Blog Fitness 7 Challenging And Creative Barbell Squat Variations For Advanced Lifters

7 Challenging And Creative Barbell Squat Variations For Advanced Lifters

Squatting is a fundamental strength training exercise that works the entire body. It’s an essential movement for any weightlifting routine and can help build overall fitness levels, as well as increase muscle size and strength. Like other compound exercises, it recruits several muscle groups at once, making it a great way to push your limits and challenge your body. If you have been squatting for a while, however, it can be easy to fall into a rut with your technique and form. To take your squats to the next level and amp up the intensity of your workouts, try these 7 challenging and creative barbell squat variations for advanced lifters.

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What Are Barbell Squats Good For?

Barbell squats are an excellent exercise for:

Strengthening The Muscles Of The Lower Body

Barbell squats work nearly all the major muscles in your legs, such as your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles. As you increase the weight of your barbell squat, these muscle groups will become stronger and better able to support other leg exercises.

Increasing Your Core Strength

Your core muscles, including your abdominal and back muscles, must work to keep your torso stable while doing a barbell squat. With regular practice, you can build up the strength of these muscle groups to improve balance and posture (3). 

Improving Balance

When performing barbell squats, your body needs to maintain a stable center of gravity in order to keep the barbell balanced. The coordination and balance developed while doing squats can help improve your agility, coordination, and overall athletic performance (2).

Increasing Flexibility

Performing a deep squat (a squat with your thighs parallel to the floor) helps stretch the hips, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, which can help increase your overall flexibility (2).

For an added challenge, you can perform barbell squats with a deeper range of motion to reap the benefits of increased flexibility.

Read More: Keep Your Back Squat Muscles Worked With The Right Technique

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Burning Calories

Barbell squats are a high intensity exercise that burn lots of calories due to the large muscles groups being worked. By doing more repetitions with lighter weights, you can use this exercise to help your body burn more fat and build muscle.

As part of a strength training routine, barbell squats will improve your body composition. For those looking to lose weight, having more muscle mass means that your body is more efficient at burning calories, which leads to better weight control. 

Improving Performance

Barbell squats help improve your body’s ability to generate power, which is necessary for activities like sprinting and jumping. The improved coordination and balance developed while doing squats will also help with activities like running and court sports (3). 

Why Barbell Squat Variations Matter

The OG barbell squat is a fundamental movement that should be included in any fitness routine, however, the benefits of squats can be maximized when you switch up your squat variations. When done correctly, different squat variations can: 

Help Target New Muscles Groups

Squatting with a barbell can work your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

However, switching up the placement of the bar (front squat vs. back squat) or adding an unstable surface like a BOSU ball (the BOSU squat) can target different muscle groups such as calves, mid-back muscles and core muscles. 

Increase Core Strength

Including different variations of squats like the pistol squat or goblet squat can increase core strength. This is because the instability provided by these exercises causes your abdominal muscles to work harder than with a traditional barbell back squat (2).

barbell squat variations

Improve Balance And Stability

Adding in single-leg movements like step ups, lunges and single-leg squats can help to improve balance, proprioception and stability. When you add in unilateral movements, each leg has to work independently which helps improve your ability to perform everyday tasks with ease. 

Increase Range Of Motion

Squat variations that require a greater range of motion can help increase mobility and flexibility (2). Sumo squats and frog squats are two examples of squat variations that require you to move your legs in different directions, helping to increase the range of motion in your hips and glutes. 

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Enhance Your Performance

Including different squat variations in your routine can help enhance your performance when it comes to other exercises like deadlifts, box jumps and pull-ups.

Performing single-leg exercises helps build the strength and stability needed to perform explosive and dynamic movements. 

Reduce Injury Risk

Including different squat variations in your routine can help reduce the risk of injury by strengthening weak muscles, improving balance and developing greater range of motion (1).

By adding in different squat variations you are giving your body a chance to strengthen weaker muscles and make sure that all muscle groups are getting an equal share of attention (1).

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Add Variety To Your Workout Routines

Besides all of the physical benefits, adding in different squat variations can also help add variety to your workout routines, making it more enjoyable and less monotonous. Changing up your squats can give you a chance to work on new skills and have fun with the process!

barbell squat variations

What To Do Instead Of Barbell Squats

Although the barbell back squat is a great exercise, it’s not the only way to get your squats in. Here are some alternatives to barbell squats that provide some of the same benefits. 

Front Squats 

A close cousin to the back squat, front squats involve holding the barbell in the front rack position across your chest as you lower your body. This variation loads the torso anteriorly—placing more emphasis on the quads, as opposed to the glutes and hamstrings in a regular back squat. 

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In addition, because of the upright torso position, your core must work to maintain balance and stability throughout the entire movement.

Safety-wise, front squats are a great alternative for those with lower back issues, as the barbell placement is less likely to cause irritation. If you don’t have a spotter, this version is also safer due to the forward placement of the weight.

To perform front squats:

  1. Place a barbell in front rack position (across chest) 
  2. Maintaining upright torso, slowly lower until thighs are parallel to floor or slightly lower
  3. Drive heels into ground and push hips forward until standing upright 
  4. Repeat

Bulgarian Split Squats

This single-leg variation of the squat is a great way to target your glutes, quads and hamstrings, while also improving balance.

The Bulgarian split squat is one of the most effective exercises to target imbalances between your left and right legs, since each side must work independently.

Despite being a single-leg exercise, the Bulgarian split squat still requires the use of both legs, as you’ll be using your non-working leg as a support.

To perform Bulgarian split squats with a barbell:

  1. Place a barbell across your back in the same position as you would for a regular squat 
  2. Step your rear leg up onto a bench 
  3. Keep your front foot planted firmly on the ground and lower into a squat position 
  4. Drive through heel to return to standing position
  5. Repeat

Read More: Goblet Squats Vs. Back Squats: What Is Right For You?

barbell squat variations

Overhead Squats 

Placing the barbell overhead can help to increase stability in your core and upper body, while also challenging your mobility.

This exercise was popularized by Olympic weightlifters and is a great way to target your quads, glutes and core all at once. It’s particularly effective at working on improving range of motion, balance and stability.

To perform overhead squats:

  1. Position barbell in an overhead press position 
  2. Keeping arms straight and chest up, lower your body until hips are slightly below parallel 
  3. Drive through heels to return to standing position
  4. Repeat 
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Anderson Squats 

This is a great variation of the squat for beginners as it’s easier to perform and requires less stability than some of the other variations.

Named after the creator, Paul Anderson, this variation is performed with a reduced range of motion. It starts at the bottom of a regular squat and ends at the top. By eliminating the bottom and top positions, you’re able to focus on the middle part of the squat.

To perform Anderson squats: 

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. 
  2. Keeping your spine neutral, bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat position until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  3. Hold for a few moments, then push through your heels to return to the starting position.  
  4. Repeat 

Zercher Squats 

The origin of this exercise is unclear, but it’s believed to have gotten its name from American weightlifter Ed Zercher in the 1930s. This variation of the squat is particularly challenging for your core and arms as the barbell is placed in the crook of your elbows. It’s also a great way to hit your quads, glutes and hamstrings. 

To perform Zercher squats: 

  1. Start by placing the barbell in the crook of your elbows and keeping it close to your chest.
  2. Take a shoulder-width stance with your feet and point your toes slightly outward. 
  3. Keep your chest up, back arched and head looking forward as you slowly lower yourself into a squat.
  4. Allow your elbows to bend slightly, but keep them tucked in close to your body. 
  5. Lower until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then press up through your heels to stand back up. 
  6. Repeat 

barbell squat variations

Pause Squats

This variation of the squat is great for improving strength, power and muscle control.

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It involves pausing at the bottom of the squat 2-3 seconds before standing back up. This pause helps to strengthen your quadriceps and glutes, as well as improving stabilization through the entire movement. 

To perform pause squats: 

  1. Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward.
  2. Take a deep breath in and slowly lower down into the squat, keeping your weight in your heels.
  3. Pause at the bottom and hold for 2-3 seconds. 
  4. Drive through the heels and return to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat for desired reps.

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Hack Squats 

The hack squat is commonly done on a machine, though variations of the hack squat can be done with barbells and dumbbells.

This exercise primarily works the quadriceps muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius) as well as the hamstrings and glutes.

The hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension, while the glutes provide stability to the hips during the exercise. It’s important to keep your back straight and head facing forward throughout the entire movement.

To perform hack squats with a barbell: 

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip width apart, and the barbell held across the back of your shoulders. 
  2. Keeping your back straight, push your hips backwards and bend at the knees. 
  3. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Push through your heels and extend your legs to return to starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Conclusion

Squats are an essential exercise for any strength training routine. Adding in different squat variations can provide a range of physical benefits, including improved balance, greater mobility and enhanced performance. Try some of the variations listed above out to take your squat routine to the next level!

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading (2018, biomedcentral.com) 
  2. Lower Extremity Strength and the Range of Motion in Relation to Squat Depth (2015, nih.gov) 
  3. Muscle Activation in the Loaded Free Barbell Squat A Brief Review (n.d., lww.com)
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