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18 Squat Variations and Their Target Muscles

9 mins read
Olena Lastivka
Written by Olena Lastivka
Olena Lastivka

Written by Olena Lastivka

Olena is a nutrition and healthcare writer, runner, and gym enthusiast. She is keen on health and fitness research, modern studies on sports and nutrition, and various physical activities. 

on October 07, 2022
Davi Santana, M.Sc.
Fact checked by Davi Santana, M.Sc.
Davi Santana, M.Sc.

Fact checked by Davi Santana, M.Sc.

Davi Santana is a fact checker at Unimeal. He has been a personal trainer for more than 5 years. He is well-versed in strength training, HIIT, running, functional training, and CrossFit.

The Unimeal team works to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information. All texts are reviewed by a panel of experts and editors and updated according to the latest research. Only evidenced-based and verified sources of leading medical publications and universities get into the article materials.

Squats are a must in every leg workout. No matter how hard it might seem, you can find a squat variation you will love. Building impressive glutes always involves some squats in a workout routine. Read on to find a perfect squat for yourself.

squat variations
squat variations

The squat is a compound lower body exercise involving multiple joints and primarily activating your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. As you squat, your core muscles also work statically to keep balance. 

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Squat form 

You might have seen many squat interpretations. Let's discuss the basic rules that are applicable to every squat:

  • Perform the same movement as if you need to sit down on a chair that is slightly behind you. 
  • Your spine needs to be in a neutral position - no hunching or leaning to one side. Also, look forward as you squat and don't turn your head. The neck is a part of your spine too. 
  • As you squat, your back and lower legs need to form parallel lines (see the picture below).
  • The center of your gravity is in the middle of your feet. Don't place your weight on your heels or toes. Your heels shouldn't come off the ground. 
  • Go as low as it is comfortable for you. A little below your knee line is optimal for most people. 
  • Keep your core engaged throughout the movement. 
  • Move down as you inhale and straighten your legs on exhale. 
  • There is a popular fitness misconception that your knees shouldn't go past your toes while squatting. In fact, it depends on your body structure or ankle mobility and doesn't have to do anything with the squat form. «But this strategy can be relevant for some people with knee injuries”, - comments Health & Fitness Expert Davi Santana, M.Sc.
squat form
squat form

Different squat exercise variations and equipment

Below, we will show you how versatile squats are no matter what equipment and location you choose. Learn how to target the muscles you want to grow by adjusting feet position and bending angle. 

Squats for glutes

Place your feet a bit wider than your shoulder width and your toes a bit outwards. You can lean forward a little bit to feel the stretch in your glutes. You need to gradually increase the difficulty of the exercise by adding extra resistance (weight, resistance bands, or slowing down your movement)

squats for glutes
squats for glutes

Squats for adductors 

Adductors are your inner thighs. To target adductors, place your feet twice wider than your shoulder width with your toes outwards. This squat variation is also called sumo squat. 

squats for adductors
squats for adductors

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Squats for quads 

Place your feet at shoulder width with your toes facing the front. Perform squats as usual. Squats in the Smith machine focus on quads more than weighted squats. If you do leg press, put your legs on the top of the platform and keep them together

 

Bodyweight

This is the first squat variation you need to master before moving on to harder progressions. You can easily do it at home. Just make sure you have a mirror to control your form. What if you can easily do 20-30 bodyweight squats and don’t have any extra equipment? Pause at the lowest point of your squat or bounce a little bit to make the exercise more challenging. 

bodyweight squat
bodyweight squat

Jump squats 

This is a bit harder variation of squats that trains. You can simply jump as you move up from the squatting position. This is perfect for home workouts. If you exercise outside or in the gym, you can find a lifted surface (stairs, a box, or a platform). 

jump squat
jump squat

With elastics

It is a great way to add some extra resistance while working out at home. There are different types of elastics you can find. The main difference between elastics and weights is that any resistance band creates more tension when stretched. Weights create the same tension as you move. That is why you receive different loads while you perform the exercise. 

squat with elactics
squat with elactics

With dumbbells

You can choose two dumbbells and place them outside your legs or hold one heavier dumbbell between your legs. The second variation will allow you to put your legs wider and target your glutes and hamstrings more. You can also hold dumbbells in front of you to add static engagement to your shoulders. 

squat wth dumbbells
squat wth dumbbells

With kettlebell

To squat with a kettlebell, choose the weight you can lift to your chin. Hold the kettlebell between your legs if you want to take bigger weights. Use two platforms for your feet if you don't want the kettlebell to touch the surface. 

squat with kettlebell
squat with kettlebell

 

With bar

Place a bar on the top of your back so it doesn't slide and hold it with a direct grip. The bat should be parallel to the surface as you move. As you become stronger, you can choose heavier bars and add symmetrical-weighted plates to them. 

squat with bar
squat with bar

Barbell front squat

This squat is a quad-focused exercise. Place the bar next to your collarbones and hold it with a reversed grip. You shouldn't feel that your hands do too much work holding the bar. Use them only for stabilizing it.  

barbell front squat
barbell front squat

Hack squat machine

This machine is a great alternative for the ones fro are not confident with free weights or have health conditions like scoliosis. In the hack machine, you bend forward more than while doing a classic squat, which allows you to target your glutes better. 

Smith machine squats 

The Smith machine controls the symmetry of your movement and the bar path. This machine is also great for big weights as you don't have to lift the bar yourself to place it on your back. Mind that the Smith machine focuses on your quads more than on your glutes.  

smith machine squat
smith machine squat

Leg press

Leg press can activate your glutes way better than usual squats. Choose a wider stance and upper leg position on the platform if you want to target the glutes. Place your legs closer and lower to focus on your quads. Don't straighten your legs fully - it will help you avoid trauma. 

leg press
leg press

Wall squat 

This is a static exercise that goes well at the end of a workout. Squat down next to a wall and lean with your back on it. Try to keep this position for at least 30 seconds. For extra tension, put a resistance band on your thighs. 

wall squat
wall squat

Cable rope squats 

This squat variation works your legs, core, arms, and shoulders at the same time. Squat with two ropes in your hands and start making waves with the ropes. Don't straighten your legs until you feel tired or sore. 

 

Split squats

Try split squats if you find usual squats uncomfortable or can't do them due to medical reasons. You need to make one step forward and bend your knees at approximately 90 degrees. Your knee should be close to the ground but not touch it. 

split squats
split squats

Bulgarian split squat

Choose a surface that is about your knee height. It can be a bench, box, your bed or sofa, and even a TRX loop. Make one big step from it and turn your back to the surface. Place one leg on this surface and squat down. 

bulgarian split squat
bulgarian split squat

Single leg squat

This type of squat is rather popular in yoga. Make a big step forward and bend your front leg/ You don't need to squat as deep as usual unless your body can perform it without pain. The point is to keep balance and give a little stretch to your glutes. 

single leg squat
single leg squat

Pistol squat

Straighten one leg in front of you. Squat on the other leg as low as you can. This exercise might seem hard at first, so here's what you can do to make it easier: 

  • Lean on something with one of your hands. A parallel bar or any vertical bar can do well. 
  • Use a chair or a gym bench. Squat till you sit on its surface and then go up. Then you can choose lower objects. Eventually, you will learn to perform this exercise without assistance. 
pistol squat
pistol squat

Compound squats

Squats that combine different exercises are rather popular in CrossFit and other types of functional training. You can perform squats with bicep curls, shoulder presses, side leg raises, and many other exercises. 

Unusual squats 

Try unusual squats when you need to add some spice to your workouts. Bosu ball squats are great for balance and core engagement. You can also try medicine ball squats, trampoline squats, and special balance squats. 

bosu squat
bosu squat

Let's summarize 

Squat is one of the most important exercises for legs and glutes. Squats with a broader stance and slight leaning forward work better for glute growth. To see strength gain and muscle growth, you need to apply progressive overload - adding complexity to your exercise with extra weight, more challenging variations, or more reps.

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Sources:

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