I include squats in every single group fitness class I teach and almost every program I write for clients. Barbell squats, dumbbell squats, TRX squats, plie squats, sumo squats and bodyweight squats, to name but a few.
I love that you can do them just about anywhere, with just about any type of equipment, and that there are enough variations to keep even the most easily bored exerciser happy for months on end 😉
Benefits of including squats in your workouts
Squats are a functional movement that require coordinated flexion of the ankles, knees and hips, thereby challenging all of the major muscles in the lower half of your body, including your core stabilizers and anti-rotators.
- They increase your ability to perform many activities of daily living (lifting groceries and children)
- They improve your performance in sport and other forms of exercise (running, cycling, step aerobics)
- They super-charge your metabolism, increasing your fat-burning potential (muscle burns more calories at rest than fat)
- And of course, they make your legs and butt look great in (and out of) jeans
Show me a woman who’s super-confident in her body and I’ll show you a woman who squats!
Favorite squat variations
Although I never get tired of a good old Olympic bar squat, more often than not the squat rack is occupied when I’m with a client or training on my own (be warned, if you’re doing bicep curls in the squat rack, you can bet that I’ll ask you to move 😉 ).
Rather than omit squats from the workout, I substitute one or two of my favorite squat variations, depending on the fitness goals of my client and the equipment available to us.
Dumbbell front squat
Holding the dumbbells at shoulder height, and slightly in front of the body increases the challenge of a basic dumbbell squat (in which weights are held down by your sides). Focus on keeping the dumbbells from resting on your shoulders and maintaining an open chest and engaged core. If you like adding a bit of upper body work to your squats, this is the perfect variation to combine with a shoulder press.
Dumbbell offset load squat
Rather than using two, equal-weight dumbbells, hold a heavy dumbbell in one hand and a light dumbbell in the other. The greater the disparity between the two weights, the greater the challenge on your core stabilizers and anti-rotator muscles. Weights can either be held down at your sides, or up, at shoulder level, as described above for the Dumbbell front squat. Perform all reps on one side, then switch sides with the weights and complete the set, keeping shoulders square, chest facing forward and resisting the temptation to let your body lean towards the side holding the heavier weight.
Set yourself up as if you were about to perform a body weight squat; feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, with toes turned slightly out. Grab a dumbbell, medicine ball, kettle bell or weight plate in both hands, extending your arms out in front of you such that arms are held at the height of your bottom ribs. The farther you hold the weight from your body, the more you’ll feel this exercise in your abdominals. Make sure to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears and your core engaged throughout.
Goblet squats are a great way to increase the emphasis placed on the inner thigh and medial glute muscles. Start in a wide-legged stance, with toes turned out and holding a single, heavy weight at chest height. Drop your butt down towards the floor, letting elbows brush the insides of the knees before pushing forcefully through the heels of your feet to return to standing. Make sure that your torso remains nearly upright, with chest open and eyes facing forward.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Want to challenge your balance and improve your single leg strength? Try adding Bulgarian split squats to your program. Start by standing with your back to a weight bench or low step. Extend one leg backwards and place your toes (or the laces of your shoe; this is more challenging) on the bench. Hop your front leg forward far enough that the knee stays behind the toes as you drop the back knee down towards the floor. Push through the foot on the floor to return to standing (resisting the temptation to let the back foot help out). Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other. Once again, your torso should remain upright, with chest open and eyes facing forward. Once you’ve mastered the body weight split squat, make it more difficult by holding dumbbells at your sides, at shoulder level (as described above for the Dumbbell Front Squat) or out in front of you (as described for the Braced Squat).
Looking for more exercises to shape and strengthen your legs, core and derriere? Order a copy of my 12-week fitness program “Ultimate Booty Workouts” today!