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Squat form and variations

Squats are a part of many training programs. They're found in multiple forms and variations, bilateral and unilateral, etc. Squats are beneficial to a training program because it's a compound movement, meaning it involves and works multiple muscle groups within the body. The squat is a full body exercise regardless if it's weighted or unweighted. Let's talk about form and variations. Form Form will vary person to person, but in general, keep these tips in mind. 1. Plant your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart. Think about keeping all three points of your foot (heel, big toe pad, and little toe pad) in contact with the ground throughout the exercise. 2. Toe angle will vary based on your specific anatomy: some prefer toes directly forward, some do better with toes slightly angled out. 3. When lowering into a squat, keep your knees tracking in line with your second and third toes. Maintain a neutral spine and engaged core throughout the squat. 4. The angles at your hips and knees will vary from person to person based on your structural lengths (i.e. femur) and mobility. Structural length is one of the reasons why you may see some people with a more forward lean in their torso while others seem to be more upright. A great way to determine if your hip angle is suitable for you is by squatting with either a barbell or pvc pipe in the back squat position. In this position, squat down and notice where your bar path lies. Is it over the toes? Is it over your mid-foot? The goal is mid-foot. If it's not, it would be worth looking at mobilization and/or strengths and weaknesses that could affect your squat form. (More on this another day.) Variations Barbell squats aren't for everyone. It could be a goal to get comfortable with barbell squats, but you can always do other just as effective variations that may be more beneficial for you and your abilities. TRX squats are great for those learning how to squat for the first time or who need a little extra support. The TRX straps provide assistance by allowing you to use your upper body to pull yourself up from the bottom of the squat if need be. Box squats can be done with or without weight and with various box heights to suit your needs. These are helpful for building awareness of squat depth, gaining reps of the movement, and even hypertrophy when using resistance. Goblet squats are especially handy when you have access to limited equipment. You will hold a weight in front of your chest for a goblet squat. You can use a kettlebell, dumbbell, plate, medicine ball, etc. to complete the exercise. Back squats are done with a barbell placed on your back. There are two different bar positions, low bar and high bar, but we'll save those differences for another day. For now, focus on placing the barbell at the base of your neck (not on your spine!). It should be supported by the muscles beneath the bar (traps). By engaging your back in a squat, aka packing your lats, your wrists will stay strong and your elbows will stay down (no flaring). The back squat is a tedious compound movement with high reward when done properly. Front squats are done with a barbell, as well, except you guessed it, the barbell is in front of you. This exercise requires a bit of lat and wrist mobility to perform comfortably and properly. As an alternative, front squats can be done with dumbbells or kettlebells. Single-leg squats are in their own category with several variations to meet the abilities of many. Fortunately, Bulgarian split squats aren't the only single-leg squat out there ;). Of course, there are about 100 other squat variations, but these are the ones most commonly used in my training programs, and likely with other reputable coaches.


Katharine Moustakes
Hey, friend!

I'm Katharine.

I'm a personal trainer, running coaching, and nutrition coach who's stoked about lifting, the outdoors, summit snacks, and my dog.


I understand that fitness is not your whole life. Fitness is a PART of your life. I approach training in a way that adds value to your life and longevity, so you can enjoy being active whether you're romping around in the mountains, playing with your kids, or signing up for your first 10K race.

I'm here to meet you where you are, so you can train safely and effectively, and gain strength and confidence both in the gym and on the trails.

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