Doing the same ol’ squat routine every time you hit the gym is like eating the same ol’ breakfast every morning for a year.
Is it practical? Sure. Is it boring? Hell yes.
Squats are a perfect lower-body move, targeting all the major muscle groups of the lower body and core. Plus, they’re incredibly functional — since you have to do a squat pretty much every time you sit down or stand up, doing the exercise through a full range of motion helps preserve mobility as you age. No one wants to be the old guy who can’t get up from the couch, right?
So you need to do them. But variety is the spice of your legs, as they say, and by mixing up your squats, adding weight, and adjusting body position and mechanics, you can breathe new life into your workout while developing a stronger, more well-balanced lower body.
You’re probably already familiar with the bodyweight squat, but even if you think you know how to do one, it’s worth doing a form check — you’d be surprised how often people squat with poor mechanics. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of this move, you can adapt these basic form pointers to any squat exercise you try.
- Stand with your legs between hip- and shoulder-distance apart, your knees slightly bent, toes angled slightly outward, your weight centered over your heels. Contract your core to help keep your torso upright throughout the exercise.
- Initiate the movement by pressing your hips back, as if sitting down in a chair, before you begin bending your knees to lower your glutes toward the floor.
- As you squat down, keep your weight in your heels, your chest upright, and your knees tracking in line with your toes. Aim to lower your glutes until your knees form at least a 90-degree angle. From this position, make sure your knees aren’t protruding in front of your toes.
- To return to standing, press down through your heels and extend your knees and hips, making sure your knees don’t buckle inward as you rise.
Even if you’re a squat master with perfect form, don’t scoff at the bodyweight squat. It’s an excellent movement to incorporate into a functional warm-up routine.
Low-squat pulses aren’t great at building strength through a full range of motion, but this simple exercise is good for developing more strength at the bottom of a bodyweight squat to master proper form. It’s typically during the transition between the downward phase and the upward phase of the squat when beginners experience their knees buckling inward slightly.
By practicing the pulse — simply lowering to the bottom of a bodyweight squat, then performing small “half squats” that focus on the transition between eccentric and concentric contractions — you’ll be able to develop strength and focus on form through the transitional phase of the squat.
Once your form is on point, it’s time to start adding weight. Dumbbell squats are an easy way to add resistance in small increments, and as such, they’re an appropriate exercise for all fitness levels.
Dumbbell squats require a slightly more narrow stance so you can comfortably hold dumbbells at your sides. This narrower stance requires a greater engagement of your quadriceps, as well as greater hip and low-back mobility to maintain proper form throughout a full range of motion. You’ll also notice that holding a set of dumbbells taxes your forearms, building grip strength, and requires greater engagement of your shoulders and upper back to maintain proper form.