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Top 10 Barbell Squat Variations

Top 10 Squat Variations

Squats are a cornerstone of strength building and heavy lifting. Learning and developing the best squat variations can propel your athletic ability from mediocre to unstoppable. Check out, learn, and try the best barbell squat variations for strength, mass, and flexibility on your next leg day.

Back Squat

Known as the original barbell squat, the back squat is a great benchmark for strength gains. With the bar resting on your traps and upper back, you hold the bar using a pronated grip.

Squats

Keep your back straight and squat down as low as possible, then come back up without bouncing to prevent injury.

Pros

The back squat trains the posterior chain, is a total body workout, and improves your overall posture.

Cons

You might have to sit this one out if you have back problems, since engaging and keeping a straight, strong back is vital to the movement.

Front Squat

Front Squats

As you might have already guessed, the front squat is the polar opposite of the back squat.

This barbell squat variation requires more flexibility and trains it at the same time. Many consider this as a safer alternative to the traditional back squat.

Pros

Assuming keeping good form is what most are after, it is incredibly difficult and next to impossible to cheat this movement.

If you do, you may easily hurt yourself. But this is a solid squat movement to gain both muscle and strength.

Cons

The front squat not ideal for going after quadricep muscular failure because your small, stabilizing muscles most likely will fatigue first.

Overhead Squat

Overhead Squats

Most squat variations heavily target your glutes, hamstrings, and thighs. However, with the overhead squat, the core becomes more a star in a fight for balance.

Typically, far less weight is used because the barbell and plates are so far away from your center point and above the head.

Pros

Incredibly strengthens core muscles, which in turn develops a greater total body balance.

Cons

The overhead squat is not ideal for strengthening legs because the weight has to be far less in order to raise it above your head.

Cyclist Squat

By placing plates or a higher surface underneath your heels while in the squat rack, the cyclist squat is born. It looks just like a back squat but with your heels lifted about 4-6 inches off the ground.

Pros

Heavily targets your vastus medialis (inner thigh muscle), which may be weaker on many people.

Cons

Can not use too much weight because of the balancing nature of the lift. It may become too awkward and unsafe to up the weight too quickly.

Hack Squat

The hack squat feels as if you are about to sit on the barbell, but it always stays just out of your bottoms reach due to extended arms.

The easiest way to describe it is a “behind-the-back” deadlift – even though it is still regarded as a squat.

Pros

With the hack squat, you do not need a power or squat rack. Grab a barbell, and you are ready to go! Plus, it is relatively safer to perform hack squats until failure than traditional back squats.

Cons

If your grip strength is not up to par, you are strongly limited by your grip strength with the hack squat. Similar to the deadlift, it is best to train your grip strength in tandem with the hack squat for optimal gains.

Sumo Squat

Squat Leg Muscles

This movement is the same as a back squat but with a very wide, toes-out foot stance. You go only as low as your flexibility allows since the wide stance is a challenging stretch.

Pros

Great for building up a powerful lower body, the sumo squat places emphasis on your inner thigh abductors alongside building the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors.

Cons

You may need to build up your inner thigh flexibility first before you can really excel at strength and size gains from the sumo squat. Working hard out of a limited range of motion is not going to provide ideal results.

Zercher Squat

As you hold the bar in the bend of the elbows between your biceps and forearms, imagine cradling the barbell as hard as you can. The Zercher squat can be used for a total body workout and allows you to lift very heavy.

Pros

Targets the traps, core, and quadriceps to build strong, powerful muscles. Great for athletes to train under the intense pressure of squeezing into their body while lifting heavy.

Cons

May leave you with large bruises on your forearms and biceps because of the heavy pressure from a loaded barbell.

Anderson Squats

By utilizing the sidebars on a power or squat rack, Anderson squats force you to start the squat movement over again for each rep. If done correctly, it is a back squat that is impossible to use momentum.

Pros

It is next to impossible to cheat this movement. Every time the bar rests on the down movement, you have to raise the barbell back up again from a full stop.

Cons

Anderson squats do not allow for a complete range of motion under pressure. At the very bottom of the movement, the weight falls on the side racks instead.

Bulgarian Split Squat

These last two barbell squat variations are balance-heavy. Ideally, for safety, you need to be able to perform the Bulgarian split squat and pistol squat at a decent level before attempting with weight.

Bulgarian Split Squats

To start the Bulgarian split squat, elevate one of your legs around knee-level behind you. Then, squat down as if you were doing a back squat with only one leg for support.

Pros

This is an absolute killer and high-level lift for training your quadriceps, glutes, core, and balance.

Cons

You need to invest a lot of time beforehand developing a good bodyweight Bulgarian split squat and with small weights before you can move up to the barbell.

Pistol Squat

Pistol Squats

Strikingly similar to the Bulgarian split squat, you can imagine the pistol squat as a one-legged movement. But this time, your unused leg is in front of you this time, not behind. 

Pros

Trains balance, hamstrings, core, and glutes intensely on an elite level.

Cons

Just as with the Bulgarian split squat, you need time to become strong enough to do one-legged motions – especially with a barbell.

Conclusion

When you need to step up your game and boost your squat, any of these variations will do the trick.

But first you NEED to make sure you learn how to actually squat properly first. Without a strong foundation you will NEVER be able to build your strength to new heights.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the parent article to this one called The REAL Way To DO Squats. It is a must read before incorporating any of these variations.

Until next time my friends, keep lifting and stay strong!

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