You can tell a lot about someone from how they perform a squat — more specifically, their body’s strength and weaknesses. The typically two-legged exercise requires learning how to efficiently use your glutes (not just your quads!), and properly activate and engage your core. You’ll also need enough hip and ankle mobility to drop it low — without leaning forward or lifting your heels. But it’s an especially functional move, considering how many times we sit down and stand up throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often see a squat challenge weaved into trainers’ workouts.
“The squat is a great lower body exercise that also incorporates your core musculature,” says Prince Brathwaite, a trainer on Daily Burn 365 and owner of Trooper Fitness in New York City. “Squats also burn lots of calories due to the fact that you engage several large muscle groups during the movement.” The exercise requires effort from your glutes, quads and hamstrings — aka the body’s biggest muscles, which produce that extra calorie burn.
Hold off on doing hundreds of basic bodyweight squats, though. The standard squat can get repetitive with a capital P for plateau. But try a new squat challenge more often and you’ll call on new muscles groups (not to mention brain waves!). “Our bodies are great at adapting to the stimulus we put on it. Eventually [a squat] will not have the same affect it did the first time you performed it — but we can keep the body guessing by changing up the way we do the exercise,” says Brathwaite.
From testing your core stability to getting your arms involved, these 21 squat variations provide the creativity and extra push you need to reach your goals as you drop it low.
Step Up Your Squat Challenge with 21 Creative Variations
Don’t forget proper squat form as you crush these creative takes. Weight should stay in your heels as you lower your hips down and back toward the floor. Make sure to keep your chest up and shoulders down as you go. Then, inhale as you lower and exhale to stand for quality ab engagement. Ready, set, squat!
1. Box Squat
Master your squat form with this variation. Find a low chair, box or bench to lower your seat onto, then drive off your feet to stand back up.
2. Overhead Squat
Put your hands in the air if you want to fire up your core even more. You’ll target your abs and back muscles by simply lifting your arms by your ears, as you lower your hips and butt toward the floor.
3. Goblet Squat
There’s nothing like adding a little — or a lot — of weight to an exercise and seeing how much harder your muscles must work. Hold a heavy dumbbell at your chest to make your quads, glutes and hamstrings go into overdrive, while your upper body stabilizes the weight, too.
4. Wide Stance Squat
Stepping your feet a little wider than hip-distance will allow you to get lower into your squat. Glutes and inner thighs, engaged!
5. Narrow Stance Squat
Step your feet closer than hip-distance and you narrow your base of support, meaning your core works harder. Your thighs will also feel the burn.
6. Partial Squat
RELATED: 4 Moves for a Better Back Squat
7. Pulse Squat
Time to grind. Pulsing it low in a squat will fatigue your muscle fibers — fast. Smaller range of motion; greater muscle endurance gains.
8. Squat with Calf Raise
When you come up from the bottom of your squat, lift your heels to feel your lower legs (aka your calves) fire. Shaking means you’re doing it right.
9. Staggered Squat
Elevate the squat challenge for this off-balance exercise. Popping one toe puts most of the work on a single leg, meaning that leg has to work harder to move you down and up.
10. Pistol Squat to Box
Go next-level on that staggered squat. This time, you’ll keep one leg totally lifted as you sit down on a box, chair or bench and stand back up. It’s a move that requires serious stability in your standing leg.
11. Squat to Knee Raise
When you stand up from a squat, you’ll use your hip flexors and abs to lift your knee toward your chest. Try to bring your leg higher and move faster each time you come back to this variation to keep the squat challenge going.
12. Lunge to Squat
Two main movement patterns in one, this exercise gets every part of your lower half firing. Stay low in your squat (so legs muscles remain engaged) as you step back into a lunge, alternating sides.
13. Knee Get-Up Squat
Standing up off the floor gets easier the more we work on it. And this move hones in on just that. Again, keep your booty low to the ground to force your legs to work the entire time.
14. Split Squat to Lateral Raise
Time to lift some dumbbells and incorporate your arms. With one leg forward and one leg back, bend down so your knees hit 90 degrees, which targets your lower half. Meanwhile, you’ll raise your arms straight out to the sides to strengthen your shoulders.
15. Sumo Squat with Curls
Prepare to flex that bicep! Taking it to a sumo squat targets your inner thighs more, while adding a curl as you stand involves your arms. A full-body exercise at its finest.
16. Squat with Front Raise
You know you’ll feel this in your shoulders, but the secret scorcher is in your midsection. Use your core to keep your spine neutral, and remember to keep your shoulders down away from your ears for less tension in your neck.
17. Squat Thrust
Another move featuring two dumbbells, this one requires the power of your lower body to drive the weights overhead. You should feel this one in your core, as well as your legs, shoulders and even triceps.
18. Squat Jump
This power player is a surefire way to rev your heart rate and get your fast-twitch muscle fibers involved for more speed and strength. Remember to land softly back down after each explosive jump up from your squat.
19. Smurf Jack Squat
A fun take on a typical jumping jack, this full-body exercise comes with a side of cardio. Keep your butt down, chest up and move as quick as you can to torch more calories.
20. 180 Surfer Squat
Add a twist while you pretend you’re hanging ten! Drop low, then explode up as you do a 180 degree turn and land with your feet staggered — just like you’d stand on a surfboard. If you’ve ever caught some waves, you know how much core stability this move requires.
21. Good Morning Squat
An important move to master: the hip hinge. It calls for pushing your hips back and lowering your chest toward the ground with a flat back, abs engaged, weight in heels and just a slight bend in your knees. We promise you’ll feel this down the entire back of your body.