It’s hard to think of a part of the body that isn’t worked during squats. Arms, you might say? But there are so many combination exercises you can create around the humble squat, grabbing a pair of dumbbells or a resistance band to incorporate bicep curls or tricep extensions. For the purposes of this post, I’m sticking to squat variations that primarily engage the muscles of your legs – glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. Low- or high-impact, squats work the biggest muscles in your body and therefore help you hit the calorie-burning jackpot. They also create balance in the lower body – working the fronts and backs of your legs equally so you avoid common weaknesses like “lazy glutes”, and the chunky thighs and flat bum that can result from imbalances.
It’s time to get your glutes in gear. Work your way through the following 10 squat variations, and try pairing them with these plank exercises to complement your new toned tush with a slim, strong midsection.
Assume a shoulder-width stance and lower your hips back and down while your arms float in front of you for balance. Try to keep your shoulder blades pulling back – this will prevent any rounding of the spine and keep your chest facing up and forwards. Aim to get your thighs parallel with the floor, then pause at the bottom for a moment before slowly returning to a standing position. Think about contracting your glutes and hamstrings throughout to get the most bang for your buck!
To feel the heat in your thighs, take your squat to the wall and hold an isometric position for as long as possible. I love wall squats because they’re great for partner work – one person can perform tricep dips off the other’s thighs, then you can switch as part of a great bodyweight circuit routine. To start out, simply stand with your back against a wall and your feet about a foot from the skirting board. Sink down into your hips until your thighs are completely parallel with the floor. Engage your core and hold tight. 30 seconds is ideal for beginners, while more advanced exercisers should aim to surpass the minute mark!
Dumbbell overhead squat
Grab a pair of light dumbbells and hold them in an extended shoulder press position straight above your head. Sink into your basic squat without bending at the elbows. Remind yourself to pull your shoulders down your back throughout. The extra lever of your arms in the air will increase the challenge on your core – so you strengthen your tum while sculpting your bum.
Single leg stability squat
Another take on the isometric squat, this move activates more of the stabilising muscles around your knees and hips. It’s great for athletes who need to build up resilience to quick changes of direction and prevent injury from overtraining. Drop into a basic squat and pull your bellybutton into your spine as you hover your right leg off the floor. Extend the lifted foot to the back, then out to the side. Repeat all your reps on one side before switching over to even out your glutes!
Walking burpee squat
A great alternative to the high-impact burpee, the walking burpee squat will elevate your heartrate for a cardio burst that won’t put stress on your knees or shake the floorboards for those of us who live in creaky flats. Lower into a basic squat and plant your hands on the floor between your feet, then step one leg at a time into a plank position. Walk the legs back in and reverse the squat until you’re standing. That’s one rep.
To work deeper into your adductors (those inner thigh muscles everyone stresses over during bikini season), heel-toe your starting stance until your feet are just wider than your shoulders. Make sure your toes are pointing out to 45 degrees, then drop into a squat and keep your knees tracking over your toes. The temptation will be to let your knees fall backwards, but by squeezing your adductors and resisting this temptation you’ll get a beautiful streamlining contraction through your thighs.
Deep side squat
Assume the same wide stance as above, but drop your butt back and to the side so your hip falls over your ankle on the same side. Plant your elbow inside the knee and let the other toe come off the floor. As well as building up tons of strength in the working glute, you’ll stretch and lengthen the inner thigh.
Preparing for your basic squat, lift your heels, tuck your pelvis and squeeze your lower abdominals to stabilise your body from top to toe. Keeping your back flat, lower your hips back and down into a parallel squat. Complete 10-15 full reps on your tip toes, then get an extra ‘burn’ in your calves by pausing at the bottom of the position and lower and lift your heels. You may need to shake out your legs after this one.
Touch down squat jumps
Watch out for creaky floorboards on this one. Combine your cardio with conditioning and take your basic squat up a notch with a bit of explosive lift-off. Lower into a squat and touch your fingertips to the floor on either side of your ankles before pushing upwards with maximum force. Gently bend your knees as you land and lower straight into your next rep. Keep this one smooth and steady. Warning: your breath will want to race ahead – that’s a sign you’re working hard.
Frog squat shuffle
Time to take that dynamic squat jump one step further – or forward. From the back of your mat or workout space, lower into a deep squat and explode up and ahead by a few feet. Land in a soft squat and maintain that position as you ‘shuffle’ your feet to the start position. Don’t stop moving. Just know that your fitness is skyrocketing with every rep.
Want to see variations of more of your favourite exercises? I always take suggestions on board, so please let me know how I can help to inspire your workouts!