Squat Variations for the Buns, Hips, and Thighs

Squats are one of the best exercises you can do, as they build lower body muscle strength and also engage the core. They are a multi-joint, compound exercise that targets all the major muscles of the lower body, including the hips, glutes, and thighs.

If you're considering adding squats to your exercise routine, start with the basic squat and then move on to different squat variations, which can help you activate other areas of the leg, as well as the arms and shoulders. Doing so can help keep your workouts fresh and challenging.

Benefits of Squats

Squats strengthen the lower body muscles involved in daily activities, such as walking, going up and down stairs, standing up, and sitting down. Because they strengthen the muscles around the knee, as well as the core, they can help prevent certain types of knee dislocations. In addition, they also help improve overall posture.

In general, strength training has many benefits and is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and early death by any cause. Compared to other sports, squats are considered low-risk in terms of injury and many variations can be done without any equipment, making them a great addition to any exercise program.

The Basic Squat


Watch Now: How to Do a Squat With Perfect Form

The basic squat, which requires no weights or equipment, (other than a chair, if desired) is great for beginners and for anyone with knee conditions.

It's also great for anyone wanting to add more functionality into their lives, as this move mimics the movements done each time you sit down or stand up.

  1. Stand with feet about hip or shoulder-width apart. If using a chair, place it behind you and stand in front of it. Tighten your abs.
  2. 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. Extend the legs fully until you're back to standing position, but don't lock the knees.
  6. Repeat this for 1–3 sets of 10–16 repetitions.

If using a chair, progress to a more challenging variation by squatting until you're just hovering over the chair. You can also hold weights for added intensity.

Squat With One Dumbbell

Man doing squat with kettlebell

 Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Once you're able to do more than 16 chair squats, it's time to increase the difficulty level of this move. You can do so by holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell as you squat. This is a great way to add intensity, without putting any extra load on the spine.

  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 the knees are at 90-degrees 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. Stand back up slowly, without locking the knees.
  6. Repeat for 1–3 sets of 10–16 repetitions.

Squat With Dumbbells

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Another version of the dumbbell squat involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height. Holding the weight in this position builds muscles in the glutes, hips, thighs, and core. As an added bonus, it also works the upper body.

  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 a 90-degree angle or before you lose the natural arch of your back.
  4. 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.
  7. Repeat for 1–3 sets of 10–16 repetitions.

Barbell Squat

Black woman working out in gym
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Barbell squats are an intense type of squat that requires 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 weight to your shoulders puts much of that load onto your spine, so it's important to be mindful of your form while performing this move.

  1. Stand with feet hip or shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place the barbell just above the shoulders on the trapezius muscles, or the "meaty" part of the shoulders.
  3. Bend the knees and lower into a squat. Stop when your knees are at a 90-degree angle 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. Stand back up slowly, without locking the knees.
  6. Repeat for 1–3 sets of 10–16 repetitions.

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

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, you incorporate a bit more inner thigh compared to 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.

  1. Stand 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. Hold dumbbells on the upper thighs, a single dumbbell in front, or a barbell on the shoulders or behind the head to add weight.
  3. Bend the knees and lower down into a squat, keeping knees in line with toes, abs contracted, and back straight. Only go down as low as you can without compromising your flexibility or your balance.
  4. Push back to start without locking the knees.
  5. Repeat for 1–3 sets of 10–16 reps.

Front Barbell Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

In a front barbell 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. Be mindful, 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, which puts more focus on working the quads. Because of how you're holding the weight, you'll need to use a lighter weight for this move.

  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.
  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 as you slowly stand back up, without locking the knees.
  5. Repeat for 1–3 sets of 10–16 repetitions.

Wall Sits

Wall sit

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

The wall sit is a bit different from typical squats. For this exercise, you're holding an isometric, or static, 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. This move helps you build strength in the lower body, while also improving posture.

  1. Stand about 2 feet in front of a wall and lean against it. To add intensity hold weights or squeeze a ball between the knees.
  2. Slide down and walk the feet out until the knees are at about 90-degrees and hold for 20-60 seconds. Keep the abs contracted. For more intensity, add leg lifts.
  3. Come back to start and repeat, holding the squat at various angles to work the lower body in different ways.
  4. Rest in between sets and repeat 3 times.

One-Legged Squats

pistol squat

 RyanJLane / Getty Images

The one-legged squat is an advanced exercise that may be difficult to perform if you are doing it for the fist time. Putting all your weight on one leg will really challenge your balance and stability, while also adding intensity to your exercise routine. This variation can be performed with an exercise ball for support when you first begin.

  1. Place an exercise ball behind your lower back against a wall and lean against it.
  2. Lift the 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 for added balance.
  4. Push back to start and repeat all reps on the right leg before switching sides.
  5. Once you are comfortable performing the exercise with support, try moving away from the wall and performing one-legged squats without the ball.

If you don't have a ball, there are other options:

  • Stand in front of a weight bench and perform a one-legged squat as if you are dropping into a seated position on the bench.
  • Stand next to a wall and place your hand on it for balance while you perform squats on one leg.
  • Use an upright body bar to remain steady while performing single-leg squats.

Tips and Guidelines

Depending on your goals and level of fitness, there are various squat-related guidelines to keep in mind. If you're a beginner, it's best to start with the bodyweight squats and slowly move up to the weighted squats. With more practice, you may want to perform more advanced variations, including front squats, barbell squats, and one-legged squats.

To get the full benefits of this strength training move, it's important to use proper form. To do so, keep the knees in line with the toes. Make sure that the shoulders are back and that you maintain a natural arch in the lower back. The head and neck should be in a neutral position throughout the exercise.

In addition, keep the weight over the ankles and keep the heels on the floor throughout the movement. Remember to send the hips back, rather than the knees forward.

Safety and Precautions

In beginner exercisers, certain types of squats, especially moves that require a deeper bend in the knees, tend to increase the risk of injuries. It is critical to use proper form and to avoid attempting more advanced moves if beginner squat exercises feel challenging.

If you are pregnant, recovering from an injury, or have a health condition, it's best to speak with your healthcare provider prior to beginning a new exercise routine to ensure it is safe for you to perform.

If you experience any pain while performing this move, it's best to stop and speak with your healthcare provider and/or physical therapist.

Performing squats can help strengthen the glute, hip, and thigh muscles. In addition, squat variations can also work different areas of the leg, as well as the core and upper body.

If you are having difficulty performing squats, or are looking for a more intense squat variation, you may want to reach out to a personal trainer who can provide further support and help you reach your goals.

10 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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  8. Bautista D, Durke D, Cotter JA, Escobar KA, Schick EE. A comparison of muscle activation among the front squat, overhead squat, back extension and plankInt J Exerc Sci. 2020;13(1):714-722.

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  10. Arthritis Foundation. How to squat correctly.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."