Last time we talked we were conversing about why you should do squats and how your body adapts to them. I hope that everyone took something away from the last article, even if you figured out how full of it I actually am. This installment of the 3 part series takes a new path and talks about squat variations.
People come in all shapes and sizes. The same goes for squats. Therefore, as the old saying goes, one size does not fit all. My point is, just because everyone does back squat doesn’t mean everyone should do back squat. In fact, from the squatting I see in the gym…..which, like I said before, is scarce at best….most people shouldn’t back squat, at least initially. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the two different categories of squats and the exercises associated with each category.
BILATERAL SQUAT VARIATIONS
This category is where I find most people work out of, figuratively and literally. Bilateral is used to describe how many sides of your body you’re using to perform the movement, “bi” meaning two….in this case two legs. You can use more weight with bilateral movements, which creates a bigger hormonal response (that’s a good thing, remember part 1?). The ability to use more weight can also create a problem. I can’t explain to you how many times in my high school and college career I heard coaches tell kids to use more weight, then I’d watch the kid squat, see his shoulders roll forward and knew that something didn’t look right. And herein lies the problem….put an untrained coaching staff in a weight room with young, testosterone filled athletes and you’re bound to have terrible form, followed by bad backs and bad knees. With that being said, let’s look at our bilateral squatting options. When someone asks you how much you squat, it is generally acceptable to think they are talking about back squats…..don’t know many people who would ask how much you front squat.
The back squat is what you would consider the mack daddy of bilateral squats. These will work primarily your quadriceps and glute muscles but also your hamstring, anterior and posterior core (abs and obliques and lower back) muscles. Back Squats can be the toughest to perform properly considering the amount of flexibility needed in your hips and ankles and also the core development you need to be able to support heavier loads. My preferred form of squat, atleast when using a barbell, is the front squat.
What the front squat does is takes the load from the posterior of the shoulders to the anterior of the shoulders. Again, this is a great quad and glute building exercise with help from the hamstrings but the pressure put on the internal obliques is much greater than that of the back squat. The reason the internal obliques are so important is for overall core stabilization and for antiflexion of the lumbar spine.
The final variation of bilateral squats I want to cover is the goblet squat.
Obviously this is very similar to the front squat in the sense that the weight is held on the anterior of the body. I have to give credit to Dan John for this one. His book Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning is filled with great training ideas while giving some life lessons along the way. The goblet squat is where I start all of my beginners. Even some athletes who have trained with me for a few years will start there program here. It allows you to start with very light weight and forces you to stay upright and keep your weight on your heels. Now, you are certainly not limited to these three variations, there are a hundred different ways to perform each of these exercises using different equipment. Back squat and front squat are the two big lift bilateral movements and I threw goblet squat in as a starting point. Now we move to unilateral movements.
UNILATERAL SQUAT VARIATIONS
In unilateral squats we are looking at movements done with one part of the body, or one leg in this case. Single leg squat variations are great for a number of reasons. First, they offer a multi-planar quality, which means you’re moving, or balancing, in more than one plane of the body, and increase the stabilization factor. Also, they are more relevant when it comes to everyday body movements. In other words, they are more “functional”….I hate the word “functional” because it’s been so overused and watered down that, at least in training, it doesn’t have a true meaning….but, it is what it is. OK, now the weights obviously have to be lighter so the hormonal release may not be as great. But, there is a theory out there, called the bilateral deficit theory, that says that you are stronger on one leg than you are on two. I have an unrelated video that supports this just to give you an idea. In the video I am performing single leg stiff leg deadlift.
Now if you can’t tell, the weight I’m using is 185LBS for a set of 6…..on one leg. Multiply that by two and theoretically I should be able to do a regular SLDL with 370LBS for 6 repetitions…..NO CHANCE!! Now, was this just a chance for me to brag about how much weight I can pull around with one leg….well, maybe…but, I’m trying to prove a point at the same time. With that said let’s look at the first progression of our unilateral variations, standing one leg squat.
Yes, this looks a lot like a lunge, but I like to differentiate a lunge and single leg squat by the movement. What I mean is, in a lunge you actually move and pick up your feet, so it’s dynamic. In a single leg squat both feet stay to the ground. This is where I start my beginners when it comes to single leg work and also where all of my programs start in general. Progression two is the rear foot elevated (RFE) squat.
In the video the exercise is performed goblet style (like the goblet squat…get it?) but can be performed with a barbell on the shoulders or suitcase style (holding dumbbells in each hand). And finally we have the unsupported single leg squat.
These are also performed goblet style. Again, you can perform these suitcase style or with a weight vest. All of these variations require a certain level of control and can really increase your ankle stability due to the multi-planar characteristics.
Now that I’ve written a book about six different variations of squats just know that there are hundreds of other styles of squats that can be incorporated into any program depending on your goals. This article represents the basics when it comes to squat variations but hopefully it has given you some knowledge about what bilateral and unilateral squatting has to offer and a starting point for each if you would like to implement them into your training.
Please feel free to ask any questions and leave any comments. Hope to hear from some of you soon! Have a great day!