Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Joel Ohman.
Ah, the squat. Certainly one of the manliest exercises around, and for good reason. You can make a strong case that the squat is the best exercise you can possibly do. In the old school weightlifting classic, Super Squats: How to Gain 30 lbs of Muscle in 6 Weeks by Dr. Randall Strossen, many of the oldtime bodybuilding and powerlifting greats even went on record as saying that if they were forced to choose only one exercise that they could do to see maximal results, then they would choose…yep, you guessed it, the squat.
So why is the squat often referred to as the “King of Exercises?” Because it works all the muscles in your legs at the same time, while also strengthening your hips and lower back. And your upper body is called upon as well, so it’s really a total body exercise. And because of this, it really gets the heart pumping, the calories burning, and your testosterone going.
So if you want to start working out like a king, here is the ultimate guide to performing 35+ different squat exercises–some of them bodyweight exercises and many of them using weights. Don’t try them all out at once; with the squat you really need to concentrate on using proper form.
Learn how to do all of these and you may not be able to squat 1,000 lbs or have a cool James Bond villain meets Tony Little sounding nickname like “Dr. Squat,” but you will most certainly add some variety to your workouts while still punishing your leg muscles with the satisfying deep down pain only squats can dish out.
The Ultimate Squat Exercise List
Also known as the bodyweight squat, the prisoner squat is a great exercise you can do without any equipment. An added bonus is that it’s a bodyweight exercise that you can instantly start doing almost anywhere with minimal risk of embarrassment (i.e. handstand push-ups are another great bodyweight exercise as well, but are much harder to explain if your boss walks into your office and catches you with your feet up against a wall).
The classic squat. If you can only choose one of these squat exercises to do, then this is the one. From the classic 5×5 Workout Plan to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Workout Plan–pretty much every legitimate classic weight training workout incorporates the barbell squat.
If you have ever watched one of the Westside Barbell training sessions where it’s routine for insanely large men to squat insanely heavy weights until their noses start bleeding (literally) then you know that box squats can be tough.
Barbell Jump Squat
This is a great exercise for improving your vertical jump and becoming more explosive. The key here is to use relatively light weight and not be so proud that you just have to use the “big plates.”
Freehand Jump Squat
This is a great plyometric body weight squat exercise that completely removes from the equation the force your arms generate when jumping.
Barbell Front Squat
This is likely the second most popular barbell squat exercise (after the standard barbell “back” squat) and targets the quads, core, and stabilizers a little more than the regular barbell squat. Tip: flare your elbows up as high as possible and create a “shelf” on the meaty front part of your shoulders to rest the barbell.
Barbell Hack Squat
This can be a little bit of an awkward movement to master at first, especially if your arms are on the shorter side. One advantage to doing barbell hack squats is that it removes any pain associated with the spinal compression inherent with placing very heavy weights on your shoulders. You can think of this as almost like a “reverse deadlift movement.”
Split Squat Jump
This is a bodyweight plyometric movement that is kind of like the offspring of a lunge and a squat jump.
Overhead Barbell Squat
If I am being honest, this is probably the hardest squat for me personally to perform on this entire list. I have lifted weights for 15+ years and used to consider myself a fairly flexible person (my physical therapist referred to me as “hyper mobile” and I could come close to doing a full side squat without a whole lot of practice when I first started doing martial arts as a teenager) and yet I am absolutely horrible at performing overhead barbell squats with good form. Try these with a broomstick or unloaded barbell (and preferably someone watching who knows what they are doing) before attempting to go heavy on this exercise.
Bulgarian Dumbbell Split Squat
One word. Ouch. These hurt. The higher of a bench you use, the lower you go, and the further out you place your lead leg, the more these will hurt. If you have never done these before, then prepare yourself for some intense groin, hip, and glute muscle soreness for days to come.
Goblet Bulgarian Split Squat
You might think that these are so close to the previous exercise that they are not worth mentioning as a separate exercise. Think again. If Bulgarian dumbbell split squats hurt, then this goblet version really, really hurts. Holding a dumbbell (or a kettlebell, medicine ball, small animal/child, etc.) in the goblet position and maintaining perfect form throughout this exercise is very taxing on the core and stabilizer muscles. And oh yeah, your groin, glutes, hips, thighs, and quads are still screaming out with pain just like with the regular dumbbell version. Enjoy. (No hate mail please – you will notice that I do these too).
Smith Machine Squat
The Smith machine removes a lot of the stress that a normal squat will place on your stabilizer muscles. This is less than optimal for a lot of reasons, but Smith machine squats can still be a nice addition to your workout for some added variety. One added bonus is that you should be able to really pile the weight on, as these are much easier than the standard barbell squat.
The downside to dumbbell squats is that you can’t go super heavy (even if you are one of those guys that can curl the 100lb+ dumbbells up to shoulder level). The advantage to doing these is that it targets your stabilizers and leg muscles a little differently than they are likely used to with a standard squat.
The goblet squat can be performed with a dumbbell, medicine ball, or kettlebell. I really love goblet squats because they are a great exercise to force you into proper squat position. Is it the “single best lifting movement of all time,” as some claim? I wouldn’t quite go that far, but they are not to be underestimated.
Barbell Speed Squat
The same principles for the barbell back squat apply here although you will want to choose a lighter weight and perform the movement with proper form as quickly as you possibly can.
Barbell Side Split Squat
These are tricky, so don’t think that you should load up the barbell with a lot of weight until you get the hang of it. Please, please, please don’t be one of those guys that puts a bazillion pounds on the bar and then does half movement reps instead of doing the full range of movement. You are only cheating yourself if you don’t ease up on the weight and perform these for the full range of motion.
This is another great bodyweight movement. The frog squat targets the inner thigh/groin area a little more than most squat exercises because of the wider stance that is required.
Machine Hack Squat
This is a step up from the leg press machine and a step down from the regular barbell squat. The ability to brace your back against the pad makes for easy work on your stabilizer muscles and allows for you to load up the machine with enough plates to really impress the people in your gym that don’t really know a whole lot about weightlifting. (If your pride is still hurt from using a broom or just the bar for the overhead dumbbell squats, then by all means give these a try next to make yourself feel a little better about yourself if you need to.)
Machine Jump Squat
While it’s never smart to load on a lot of weight when doing barbell jump squats, this rule of thumb doesn’t apply when it comes to machine jump squats.
No bench, barbell, or dumbbells required. Grab a single weight plate and hold it straight out in front of you while squatting down into a full squat. This will really hit your core and shoulders in addition to your leg muscles.
Plie Dumbbell Squat
This is a squat that you can do in your basement even if all you have lying around is a few dumbbells.
One-Arm Overhead Kettlebell Squat
This requires a little bit of practice to get the form down exactly right. You can also use a dumbbell in a pinch although a kettlebell is ideal.
Bench Pistol Squat
Once you can perform these with perfect form then (and only then) try performing pistol squats without the bench for support. If you can perform these perfectly without a bench on your first try then you are either a competitive gymnast or just someone that is freakishly athletic, someone for whom the Superman Workout is likely a mere warm-up.
Bosu Ball Squat
Don’t mock these just because they require one those “half balls” that are used in many aerobic classes. You will find out pretty quickly if your balance isn’t where it should be. No cheating. Go all the way down below parallel into a full squat.
Swiss Ball Squat
OK, so you thought the Bosu Ball squats were easy, right? Now, try your balance out by performing some full squats while standing on a Swiss ball. Have fun. (You might not want to try these for the first time right in the middle of a crowded gym.)
Double Kettlebell Front Squat
Kettlebells are all the rage these days. Some kettlebell exercises seem so contrived as to be borderline ridiculous–more circus act than exercise. The double kettlebell front squat is not one of these. Give them a try and be sure to keep your core tight and maintain strict form.
This is a slightly more advanced version of the barbell front squat. Zercher squats will do a number on your core, even more so than front squats.
Dip Belt Squat
These are great for vertical jump training as well as taking the stress off of your back that tends to come with most other loaded squat variations.
Lying Machine Squat
Another machine squat that allows you to go up pretty heavy in weight while taking the stress off of your stabilizer muscles.
This is a squat that you perform while staying on your toes the entire time. This is not an exercise that you want to use a lot of weight (if any) on, so take this one nice and easy.
The Jefferson Squat might earn you a few strange looks at the gym but just don’t get so distracted by the onlookers that you bring the bar up too high at the top of the movement.
The Skater Squat, like almost all single leg movements, is a great exercise for improving your balance and your flexibility.
So, does an exercise named the “Sissy Squat” really belong on any type of list on AOM? Try them out and then judge for yourself…
Roman Chair Squat
This exercise should actually trade names with the Sissy Squat because while the “Roman Chair Squat” has a much manlier sounding name, it’s really a very easy movement.
Nothing is more manly than slinging a keg up onto your shoulders and banging out a few squat reps, right?
The only thing that is possibly more manly than slinging a keg around and doing squats is bear hugging/wrestling a sandbag into position and performing squats. Bonus points if you use a sandbag that weighs as much as a grown man.
Know any other squat variations? Share them in the comments!
Joel Ohman is a serial entrepreneur, long time AOM reader (and past contributor), and co-founder of the social workout website WeightTraining.com. Join him in the AOM workout group to compete on the leaderboard, find a workout plan, track your workouts, and have fun competing while seeing real results. Regular membership on WeightTraining.com is 100% free.