Healthy Byte: Essential Squat Variations

Add a little spice to your boring squats. (GIFs: Demand Media)

Without a doubt, squats are the best exercise to build lower-body strength and establish functional movement patterns. When done properly, they target your glutes, hamstrings and quads and incorporate core stability. And there’s no exercise that will make you look as good from behind as squats will. But squats – just like any other exercise – can get repetitive, and if you don’t vary the way you’re doing them by adding weight, changing your leg position, adding additional movements, etc., your body will adapt to that movement pattern and you’ll stop seeing results.

To prevent that, here are six essential squat variations you can incorporate into your strength-training routine. Master proper form on the basic body-weight squat first, then move on to more challenging variations as you build your strength. Your quads and glutes might be burning by the end (not to mention the potential soreness the next day), but your posterior will thank you.

1. Pistol Squat
As one of the most advanced squat variations, you’ll need to make sure you’ve built up enough single-leg strength and core stability to master the pistol squat. It’s even more advanced than the single-leg squat, since you’ll bend deeper as you hold one leg out in front of you. Start with the single-leg squat and build up to the pistol squat.

HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Slowly shift your weight to your right leg as you extend your left leg out in front of you. Raise your arms in front of you at chest level to help you balance. Engage your core and hinge from your hips to squat down, maintaining your balance on your right leg. Go as low as you can without touching the floor. Then drive through your heel to stand back up.

2. Plie Squats
Channel your inner ballet dancer for a more challenging squat. This variation changes your footing and widens your stance to target more of the muscles along your inner and outer thighs while still recruiting glutes, quads and hamstrings.

HOW TO DO THEM: Stand with your feet several inches wider than hip distance and your toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. You can either place your hands on your hips, raise and lower your arms like a standard squat or hold your hands in a fist in the middle of your chest. Bend your knees and your hips to lower toward the floor. This time your back will stay perpendicular to the floor instead of bending slightly forward. Drive through your feet to return to standing.

3. Jump Squats
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that squatting can improve your jump height. So why not take that a step further and incorporate jumping into your squat routine? This plyometric variation is a bit more advanced, so make sure you’ve completely mastered basic squats and have healthy knees before attempting.

HOW TO DO THEM: Assume the same stance as a regular squat – feet slightly wider than hip distance and feet turned slightly out. Squat back and down from your hips and bring your arms back behind you for momentum. Really drive through your feet and jump straight up into the air from the bottom of your squat, arms swinging up overhead as you do. Land with knees bent to absorb the shock and go straight into your next squat jump.

4. Split Squat
A split squat may look more like a lunge than a squat, but the principles of the squat still apply here. For an added stability challenge and more single-leg work, you can elevate your back foot on a box or a bench as you go through the range of motion.

HOW TO DO THEM: Begin holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders and your feet several feet apart, one in front of the other. Keeping the barbell in place and your back straight, bend both knees and lower down until your back knee almost touches the ground. Both knees should be at 90 degrees and your front knee shouldn’t extend over your front toes. Hold for a moment before returning to standing. Complete your reps on one leg before switching legs.

5. Dumbbell Sumo Squat
The trick here is to recruit abdominal and back muscles to keep your chest from being pulled forward by your dumbbells. HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your feet turned out at 45 degrees. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, let your arms hang directly in front of you between your legs. Bend both of your knees and lower yourself down so that the weights almost touch the floor (without bending your chest forward). You’ll look (and probably feel) a bit like a sumo wrestler. Drive through your heels and return to standing.

6. Single-Leg Squat
Single-leg work can be very challenging for most people, but it’s also very beneficial because it can correct any imbalances you might have. For example, if your right leg is stronger than your left leg, your right leg might compensate for the left in a traditional squat. But in a single-leg squat, you’re balancing on only one leg at a time, so that leg must do all the work.

HOW TO DO THEM: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Slowly shift your weight to your right foot until your left foot is completely off the ground. You can let your left foot hover there or extend your left leg slightly out in front of you. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to squat down, keeping all your weight in your right leg. Keep your arms in front of you for balance. Press through your right foot and return to standing. Make sure you do the same number of reps on both sides.

 

Originally Posted HERE

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Healthy Byte: Day 1030

Perfect PU

For anyone who has followed me for awhile knows that I am intrinsically a bit lazy. I don’t particularly hold a fondness for exercise nor do I particularly detest exercise. I nothing exercise in the sense that it is just something I have incorporated into my life in order to stay healthy. It’s kind of like kids and high school. There are those who spring out of bed everyday with a ear-to-ear smile who truly adored high school. There are those who absolutely hated every waking moment of high school. Then there are those of us mucks who endured it because it was a necessary milestone to endure. Fitness to me is just that – a necessity to staying healthy – not a choice.

This is the primary reason that my personal fitness motto is ‘biggest bang for my workout buck!’ (BBWOB) Essentially, I want to do the bare minimum in the least amount of time.  I need an exercise which will build muscle, tone / define, and can be accomplished in as few movements as possible. And let me just toss out a disclaimer that I am not certified personal trainer nor am I any sort of fitness expert. I do however, am a little nerdy and spend hours in researching the latest & most efficient workout trends so that I can always maximize the results with minimum effort. This BBWOB approach is just what has worked for me in not only keeping the near 40lbs off for 2+ years but it has given me body definition I never thought possible. So please keep in mind what works for me may not be the right answer for you.

Now that is out of the way …

When I was transitioning from weight loss to maintaining, I slowly shifted my workout from all cardio to cardio with some form of strength training. Now when I hear strength training, my knee-jerk reaction is to think of traditional weight lifting; which sucks the happiness right out of my soul! Not because I hold any malice inclination towards the activity but because I know enough to comprehend the amount of time required to invest in it (refer to first sentence). I have always found the ‘heavy / serious’ lifting section of any gym to be very intimidating. It just makes me feel absurdly out-of-place, awkward, and reminiscent of being back in junior high school at that very first boy-girl dance. You know the one where all the girls tries to play it cool making small talk on one side of the gym while the boys awkwardly contemplate the distinct possibility of a public ‘no’ on the other? YES – that level of awkwardness. I can’t even tell you why but the minute I step on to the thick rubber mats in the free weight section of any gym I immediately feel like a fish out of water.

Aside from a major case of the inept, for the Ordinary Jane / Joe who is only looking to tone and define, who is not looking to bulk & exponentially increase muscle mass, enter physique/body competitions, or have any aspirations to be a serious weight lifter, the abundant time investment seem to be a bit of an overkill. However, the core concept of working muscle groups was a good one and it inspired me to look for exercises which targets the largest muscle groups in one or two movements.

Enter compound exercises. Compound exercise is defined as “… any exercise that involves the use of more than one major muscle group at a time. Typically, there is one larger muscle group that ends up doing the majority of the work, and then one or more smaller muscle groups that are recruited secondarily” (Source: A Workout Routine). One of the major benefits of many staple compound exercises can be done equipment free also known as bodyweight strength training. The dynamic dual allows me to work multiple muscles at once and no or very little equipment required was a natural win-win for me.

So here is a sample of my typical workout:

  • WHAT: Elliptical in various squat positions
  • DURATION: 30 minutes on high resistance. When the resistance gets too easy I bump it up. Started at Level 2 now I am at Level 6.
  • MUSCLE GROUPS: Quads, Hamstring, Glutes, Calves, Heart (cardio)
  • BBWOB TIP: No Time to Read – This exercise should never be easy enough to leisurely read while on the elliptical. If you can then it’s time to bump up the resistance to the next level!

elip wTip

  • WHAT: Three forms of Push Ups (Tricep, Regular, Wide Arm) 
  • DURATION: As many as I can pump out without falling on my face. Typically I do about 30-65 push ups in total. 
  • MUSCLE GROUPS:  Chest, Shoulders, Back, Bicep, Tricep, Abs 
  • BBWOB TIP: Quality over Quantity – In order to maximize the benefits form matters. For the first few workouts, do push ups long ways of a mirror to check body positioning. Generally in the upright push up position, visually the body, arms and floor should form an almost right angle (See fitness model photo above).

pu wTip

  • WHAT: Three forms of Planks (Regular, High, Arms Up)
  • DURATION: 1 minute hold between each Push Up set
  • MUSCLE GROUPS: Abs, Chest, Shoulders, Upper Back, Bicep, Tricep, Quads, Hamstring, Glutes, Calves
  • BBWOB TIP: Form Matters – Again form is key. In addition to planking in front of a mirror try positioning the hands face down or face up.

  • WHAT: Three forms of Pull Ups (Bicep Curls, Shoulder Width, Wide)
  • DURATION: As many as I can pump out without falling on my face. Typically I do about 10-30 pull ups in total.
  • MUSCLE GROUPS: Lats, Shoulders, Back, Bicep, Tricep, Abs, Quads
  • BBWOB TIP: Quality over Quantity – Instead of trying to do a gazillion mediocre pull up, try doing 3 perfect ones. Pull up fast then release slowly for an extra umph to the lats.

TOTAL WORKOUT TIME: 45 – 55 minutes (depending if I have to wait for the pull up bar). Six times a week with one rest day.

As you can see, there is not one exercise where I am not working multiple major muscle groups. This is how I get the BBWOB.

P.S. Will be phasing out the planks and replacing with this in the next few weeks:

  • WHAT: Full Hanging (Knee) Leg Raise (Progression Goals: Hang for 20-30 seconds →  Knee raise →  Eventually full leg raise → Add twist for extra oblique focus)
  • DURATION: As many as I can pump out without falling on my face. Reps is TBD.
  • MUSCLE GROUPS: (Core) Upper & Lower Abs, Oblique, Lats, Hip Flexors, Quads, Back, Grip Strength

GOAL #1: Modified Hanging Leg Raise

ULTIMATE GOAL: Full Hanging Leg Raise

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

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