Squat Variations for the Buns, Hips, and Thighs

 Squats are one of the best lower body exercises you can do. Why? One reason is that squats are a multi-joint, compound exercise which targets all the major muscles of the lower body, including the hips, glutes, and thighs.

Start with the basic squat and try out the other squat variations to hit different areas and keep your workouts fresh and challenging.

1

The Basic Squat

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Watch Now: How To Do a Squat With Perfect Form

This version, which requires no weights or equipment (other than a chair, if desired) is great for beginners, for anyone with knee problems or for those who are overweight and need a bit more support.

It's also great for anyone wanting to add more functionality into their lives because it mimics the movements we do each time we sit down or stand up.

  1. If using a chair, place it just behind you and stand in front of it with feet about hip- or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Contract the abs and keep them tight as you bend the knees and slowly squat towards the chair.
  3. Send the hips back while keeping the head up and the torso straight. You can extend the arms if that helps with balance.
  4. Pause here (or sit briefly on the chair) and then contract the glutes to lift up out of the chair and begin extending the legs.
  5. Fully extend the legs until you're back to standing position, but don't lock the knees.
  6. Repeat this for 1-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions.
  7. If using a chair, progress to a more challenging variation by squatting until you're just hovering over the chair but not sitting all the way down. You can also hold weights for added intensity.
  8. Make sure you send the hips back to avoid knee pain.
2

Squat With One Dumbbell

Man doing squat with kettlebell
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Once you're able to do more than 16 chair squats, it's time to progress and add some challenge to your squats. One option is to hold a dumbbell (or a kettlebell as pictured here) as you squat, which is a great way to add intensity without putting any extra load on the spine (as in barbell squats below). Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a medium-heavy dumbbell in front of your body with arms straight and elbows slightly bent.
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Stop when your knees are at 90-degree angles or before you lose the natural arch of your back.
  4. Contract the glutes and legs while stabilizing your body with a strong torso.
  5. Slowly stand back up without locking the knees and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions.
3

Squat With Dumbbells

squat variation

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Another version of the dumbbell squat involves holding the dumbbell at chest height. Holding weight in this position builds muscles in the glutes, hips, and thighs but adds a slight upper body challenge. Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a medium to heavy dumbbell or a kettlebell in front of the chest. Keep the shoulders and neck. relaxed
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Stop when your knees are at 90-degree angles or before you lose the natural arch of your back.
  4. At the bottom of the movement, make sure you take your hips back, as though you're about to sit in a chair. Avoid bending the knees so that they go forward.
  5. Contract the glutes and legs while stabilizing your body with a strong torso.
  6. Slowly stand back up without locking the knees and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions.
4

Barbell Squat

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Barbell squats are a more intense version of squats, requiring more work from the largest muscles in the body, the glutes.

Barbell squats are a great addition to a workout, provided you do them correctly. Adding a weight to your shoulders puts much of that load onto your spine as well, so take care when adding weight onto the shoulders. Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place the barbell just above the shoulders on the trapezius muscles (i.e., the 'meaty' part of the shoulders). If you feel uncomfortable, you can use a bar pad to protect your back.
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Stop when your knees are at 90-degree angles  or before you lose the natural arch of your back.
  4. Contract the glutes and legs while stabilizing your body with a strong torso.
  5. Slowly stand back up without locking the knees and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions.

Take care when doing this exercise for the first time. Start with a light weight you can easily handle and practice getting your form perfect before moving on to heavier barbells.

5

Sumo Squat or Wide Squat

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The Sumo Squat or wide squat involves a variation on foot placement that helps target your leg muscles in different ways.

In a sumo squat, for example, you incorporate a bit more inner thigh than in traditional squats. This can be a nice variation to add to your routine if you need a new challenge. Just take care when lowering down and only go as far as your flexibility will allow. Here's how:

  1. Begin in a wide stance with toes out at a comfortable angle. Your knees will need to stay aligned with your toes, so don't go out too far.
  2. To add weight you can hold dumbbells on the upper thighs, a single dumbbell in front or a barbell on the shoulders or behind the head.
  3. Bend the knees and lower down into a squat, keeping knees in line with toes, abs contracted, and back straight.
  4. Only go down as low as you can without compromising your flexibility or your balance.
  5. Push back to start without locking the knees.
  6. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.
6

Front Barbell Squat

Man doing a front squat with a barbell
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A front barbell squat is the same as other squat variations except for the placement of the weight.

In a front squat, the barbell rests on the front of the shoulders, held in place by crossing the arms over the bar or with an underhand grip, as shown. Be aware, however, that this variation requires a lot of shoulder and wrist mobility and may not be appropriate for everyone.

By moving the weight in front of you instead of behind you, you change your center of gravity and, thus, change the focus of the exercise to the quads. Because of how you're holding the weight, you'll need to use a lighter weight for this version than the traditional barbell squat. Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place the barbell on the front of the shoulders and cross the arms over the bar to hold it in place or use an underhand grip, just watch out for the wrists.
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Because of how you're holding the weight, your torso will remain vertical and you may not be able to squat down as low, so take care not to compromise your balance.
  4. Contract the glutes and legs slowly stand back up without locking the knees and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions.
7

Wall Sits

Woman doing wall squats at gym
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The wall sit is a bit different from typical squats since you're holding a static or isometric position for a certain period of time, rather than working through an entire range of motion.

This is a great exercise you can do anywhere without any equipment to help you build endurance in the lower body. Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a wall (about 2 feet in front of it) and lean against it.
  2. Slide down and walk the feet out until your knees are at about 90-degree angles (or as close as you can get) and hold, keeping the abs contracted, for 20-60 seconds.
  3. Come back to start and repeat, holding the squat at different angles to work the lower body in different ways.
  4. To add intensity, hold weights, squeeze a ball between the knees or do wall sits with leg lifts.
8

One-Legged Squats

pistol squat

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The one-legged squat is an advanced exercise and one you should take care with if doing for the first time.

Putting all your weight on one leg will really challenge your balance and stability while adding intensity to your exercise routine. This variation can be performed with an exercise ball for support when you first begin.

Here's how to do it with a ball:

  1. Place an exercise ball behind your lower back against a wall and lean against it.
  2. Lift left foot off the ground slightly, moving the right foot closer to the middle to get your balance.
  3. Contract the muscles of ​the right leg and, keeping the left leg lifted, lower down into a squat (only as low as you can manage). You can rest your hands against the wall if you need to for added balance.
  4. Push back to start and repeat all reps on right leg before switching sides.

One you are comfortable performing the exercise with support, try moving away from the wall and performing one-legged squats without the ball.

9

Choosing Your Squats and Safe Squatting

woman doing barbell squat
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Quick Tips for Choosing Your Squats

  • If you're just trying to get strong and healthy or maybe lose weight, any type of squat will do.
  • If you're a beginner, starting with the body weight squats and slowly moving up to the weighted squats is the best way to go.
  • As you get good at it, you can start on the more advanced variations (front squats, barbell squats, and one-legged squats).
  • Wherever you start, squatting is an excellent exercise that will work every part of your lower body.

Tips for Squatting Safely

  1. Keep the weight over the ankles and keep the heels on the floor throughout the movement.
  2. Keep the knees in line with the toes.
  3. Remember to send the hips back rather than the knees forward.
  4. Keep the shoulders back, a natural arch in the lower back, and the head and neck in a neutral position throughout the exercise.
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