As the old adage goes; “You ain’t squat, unless you squat.” I’ll buy it, but not in the way you’re thinking.
If I went and said that phrase to a group of high school football players, or former football players, they would all run to the nearest squat rack, throw the bar on their bar with as many plates as it holds and bounce up and down, ever so slightly, till their back decided to call it quits and their bros had to help them up. “Nice set of squats bro.”
If I said that to a group of women on the treadmills at the gym they would all saunter (is that REALLY how that word is spelled?) over to the pink dumbbell rack, grab one pink dumbbell, hold it with both hands down between their legs as they do a set of 25 modified pliés without even breaking from the treadmill conversation on which low fat 100 calorie sugar pack is the best for getting rid of fat under the arms (hint: try the produce and meat section of the grocery store).
Well I think by my tone it’s fairly obvious I think both schools of thought would be wrong, but I do like squats! I think it’s a great move that should be a backbone in nearly every exercise program. While I understand there are ALWAYS going to be special circumstances that make one squat variation better than others in a given situation, I’m going to list out my top 4 squat variations for the general public:
1) Box Squat. I think most people need to master this exercise before they can move on to other types of squats. This is done with just bodyweight. It’s important to establish going down to a proper depth to get the most from a squat. Obviously not every box, or anything else you want to use, is going to be built for everone’s specific height, but by finding a box at around knee height we can really work on proper squat form without worrying about how low we are going. The box tells us that!
2) Goblet Squat. Here is a step up from the box squat that needs to be mastered by all. In a goblet squat we hold a kettlebell or dumbbell at our chest, and as the great Dan John says “Stick your elbows between your knees.” This is a simple way to make sure you are hitting proper depth as well as keeping your chest up and not letting your knees cave in. Very rudimentarily (actual word, yes or no?), that describes a pretty good squat. Plus now we get to add weight to make it more challenging.
3) Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat. I do consider this a squat. Just a one leg squat with the other leg supported. Obviously this is going to be a little more of an advanced move than the others because it requires better balance and hip control. But it also does a better job of developing the strength required to improve balance and hip control. At Coastal Performance, taking a page out of the great book of Mike Boyle, this exercise replaces the heavy back squat as we can add as much weight to it as necessary without putting the back in as compromised position as the back squat does to most people.
4) Front Squat. Back to bilateral movements here. Provided you are not a baseball player, experience any shoulder impingement, (junk diagnosis, I know, but that’s another article probably already written by Eric Cressey), or have suffered from any A/C joint sprains, this is a great more advanced squat. I like it because the load is supported mostly by creating stiffness by coordinating our back muscles, particularly our lats, and the muscles of our anterior core. We call this stiffness “anti-flexion” in reference to the position of our spine. Without it, our back would bend forward into pretty much the posture you are sitting with right now! Probably not great for supporting loads! So here we have an exercise that promotes the musculature that gets us up out of our bad posture, and we haven’t even started the exercise yet! Combine that with the benefits of the squat to the legs and we have ourselves a great exercise to master.
So there you have my top 4 squat variations and my justifications. So baring any crazy knee or hip injuries there should be a squat for everyone!