Squats are a fundamental strength move for every lifter and athlete - from beginner to pro. While variations such as the back squat and front squat are part of most training programs, other lesser-known squat variations can provide additional benefits. In this blog you will find the 7 most popular and best squats to choose from if you want to improve your strength, leg muscle mass and overall fitness.
7 best squats
1. Back squat
The back squat is a lower body exercise that strengthens the glutes, hamstrings and quads. It is often called "the king of all exercises" because of its ability to build strength and muscle mass. If you put a decent amount of weight on the bar, it even engages the whole body, because you have to keep tension on your core and back muscles to perform the squat properly.
However, to perform a back squat optimally and safely, you need sufficient mobility in the ankles, hips and knees.
Muscles targeted: glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, lower back and core.
2. Front squat
The front squat is one of the most difficult squat variations to do and also requires a lot of upper body strength. You balance the barbell on the collarbone area. This squat places much more emphasis on the front of the body because the weight is centered there.
Front squats tend to put a little less strain on the lower back muscles when performed correctly. Those who suffer from low back pain are therefore more likely to start a series of front squats than a series of back squats.
Muscles involved: quads, upper back and core. In addition, you will certainly also engage the hamstrings and glutes, as they act as secondary movers and stabilizers.
3. Sumo squat
Sumo squats are an effective lower body strength exercise. The sumo squat activates muscle groups throughout your lower body, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, calves and lower back muscles. They also appeal to the inner thighs. With the legs spread wider, the thighs have to "adduct" to get the body back up. In addition, the sumo squat is good for stability and balance. Because of the wider stance, the torso does not have to move as far forward to counterbalance as with a traditional squat. At some level, this can actually make sumos a bit easier to perform as the torso remains more vertical. At the same time, with wider feet it can also be more challenging to balance if someone is not used to that foot position.
Many people can sink deeper in this position without the heels lifting off the floor. Even if you are not (yet) flexible enough to perform the back squat properly and deeply, the sumo squat is a good alternative.
Muscles involved: quads, hamstrings, inner thighs and glutes along with the back and core for stabilization purposes.
4. Bulgarian split squat
The Bulgarian split squat works one leg at a time and has become very popular in recent years. Whether you're a powerlifter, recreational trainer, or competitive bodybuilder, you'll find this type of one-sided squat training pays off.
The Bulgarian split squat addresses strength imbalances throughout the body and encourages muscle growth. It also allows you to achieve a more effective load with less weight. However, you will need to watch how your knees respond to this squat and be very aware of a good execution.
Muscles involved: quadriceps, glutes, soleus and adductor magnus. To a lesser extent, this squat also works the hamstring, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus; which together with the feet play a role as stabilizers.
5. Pulse squat
The pulse squat is very simple and can also be performed at home: you hold a deep squat position and move slightly - or pulse - up and down. This is a good and effective way to tire the muscles of the lower body, which can lead to more muscle gains while burning calories.
Pulse squats are not a replacement for the regular back squat, but they have their own benefits that can improve athletic performance and everyday life and improve your fitness in other areas. The muscles of the lower body do not have time to relax during the movement and this leads to more muscle fiber involvement. This in turn leads to greater gains in muscle. The pulse squat can also facilitate daily activities such as climbing stairs and walking.
Muscles involved: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, calves, Hip flexors, core and abductors and adductors
6. Plyometric/Jump Squat
Plyometrics are specifically designed to build muscle, strength, balance and agility. Also known as jump training, plyometrics helps muscles to increase their strength.
Jump squats increase your explosive power, improve upper and lower body strength and burn calories faster than regular squats. Explosive power is needed for everyday activities such as lifting heavy objects or standing and sitting several times a day. Plus, the flexibility you get in your ankles and hips from the fluid motion of a jump squat helps prevent injuries during other workout routines.
Muscles engaged: The jump squat targets the glutes, quads, hips, and hamstrings while increasing your heart rate.
7. Box squat
Getting enough depth during a squat is difficult. Especially for those recovering from injury or the older lifters who have age related issues. For these lifters, the box squat is a good addition to their leg strength training programs.
Place a bench, box, or platform at about chair height in a squat rack and stand under the bar in the same manner as you would for a back squat. Now lower down until your butt touches the bench/box and then stand up again. The box squat can also be used to train explosiveness by simply exploding upwards as soon as your butt reach the box.
Muscles involved: glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, lower back and core.
As you can read, each squat variant has its own advantages. Which squat suits you best depends on your goals and possibilities. When in doubt, hire a personal trainer/instructor, especially when it comes to technique!