Different Types of Squats in the Gym

Vary Your Routine

Smiling man doing squats with dumbbells in gymnasium
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The squat is probably the best all-round, compound exercise for developing muscle and strength in the lower body. The squat develops the muscles of the front of the leg and the butt mostly, but different foot positions and depth of squat can invoke other leg muscles as well such as the hamstrings at the back of the upper leg and the adductors and gracilis along the inside of the upper legs.

Always observe good form and safety measures when squatting (or any other weights exercise).

Squats can be performed with barbells, dumbbells, Smith machine, kettlebells, plates, and with different leg positions, with one or two legs, to the ground or halfway, with bodyweight only, and with various schemes for sets and repetitions.

  • Barbell front squat (barbell in front)
  • Barbell back squat (barbell at rear on traps)
  • Dumbbell squat (at sides. chest or on shoulders)
  • Dumbbell lunge
  • Single leg squat
  • Split squat (one leg forward, one back)
  • One-leg split squat (leg resting on bench)
  • Hack squat machine
  • Hack squat (barbell)
  • Low to ground or only half way
  • Wide stance squat
  • Pistol squat

Barbell Back Squat

This is the standard big-bar squat. You place a barbell and weights on the trapezius muscles at the back of the neck. You can go ass to ground (ATG) or near enough, or halfway. Good technique is essential.

Barbell Front Squat

Same barbell, but placed in front on the chest, and sometimes with a crossover grip to keep the bar in place. Most people find this more difficult than the back squat with heavy weights because of balance issues.

Dumbbell Squat

The dumbbells can be held in various positions—on the shoulders, hanging at the sides or at the chest.

Split Squat

Split squats are a little out of fashion these days, but they make a nice change from the standard horizontal stance. One foot forward, one foot back, as you would with a lunge, only not quite as far between foot placement. You can do these with standard barbell back squat or with any combination of dumbbells, kettlebells, etc of your choosing.

Weighted Lunge

Feet are placed wider, and split, for lunges, but the lower body gets a similar workout to that for classic squats. This exercise requires a lunge forward. In the split squat above the feet are stationary.

Hack Squats

Hack squats are another squat exercise that seems to be out of fashion, or perhaps they have regional popularity. You can use a hack squat machine or a barbell behind the legs.

Single-Leg Squat (Pistol)

Single-leg squats are an advanced exercise requiring strength and balance, although you can use various props to assist with balance. For example, with a dumbbell split squat, rest the rear leg on a bench while squatting on the front leg. The unassisted one-leg squat is often called the pistol squat.

Wide Stance Squat

Often called the Sumo stance because of the wide foot placement, wide-stance squats also activate the muscles of the inside of the thigh such as the gracilis and adductor magnus.

Smith Machine Squat

The Smith Machine (a framed rack for weights) is a standard piece of equipment in most modern gyms. On this equipment, the barbell is positioned between two rails so that the bar moves up and down in a single track. No horizontal movement is allowed.

Many people use the Smith machine to do back or front squats, but the safety and effectiveness of using it for squats has been debated in gym settings for years.

Some experts feel that the Smith machine provides a level of safety because the bar is contained between two rails. Researchers also note that a Smith machine squat offers a wider range of exercise positions than the free squat and a wider range of possibilities for adjusting the distribution of muscle activity and joint loads.

It is true that the Smith squat has been shown to be a preferred exercise when compared to dumbbell squats in some research studies. But other studies have concluded that the free weight squat may be more beneficial than the Smith machine squat for individuals who are looking to strengthen plantar flexors, knee flexors, and knee extensors. And if you ask many skilled trainers, they will tell you that the limited range of motion during a Smith machine squat compromises proper posture for many exercisers who haven't quite perfected their squat form.

The bottom line is that whether to use a Smith machine for squats may depend on your fitness level, your posture, and your goals. If you choose to use it, connect with a qualified trainer to be sure that your form is solid and posture is strong when using it.

Squatting Points to Note

  • Don't round the back, going down or coming up. Keep it straight. A rounded back under weight can cause damage to the spine at the upper or lower end.
  • Keep the knees from going past the tips of the toes as much as possible. This is generally not good for the knee joint. Practice good form and don't get too concerned if this occurs occasionally.
  • Keep those heels planted firmly on the ground and the knees lined up with the feet and not splayed in or out.
  • Try not to look down—look straight ahead—or at least be aware that your back and butt are in the correct position: back straight, butt extended.
  • Don't start with weights that are too heavy. Try one to three sets of 6-10 squats to start with.
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Article Sources
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