Behold: The humble bodyweight squat. Not only will dropping it like it's hot strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, adding squats to your regular workout routine could mean fewer knee injuries . Steiner ME, Grana WA, Chillag K, Schelberg-Karnes E. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1986 Jan-Feb;14(1):24-9.. And you’ll increase your bone mass which will help you avoid osteoporosis as you age . Mosti MP, Carlsen T, Aas E, Hoff J, Stunes AK, Syversen U. Journal of Strength Conditioning Res. 2014 Apr 14. Plus, one study shows that increasing lower body strength can help you be a better runner . Seitz LB1, Reyes A, Tran TT, et al. Sports Medicine. 2014 Jul 25..
We've rounded up 40 variations in four different categories—bodyweight, plyometric, weighted, and equipment—for your squatting pleasure (or pain).
1. Basic Squat
Start by standing in the beginning squat position with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, neck straight, and abs tight. Hold your arms out in front of you—straight with palms facing down, bent at the elbows. Or do our favorite arm move: the Aladdin arm cross. Whichever you do, don't put your hands on your legs. Bend your knees and slowly lower yourself down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push your bottom backward, as if you were sitting on a chair. Don't worry too much about letting your knees go forward over your toes. It's a popular , but depending on your limb length, flexibility and hip joints, your knees may naturally go over your feet as you squat. As long as it doesn't hurt, you're OK. Return to standing.
Got a dominant leg? It's OK, we all do! Focusing your squat on one leg at a time can help even out muscular imbalances. Start in the beginning squat position. Lift your left leg up, bending the knee slightly to get your foot off the ground. You can hold your raised foot slightly in front or behind you depending on whatever feels more steady. Using only your right leg, lower yourself down as far as is comfortable. Return upright. Try not to put your left foot down between reps; you can use a wall or chair for support if needed. Repeat on the other side, no one wants their biscuits to be unbalanced!
Perform a basic squat, but instead of returning to standing, stay in the lowest part of your squat with your thighs parallel to the ground and move up and down, keeping the movement small (a few inches up or down) and fast.
If you want to impress people at parties by squatting (you know, like you do) then bust out the pistol squat. It can be tricky to master but the results are impressive. From a beginning squat position hold your left leg straight out in front of you, arms also in front and parallel to your leg. Slowly squat all the way down until your butt is almost to your heel and your lifted leg is fully extended in front of you with the foot hovering a few inches above the floor. That was the easy part. Now stand back up without falling over or using your lifted leg. If you're really adventurous you can follow . Or just use it as inspiration because, wow. Warning: This one’s a toughie!
Nope, we're not giving you permission to sit on a chair and take five. Stand with your feet and legs together. Sit backward and down, pushing your hips out behind you. Lift your arms as high as you can, taking care not to let your chest drop. You can return to standing and repeat the squat, or for more of a challenge, hold it.
Stand with your feet and legs together. Hold your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground. Rise up on your toes and lower down until your rear is almost touching your heels. While still on your toes, return to standing.
Anyone who thinks squats are boring will love this challenge. Begin by standing with your feet close together and arms out in a T. Lift your right leg over your left leg and wrap your right foot around the back of your left calf. Now bring your right elbow underneath your left elbow, wrapping your right hand around your left forearm until your palms are together. Once you have your balance, squat down as low as you can. Return upright. If anyone looks at you funny just tell them pretzels are your favorite food—that is, if you can still talk. (If all this limb "wrapping" has you confused, just study the picture below.)
Black Swan fans, unite! Begin by standing with your heels together, toes pointing slightly outward, and legs straight. Without sticking your butt out, bend your knees and lower down as far as is comfortable. Allow your heels to come up at the bottom of the squat. Return to standing. Tutus are optional (but know that if you do choose to rock one at the gym, we fully approve).
It's a squat! It's a stretch! It's a... squatch? (OK that sounds wrong.) Begin by standing then bend your knees and lower a few inches into a slight squat. Lift your right leg up, bend your knee and cross it over your left leg, with your right ankle resting on your left knee. Being careful not to lose your balance, lower down until your supporting thigh is parallel to the ground. Don't let your hips dip to either side! Return to standing. Repeat on the other side.
Floor-stomping, 12,000-calorie meals, and lots of grunting: Why should Sumo wrestlers have all the fun? Try this variation of the traditional sumo stance by standing with your legs wide, toes pointed slightly outward. Push your hips back and bend your knees, squatting until your thighs are in line with your knees. Return to standing or pulse at the bottom of the movement. We'll leave the outfit up to you.
To up the cool factor (and add more work for your calves and core), perform the sumo squat with your heels raised. Try not to put your feet down through the entire movement.
Stand with your feet close together, arms out straight in front of you. Bend your knees and lower down until your butt is touching your heels. Your heels will come off the ground and your knees will be way forward past your toes. That's OK! As you squat down, lower your arms and lightly brush your fingers on the ground. Raise your arms back to shoulder height as you return to standing.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and hands on hips. Move your right foot behind your left leg, as far past your left foot as is comfortable. Using a "curtsy" motion, squat down. Keep your weight in the front leg. Return to standing.
Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart. Lower down into a basic squat. As you stand back up, lift your right leg up (still bent at the knee). Bring your leg across your body as you crunch forward with your abs until your right knee touches your left elbow. This takes butts AND guts!
A plyometric is any movement where both feet leave the ground at the same time. (That's code for "jump.") Not only do they work your muscles harder but they add some cardio to your strength training. So to take your basic squat to the next level, add a jump! Start in the beginning squat position. Lower yourself about half way and then jump up in the air before landing on your feet, standing. You can swing your arms for momentum, if you like.
Frogs are known for being great jumpers so let your inner amphibian out—you know you have one—with this squat jump. Begin in a "frog squat" with your legs wide, toes and knees pointed slightly out, and butt low to the ground. Place your hands on the ground in front of you. Hop up (preferably while doing your best "ribbit") and then land back in the frog squat.
Begin in a low, wide squat position with your arms out to your sides as if you are balancing on a surfboard. Jump and turn sideways so you land in the same surfer squat but now with the other leg forward.
This is a squat jump for people who like an element of danger in their workouts! Stand in front of a large, stable box. (Cardboard is a bad option. Wood is best.) Lower down into a basic squat and instead of standing up jump from both feet, landing squarely on the box in a squat position. Step or jump off and repeat. Start with a fairly low box—no higher than one foot—and work up to progressively higher boxes as your strength and confidence improve. Be very careful to land with both feet all the way on the box or your shins will pay the price.
Start in a low squat with your feet hip width apart. Jump as high as you can, tucking your knees up to your chest and slapping your knees with your hands (or shins if you're fancy!). Land back in a low squat and repeat. It's kind of like a reverse cannonball. Or the move you might make if you saw a rattlesnake. Make sure you don't return to standing between reps, that's where the burn gets good.
Why stick to plain jumping jacks when you could be upping your game too? Start in a squat position. Jump your legs out like you would with a jumping jack but stay low in the squat. Jump your feet back in together. Don't come out of the squat until you've finished all your reps!
As if burpees aren't painful enough on their own, now you can combine them with a squat! Start in a crouching position, knees between your arms and tucked under your chest. Jump your legs out back into a plank position. Jump your legs back in, this time landing on your feet in a low squat. Repeat.
These are easier than they look. Trust us. You're going to want to chicken out right before the jump, but you can do this! You're a ninja! Begin kneeling on the floor with your arms bent at your sides and feet flat. Engaging your glutes, quads, and hips spring up onto your feet. (Yes, both feet at the same time.) Land in a low squat position. Swinging your arms helps. As does having a high threshold for embarrassment.
Start as you would for a Sumo squat with your legs wide and toes pointing slightly out. Arms can be on top of your head or crossed in front of you at shoulder height. Lower down into a low squat. Transfer all your weight to your left foot while kicking your right foot out to the side. Then switch your weight to your right foot and kick your left leg out to the side. For more work, add a slight jump with each weigh transfer. (And for more fun see if you can do the entire routine from Fiddler on the Roof. And then send us video. Please.)
Squats With Equipment
A traditional pistol squat can be tough to master. It requires a unique blend of muscle control, strength, balance, and coordination. There's a lot of falling on your bum between your first attempt and the perfect pistol. But using a TRX can help you master the motion without the butt bruises. Stand in front of the TRX, grasping both handles with arms extended. Lift your left leg. Slower lower down with your right leg, using the TRX to stabilize you. Try to stand up using as much of your own strength as you can and allow the TRX to give you that last little pull back up to standing!
Who hasn't wanted to be like one of those elephants on a ball at the circus? Live out your dream by practicing your squats on a Bosu with the bubble side down. Stand in front of your Bosu. If you're brave and trust your balance, the easiest way to get on is to hop with both feet and land on top of it. If you're a little more cautious, step up one foot at a time into the center and then heel-toe your feet out until their hip-width apart. Perform a basic squat.
This move is just like the upside-down Bosu squat, but this time you're standing on the bubble. It doesn't require as much balance, but it works the small muscles in your legs and core so much more . Willardson JM, Fontana FE, Bressel E. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2009 Mar;4(1):97-109.!
The bane of middle-school gym class has come back to haunt you! But no worries: This time there won't be a coach standing over you with a stopwatch and a look of disapproval. Stand with your back against a wall with your feet hip width apart. Lower down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the ground and your back is flat against the wall. Don't rest your arms on your legs or the wall. Now hold. Keep holding. Nope, you're not done yet. Stop whining! Seriously. Embrace the burn. Just stay there, we'll come back and check on you. Maybe.
Stand facing away from the TRX. Bend your right leg up behind you, reach around and put your foot in the foot loop. Take a small hop forward to put some distance between your feet. Slowly lower down on your standing leg as far as is comfortable, keeping your back leg suspended. Return to standing.
This is just like a basic squat but with one foot up on a low bench or box. To amp up the fun, put all your weight on your raised leg and stand up straight. Your bottom leg will come up off the floor. This helps you practice shifting your weight while keeping your balance (and helps for all those times you walk down the street with one foot on the curb and the other in the gutter). Be sure to maintain proper form. Don't let your head drop or your back round.
Crank up the Sir Mix-a-Lot and get ready to build your butt! Loop a resistance band around your legs, just under your knees. Keeping your knees stable by pushing out against the band (that's the hard part!), lower down into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Take one step to the left while maintaining your squat. Step back on the left. Keep switching sides or do all one side and then repeat on the other. To amp up the butt-blasting, add a second band around your ankles.
You know that moment when you really want to try a heavier back squat but as you look around the gym you can't find anyone to spot you that isn't a) totally into their own workout or b) creepy? (What? Just us?) A Smith machine has catches built in so you can squat heavier without risking injury from dropping the bar. To use it, simply position the bar at just below shoulder height. Stand under it, facing forward, and grip the bar with both hands. Stand up to release the catch. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground and then push back up. If you ever get stuck, roll the bar forward slightly to engage the safety catch.
If regular wall sits aren't challenging enough for you (you squatting maniac), try the figure-four squat. Not only will it work your supporting leg more, but you'll get a nice stretch as well. Stand with your back against a wall and squat down slightly. Lift up your right leg and cross it over your left leg with your right ankle resting on your left knee. Lower down to parallel and hold. Repeat on the other side.
Treadmills: Not just for running anymore! You paid a lot for that piece of machinery (or your gym did), but did you know you can get a full-body workout on it? Work your quads, butt, and inner thighs with these sideways squat steps on the . Start your treadmill at a very slow speed. One mile per hour is a good starting point. Step carefully onto the belt sideways with one foot near the display and the other near the rear. Lower down into a squat and step "up" the belt. To make it more difficult, add an incline.
Once you've mastered doing tons of reps of a basic squat, you'll realize that you’ll need to do them all day long to keep getting a good workout. To make better use of your time, try adding a weighted barbell across your shoulders. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place the bar across your shoulders, taking care to not put it on your neck. (Most people use a ""to get it up and over their head.) Now squat down with your best form. Since you don't have a Smith machine to help you, your core will work extra hard to keep the bar balanced and stop it from slipping. Return to standing. And remember, even though squatting feels like a basic move, when you add weight you increase risk of injury, so check with a coach or trainer to make sure your form is spot on.
Like cars, playground swings, and mobsters, you'd think a barbell would be one of those things that is safer to have in front of you than behind you. And yet the front squat is much harder for most people. Chalk it up to your back generally being stronger than your core (which is exactly why you need to try this move!). Start in a beginning squat position with the bar in front of you. Lift it up and place it on the front of your shoulders with your fingertips back toward you under the bar. Be careful not to whack yourself in the neck with it, not that we've ever done that. Keeping your head up and back straight, squat down as far as is comfortable. Return to standing.
This one looks deceptively easy but for most people it's the hardest of the barbell squats—maybe because of the strength, coordination, and balance required to hold a barbell overhead while maintaining a good squat. Stand in a wide stance and lift a weight bar straight up over your head. Keeping the bar above you, slowly perform a basic squat. Return to standing.
Perform a front squat with a barbell. As you return to standing, use your shoulders to push the bar up over your head. You can also do this holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Picture a beautiful, bucolic farm on a sunny day. You're walking and admiring your fields, maybe picking a tomato or two for a snack. And then you're grunting and sweating as you carry two buckets full of slop to the pigs. That second one is a , except without the fun part at the beginning. Start in a beginning squat position, holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand. Tighten your core and back. Perform a basic squat keeping the weights outside your legs. Return to standing.
Begin in a wide stance with your toes pointing forward and a light dumbbell in each hand. Squat down with the dumbbells on the inside of your legs, almost touching the ground. As you stand back up, press the dumbbells overhead and out so your arms and legs make an X. Repeat.
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest with both hands. Pretend it's a baby. (Just go with me, here.) Perform a basic squat without jostling or dropping the baby. Keep it close to your chest and steady. Return to standing. If you want to put the baby to bed and have a goblet of wine after, that's cool with us.