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Squat Variations for a Better Squat

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Lu Xioajun 260kg Back Squat
Lu Xioajun 260kg Back Squat (Photo from Hookgrip)

Squatting is one of the foundational movements that we learn as children. We usually learn to squat between 14-16 months old, once we have learned to walk without assistance, but for many reasons many people can not squat comfortably.

Squatting is a way to get from the ground up, or back down to the ground in development. In many countries the squat is a resting position, that you can eat, go to the bathroom, or just relax in. In our society very few people can use the squat as a resting position. It is my opinion that people should be able to drop into the bottom of a squat and relax in that position comfortably for long periods of time. If you cannot achieve this position comfortably this article will give you other options to train this position with a little less stress.

The weighted squat (Back squat, Front Squat, etc) is similar to the unweighted squat, with a few key differences. Your center of mass (COM) will change with different weight positions, this leads to different joint angles throughout the body. Below you can see a simple comparison from Dr. Richard Ulm’s DNS weightlifting course.

The goal of squatting with load is to keep the COM over the middle of the foot as best possible, in order to accomplish this, your torso, hip, and ankle angles need to change depending on where the weight is positioned.

The following exercises can be used in our warm-up, workout, or cool down to help improve the mechanics of your squat. Spending more time in these positions and learning to own them will lead to improved performance in any squat variation.

Bodyweight squat (Air Squat)

This is one of the most challenging squat variations because you must have full range of motion in every joint in order to keep COM over the midfoot. Many people do not have the required dorsiflexion in the ankle to keep this balance. While spending time in the bottom of an air squat can help improve positions, this is usually not the most efficient way to train this. I like to use the air squat as a daily check in to see how my body has been recovering from my training. Doing 5-10 air squats in the morning is an easy way to see what joints may need a break or extra mobility work that day.

Door Frame squat

This can be done just about anywhere, and it doesn’t always have to be a door frame. You can use a table, bed, or even another person. Using your arms to take some of the load off the lower body will help find the best bottom position for you. Holding onto the door frame also lets you sit back and to keep your torso more vertical which in turn decreases the amount of hip flexion you need to complete the squat. This is an easy exercise to open up the hips if they are tight while also getting your feet and ankles to feel the ground as you descend.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a great tool to help someone learn the position of a squat due to the ability to keep the weight in front of you to create a counterbalance. This counterbalance helps keep the center of mass evenly distributed throughout the entire foot. Similar to the door frame squat, you need less hip flexion than a typical air squat. The goblet squat is a great stepping stone to being able to squat with a barbell. Focus on creating good support through the entire foot as you come up but also while you go down to the bottom. A great cue is to think about pushing the ground away, this takes some practice to get good at but it can be a game changer.

Bottoms up squat

The bottoms up squat, which is a transition from bear to a deep squat is one of the easiest ways to get into a squat. The movement going from the floor on all fours to a free squat with two points of support is what we did when we were children. The pattern is already programmed into our movement toolbox, but we never do it because we do not spend time on the floor. Retraining this not only helps get into a squat, it reflexively activates your canister having all four extremities in contact with the floor, the ability to centrate the hips, ankles, and shoulder blades becomes much easier. Another added benefit is that there is an amazing hamstring and calf stretch while raising the hips.

Do we need to squat with a barbell?

This is a question that I ask a lot of people and the answer is always yes without hesitation. Why do we NEED to squat? Have you thought about using only lunges for a cycle instead of squatting? Lunging is the same knee flexion pattern as a squat but requires slightly less sagittal plane stability because the pelvis is locked into place with the legs in opposite directions. However, there is a greater demand for stability in the frontal and transverse plane along with balance being challenged. Be on the lookout for a more in depth article on the benefits of lunging.

If your sport demands squatting, then you must squat but you may not need to squat all year round. The task given to the client or athlete needs to make sense in the long run. Choosing whether a client should squat should always revolve around their goals, movement capacities, lifestyle habits, and the dose response of the workout or training cycle.

Move Better Feel Better Live Better

Disclaimer: If you have any pinching or pain in these positions, please seek professional help. These positions should be pain free and fluid to move in and out of.

If you would like to improve your squat schedule an appointment here.

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