateralis (outside of the quads).
Taking a wide stance will place more stress on the hams and gluteus. In this variation of squat, you can only squat to parallel. However, the stress is placed on hamstrings and gluteus due to the foot position. Turning the toes outward places more stress on the adductors.
Bar placementThere are two positions the bar can be placed in for a traditional back squat. Placing the bar high on the traps (as commonly used by bodybuilders) means the trunk can keep more upright, therefore placing more stress on the quads.Placing the bar low on the traps (as commonly used by powerlifters) means the trunk needs to lean forward more, therefore placing more stress on the hamstrings and gluteus.
More often than not, the squat is only ever performed in a straight up and down movement. By performing the squat in a lateral movement, you are effectively placing more stress on the adductors.
There are also many devices, such as the safety bar and the manta ray, that allow you to squat more upright to work the quads more effectively.
You’ve now discovered there is no one way to perform the squat.
The definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." By introducing some of the variations detailed in this article to your workout, you can not only make your training more productive by targeting the muscles you want to work, but also make squatting more fun!