The Fit List

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Squats

The classic strength and power move gets a makeover, giving you even better benefits

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Squats

If you're tired of the classic squat, give these powerful variations a try. Photo: Scott Thompson/Flickr

The squat might give you the most calorie-burning, performance-enhancing bang for your buck of any exercise, endowing you with coordination, strength, and power in your glutes and hamstrings that will come in handy in just about any sport. But you don’t need to do the classic dump-in-the-woods to realize the move’s powerful effects. We asked Ben Bruno, a trainer at Beverly Hills' Bunker gym (where Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis train, among other Hollywood stars) for five squat variations you can do anywhere to build legs that kick like pistons.

Goblet Squat

Blame tight muscles caused by sitting all day, or bad coordination, but most guys can’t do a regular squat. That’s why Bruno digs the goblet squat: “Holding a weight in front of you helps you get into good form,” he says, by forcing you to stay upright. Lean too far forward or backward, and the weight will tip you over.

It’s best done with a dumbbell or kettlebell, but if you don’t have either of those, you can hold anything that weighs over 10 pounds, like your kid, or a fat cat.

Form Tips: Hold the weight directly in front of you, keeping it close to your torso—that ensures you’re keeping your torso upright. This move is called the goblet because if you use a dumbbell, your hands should cup the top end, like you’re holding a goblet, with each end of the dumbbell touching your torso.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

This might be Bruno’s favorite squat variation. (On YouTube you can watch him perform the movement while weighted down with more than 300 pounds.) 

“This exercise is great for a few reasons,” he says. “It’s more challenging than a regular squat, people tend to pick up the form easily, it’s safe, and it also stretches your hips, which is something anyone who works in an office job needs to do.”

Form Tips: Lower yourself until your front knee is bent 90-degrees, and your back leg is just above the ground. You should feel a stretch in your back hip. Want to weight it? Start by holding a dumbbell goblet style (or another weight), then progress to holding a weight in each hand. 

Lateral Split Squat

Most people only move front to back, which leads to imbalances. “The lateral split squat builds side-to-side strength,” says Bruno. That helps you perform better and may reduce your risk of injury.

This exercise also stretches the insides of your hips, an area that tends to be tight for most people. But fair warning, says Bruno. “Don’t weight this—it has a tendency to make you crazy sore.”

Form Tips: Stand with your feet wide enough that you can lower your torso until your hips are in line with your knee. You should feel a killer stretch on your non-working leg. Focus on going as low as possible while keeping your torso upright.

Reverse Lunge

OK, so this isn’t technically a squat, says Bruno. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a stellar lower body exercise, one that can help you perform better in your next road race.

“Lunges are great because they require that you step, but forward and walking lunges tend to put a lot of stress on your knees,” he says. “The reverse lunge delivers the same performance benefits but minimizes deceleration, so your knees feel better.”

Form tip: Step back to find the sweet spot where your forward knee is bent 90-degrees. Want to make it harder? Hold a dumbbell, goblet style, or another weight close to your torso

Skater Squat

Regular old bodyweight squats are great. “But they’re not very challenging unless you do a ton of them,” says Bruno. “That’s why I have people who are relatively strong do skater squats—they put all the load on just one of your legs.”

That makes it a true strength test, says Bruno. “But it also helps you build great balance.”

Form tips: Keep your hands in front of you and try to lower yourself until your knee is bent 90-degrees. Pause, then push yourself back up, exploding through your hips.

Filed To: Exercises, Strength and Power Training

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