There’s a choice?
I know right… It seems there’s always a new machine or new gimmick out there to help you “Tone” your thighs or help you get a bigger squat.
This article isn’t that. This is a simple no-nonsense guide on how to pick the right tool for the job.
It seems so obvious but if you can’t get into a basic position unloaded (no weight) with great form, then what makes you think putting 30/60/100kg on your back is going to improve your situation.
Think of your body like building blocks, if everything is stacked naturally, gravity does the work for you and keeps you strong. But if something is not in the right position, then the slack will be taken up elsewhere and that’s when injuries occur.
High-Bar or (regular) Back Squat.
This is the most commonly taught variation of the squat. This is used most commonly because it is the easiest to master and the most efficient movement pattern to replicate in clients.
It engages all facets of your leg and midline.
This is the ideal squat if you are looking to improve your general lifting strength and help with your power output. It can also be used effectively in workouts to produce metabolic conditioning (fitness).
Low-Bar Back Squat.
The movement is almost the same as the above, but instead the bar sits lower down our thoracic spine and forces us to bend over a little more to balance the bar.
It will engage more of your posterior chain and take some of the pressure off your quads.
This is a variation used to help people increase strength in the midline, glutes, hamstrings and lower back. It has a higher application towards power movements as it builds those powerhouse muscles I just mentioned.
One added benefit is it can help with knee pain if you spend your time too upright in the high-bar squat but knee pain is multi-faceted and should be looked at with a professional physiotherapist to guide your recovery.
I personally use this a lot with my rugby players to prep them well for the high impact they take on a weekly basis.
The front squat has more of a sports application than GPP. It loads up your quads more than the above 2 positions and also challenges your midline to a higher capacity. Having a qualified coach watch this movement if you’re trying it for the first time is important!
Like I said, this variation lends itself to sport progression more. It lends itself to Olympic weightlifting in particular and when put in place and trained consistently can break plateaus in your back squat as it builds those quads up so strong.
It also takes a bit of pressure off your lower back and knees allowing you to focus on that core.
These are one of my favourite support exercises for my lifters!
This simple yet deceptive looking exercise has it all. Coordination, strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, power.
If it were up to me, all programs would use this exercise in some shape or form. The main benefits are to help correct unilateral deficiencies but on a much grander scale than the lunge. It’s also a great tool for improving ankle strength through the balance required to hold the position and will also encourage you to improve your flexibility as you try to get your depth.
This exercise works your entire leg and is great for the ladies looking to tighten up the backs of your legs and bums while also helping break plateaus for all my strength athletes.
Single Leg Bench Squats.
This support exercise is a gem that will improve your glute function and can be a leading exercise in lessening back pain and hip pinching (again you should always work with a professional physiotherapist to find the best solution for your pain).
This exercise helps build stability in your hips, ankles, glutes and knees which transfers not just to squatting but also to running and a lot of day to day activities.
I use this exercise as part of my warm ups for my athletes to help prime the right muscles to be used in the “bigger lifts”.
Lunge (a version of split squats).
Back rack or front rack (same as squatting) the lunge allows you to begin to work on unilateral weaknesses. Squats work in a bilateral movement pattern and therefore discrepancies can appear in your strong side vs weak side.
This variation is a good start for correcting these deficiencies but it’s main focus helps you build the glutes and posterior chain. This will give you a stronger and more stable squat when used as additional lifting to your traditional squat program.
Also, a great metabolic conditioning tool if you want to jack up that heart rate!
Finally, stance and position.
How you setup your stance (for bilateral squat positions) makes a marked difference in the results you will achieve.
Feet width will be determined by limb length and hip position but traditionally you can start with feet shoulder width apart, toes turned out approx. 30 degrees. From here you can play around a bit with your trainer or coach to find what works best for you. This position is great for GPP.
For a lot of my rugby guys I tend to have their feet a little straighter to help the strength they create transfer more into their gameplay. As humans we tend not to run with our feet turned out and therefore building strength we should treat the same.
This will change depending on the athlete though.
And when it comes to the old argument of hips below or above parallel I also choose depending upon the athlete. I would like most of my athletes to be able to rest/squat comfortably with the hips below parallel in a deep squat.
But when it comes to some sports, building strength in that range is unnecessary or less of a requirement and therefore squatting to above parallel may have added benefits.
There are so many variations of squats out there and these are just a few simple ones that you can begin to work with and understand the requirements of for your own training.
If you want to learn more about how you can incorporate these variations into your program, feel free to reach out.