7 Different Types of Squats

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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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 to 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.

7 Types of Squats to Try

  • Barbell front squat
  • Barbell back squat
  • Dumbbell squat
  • Split squat
  • Hack squat
  • Sumo squat
  • Single-leg squat

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

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

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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.

  1. Stand under a barbell racked in a squat rack at shoulder height. With your elbows high, position your arms under the bar so it rests on the front of your shoulders. Brace your core.
  2. Lift the bar by bending your knees, and pushing up to unrack. Take a step back into your regular squat position.
  3. Hinge forward at your hips and push them back as if you will sit down. Continue until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor.
  4. Push through your feet to return to the starting position and repeat for desired reps.

Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is the standard big-bar squat. You'll place a barbell and weights on the trapezius muscles at the back of your neck. Barbell squats target your quads, glutes, calves, and core.

  1. Position the barbell on the squat rack at upper chest height.
  2. Get under the bar so the backs of your shoulders rest on it, knees slightly bent.
  3. Hold the bar overhand, wider than shoulder-width.
  4. Push up to straighten your legs and unrack the barbell. Take one step back with both feet, wider than shoulder-width in your normal squat stance.
  5. Hinge your hips and bend your knees, pushing outward to track your knees in the direction of your feet. Stay as upright as you can, chest high.
  6. Continue lowering until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  7. Push up through your feet and straighten your legs, until you are standing. Do not shoot your hips up first, but push your whole body up as one, pushing firmly through your feet.

Avoid going too low if you have what is called "butt wink", a form defect that can lead to back pain.

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. The below version is performed with two dumbbells at your sides. This movement works your quads, glutes, and calves.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells by your sides, palms facing each other.
  2. Maintain a straight back, hinge your hips, and squat down until your thighs are parallel or lower to the floor.
  3. Push through your feet to rise back to standing.

Split Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Split squats (also called Bulgarian split squats) can be a great way to switch up the standard horizontal stance. It's an excellent unilateral exercise and is a great alternative for anyone who finds they have knee pain with back squats.

You can do these with a standard barbell back squat or with any combination of dumbbells, kettlebells, or other weights of your choosing. You can also elevate the rear leg for an additional challenge.

  1. Stand in front of a bench holding two dumbbells and carefully place your right foot on top of the bench.
  2. Bend your left knee and drop your right knee. Your weight should be on your front left foot.
  3. Lower until your front thigh is at least parallel to the floor.
  4. Push through your front foot to raise up, but do not lock out your knee.
  5. Repeat for desired reps, then switch sides.

Sumo Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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. The below instructions are for the barbell sumo squat, but you can also perform this movement with a kettlebell.

  1. Set a barbell racked at shoulder height.
  2. Step under the bar and rest it against the back of your shoulders. Grasp the bar overhand.
  3. Push up with your legs to unrack the barbell and take a step back.
  4. Position your legs wider than shoulder-width with your toes pointed slightly out.
  5. Brace your core by inhaling and engaging your core as if you expect to be punched.
  6. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees, pushing them out in line with your feet.
  7. Lower until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor
  8. Breath out and push through your feet to return to standing.

Hack Squats

Hack squats are a rear-loaded squat performed on a hack squat machine or with a barbell behind the legs. Hack squats target your quads more than traditional squats.

  1. Place a loaded barbell behind you and stand on weight plates or wedges to raise your heels.
  2. Slowly squat down and grasp the barbell behind your back.
  3. Push through your feet and quads to stand up while lifting the barbell behind you.
  4. Reverse the motion, driving your hips back as you go.

Single-Leg Squat (Pistol)

single leg squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Single-leg squats are an advanced exercise that requires strength and balance, though you can also use various props to assist you with balance, such as a suspension trainer, chair, or rack.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Raise one foot off the ground and extend your leg out in front of you.
  3. Raise your arms in front of you for counterbalance.
  4. Slowly lower squat by hinging your hips back and bending your front knee.
  5. Continue lowering until your standing thigh is parallel to the floor.
  6. Rise to stand by pushing through your standing foot and straightening your leg.

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 and Risks

Some experts believe that the smith machine provides safety because the bar is contained between two rails. Researchers have also noted that a smith machine squat offers a broader range of exercise positions than the free squat and more possibilities for adjusting the distribution of muscle activity and joint loads.

Many fitness trainers 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.

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

A Word From Verywell

Squats are a fundamental human movement pattern and an excellent exercise to work your lower body and core. Changing up your variations for squats may keep you from getting bored with one type and can help improve your form while targeting your muscles in novel ways. If you are unsure how to perform any of these squat variations, get assistance from a personal trainer.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Myer GD, Kushner AM, Brent JL, et al. The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength Cond J. 2014;36(6):4-27.  doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103

  4. Spencer K, Croiss M. The effect of increasing loading on powerlifting movement form during the squat and deadliftJournal of Human Sport and Exercise. 2015;10(3):764-774. doi:10.14198/jhse.2015.103.02

  5. MACKEY ER, RIEMANN BL. Biomechanical differences between the bulgarian split-squat and back squat. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021;14(1):533-543.

  6. Slater L, Hart J. Muscle activation patterns during different squat techniquesJ Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(3):667-676. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001323

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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.