Different Types of Squats in the Gym

Vary Your Routine

Smiling man doing squats with dumbbells in gymnasium
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The squat exercise is one of the best all-around, compound exercises for developing muscular strength in the lower body. Compound exercises work multiple joints and muscle groups at the same time to enhance physical strength and functionality.

While the squat mostly develops the muscles in the front of the leg and the glutes, other muscles are involved as well. Different foot positions and depths of squat can activate other leg muscles such as the hamstrings at the back of the upper leg and the adductors and gracilis along the insides of the upper legs.

How to Do Squats

As with any exercise, the key to doing squats properly and avoiding potential injury is good form and technique. Follow these tips before you get started:

  • Keep your back straight. Avoid rounding your back when you're lowering or coming back up. A rounded back under weight can cause injury to the spine at the upper or lower end.
  • Track your knees over your toes. Keep your knees from going past the tips of the toes. This is generally not good for the knee joints.
  • Plant your feet. Keep your heels planted firmly on the ground and the knees lined up with the feet and not splayed in or out.
  • Look straight ahead. Try not to look down. Be aware that your back and butt are in the correct position, with your back straight and butt extended.
  • Start with lighter weights. Don't start with weights that are too heavy. Try one to three sets of 6-10 squats using lighter weights. If you're new to exercise, you might skip the weights and just work on your form using your own bodyweight.

Always observe good form and safety measures when performing squats or any other exercise using weights.

Squat Exercises to Try

To build additional strength, squats can be performed with basic gym equipment like barbells, dumbbells, smith machine, kettlebells, and plates. You can also try different leg positions, lowering all the way to the ground or just halfway, or using your bodyweight only.

Tailor a workout that meets your specific needs and fitness goals by trying various schemes for sets and repetitions until you figure out what works best for you. The following squat exercises use a variety of equipment to target your quads and glutes and build lower body strength.

Barbell Front Squat

The barbell front squat places a barbell in front on the chest, and sometimes involves a crossover grip to keep the bar in place. If you are having trouble with balance and feeling unstable, be sure to use the lightest weight possible. You might also skip this exercise until you've built up enough lower body strength.

Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is the standard big-bar squat. Many people find this move easier than the front squat. You'll place a barbell and weights on the trapezius muscles at the back of your neck. You can go "ass to grass" (ATG) or near enough, or halfway. Remember, good technique is essential.

Dumbbell Squat

To perform a 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 not as common as they used to be, but they can be a great way to switch up the standard horizontal stance. Place one foot forward and 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, or other weights of your choosing.

Weighted Lunge

Feet are placed wider, and split, for weighted lunges, but the lower body gets a similar workout to classic squats. This exercise requires a step forward into a lunge, whereas in the split squat the feet are stationary.

Hack Squats

Hack squats are a rear-loaded squat performed on a hack squat machine or with a barbell behind the legs. Standing in front of the barbell, reach for it behind you using an overhand grip as you squat down. Lift all the way to standing as you lift the barbell behind you, keeping your arms straight.

Single-Leg Squat (Pistol)

Single-leg squats are an advanced exercise that requires strength and balance, though you can also use various props to assist you with balance. For example, with a dumbbell split squat, rest your 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

Also known as the Sumo stance because of the wide foot placement, wide-stance squats 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 found in most gyms. 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 is often debated.

  • Benefits: Some experts believe that the smith machine provides a level of safety because the bar is contained between two rails. Researchers have also noted that a smith machine squat offers a wider range of exercise positions than the free squat, and more possibilities for adjusting the distribution of muscle activity and joint loads.
  • Risks: Many fitness trainers will say that the limited range of motion during a smith machine squat compromises proper posture for many exercisers who haven't yet perfected their squat form and technique.
  • Alternatives: While the smith squat is often preferred over dumbbell squats, other studies have suggested that the free weight squat may be more beneficial for those seeking to strengthen their plantar flexors, knee flexors, and knee extensors.

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.

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Article Sources
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