Squats aren’t fancy. Squats aren’t complicated. Squats, however, ARE arguably one of the most effective exercises to stimulate total-body change. Squats not only utilize the biggest muscles in our body, they utilize MORE muscle groups than almost any other weight-bearing exercise out there to help move the load (whether it be simply your own body weight or an added barbell) and stabilize our bodies so we don’t topple over in a puddle of sweat and embarrassment.
But let’s get real. Even though the standard squat is the honors student of the strength training world, it can be, well, just plain boring. And when the mere decision to exercise throws so many potential obstacles in our way as is – scheduling, intensity, motivation, etc – the last thing we need is our actual workout to nod us off into snoozeville. Here are some anything-but-boring variations that will not only get your heart rate up, your muscles moving differently and amp up your workout routine, but are definitely not your mama’s squats.
Perform each exercise 10-15 times in sequence, then go back and do the same thing again to complete two full sets.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and arms at your sides. Start by performing a traditional squat (head forward, chest up and out, knees behind toes, dropping your butt back and down until your legs reach 90 degrees). Instead of simply pushing back up through your heels, jump up as explosively as you can and reach for the ceiling. Make sure you push through your whole foot, not just the balls of your feet and toes. When you land, lower your body back into a traditional squat to complete one rep.
Make it harder: Jump higher!
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width and toes pointed out (like a sumo wrestler – go figure). Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging straight towards the ground, and lower your body into a standard squat until the dumbbells almost touch the ground. Press through your heels to straighten and complete one rep.
Make it harder: Place a very heavy (but liftable) dumbbell on the ground so it is upright and perpendicular to the floor. Perform a traditional squat and lift the dumbbell by gripping the sides of the top with both hands. Lift and lower to complete one rep.
Stand with your legs wider than shoulder width apart (aim for approximately 2-3 feet), toes turned out. Lift your heels off of the floor, balancing on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your hips, lower down, and perform one rep of a pliéd version of a traditional squat. Once you straighten back up, lower your heels back to the ground.
Make it harder: Hold a light dumbbell with both hands.
Prep with your legs shoulder width apart as if you were about to do traditional squats. Lift one leg off of the floor, and with arms at your sides, lower down into a squat on your standing leg. Push back up to complete one rep. After finishing one set of 10, switch legs.
Make it harder: Lift your legs higher, hold light dumbbells or extend your arms reaching out parallel to the floor. And if you’re feeling extra feisty, do it all!
*Note: If you do not have access to dumbbells, improvise! For the sumo squats, use a heavy yet manageable box, or even a gallon of milk if that seems heavy enough for you. For the advanced version of plié and one legged squats, liter bottles or even purses can do the trick!
I had no idea that squats “utilize MORE muscle groups than almost any other weight-bearing exercise out there.” I plan to start doing a lot more of them! Thanks for sharing!
Just thought you shulod know that you are crazy amazing!!! I wish I could be as motivated as you. So I have a question maybe you wouldn’t mind helping me with. I have always wanted to start running but I can honestly only run a mile and run out of gas. I can do it as many times a week as I want but as soon as a mile hits my legs (and lungs) give up. Any tips to build up distance? Thanks for any help! You rock!