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Few exercises do more for your lower body than a squat. Not only does it hit all the muscles in your legs — quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves — it also works your hips, abs, back and shoulders. But squatting week after week can get a little boring — OK, a lot boring. That’s where these variations come into play.
These moves tweak the usual squat a little bit, making your muscles work differently to eliminate boredom and get you results. Some variations bring in additional muscles, such as the inner and outer thighs while others work on balance and symmetry. Yes, you should still do the golden standard regularly, but add one of these variations to your leg workout each week to throw your legs a curve ball. Or if you’re feeling über-ambitious, do them all in a workout together using a set of moderately heavy dumbbells. Perform anywhere from 10 to 15 repetitions for each of three sets and at the end of your session you should know squat!
Setup: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with your legs turned out. Hold a single dumbbell in front of you, arms extended, or rest a barbell across your upper shoulders.
Move: Keeping your torso erect, squat down slowly, tracking your knees over your toes. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, reverse the move and rise to the start, squeezing your glutes as you reach the top.
Tip: Resist the urge to lean forward; keep your shoulders back and your bum tucked under.
Dumbbell Split Squat
Setup: Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides and take a split stance with one foot forward and the other foot behind you about 2 to 3 feet. About 80% of your weight should be on your front leg. Note: this might look like a lunge at first, but because your weight is not distributed evenly between your feet, it is not considered such.
Move: Bend your front knee, tracking it over your toes and lowering until your front thigh comes parallel to the floor. The back knee lowers toward the floor. Reverse the move to rise to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: You can also do this move with your rear foot up on a bench, laces down, to add an element of balance.
Setup: Step one foot across and behind the other while keeping your hips square, and place your hands on your hips. Your rear foot should be up on its toe, and your front foot should be flat on the floor, pointed straight ahead.
Move: Bend both knees and squat toward the floor, keeping your hips and shoulders square and your torso erect. When you’ve gone as low as you can, extend both legs to rise to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: The more you can square your hips, the more you’ll hit the outer/upper glute for an instant butt lift!
Setup: Stand on your right leg with your left leg extended straight in front of you. Hold your arms parallel to the floor at shoulder height in front of you.
Move: Bend your right knee and squat all the way down until your bum is almost touching your heel and your left leg is hovering above the floor in front of you. Extend your right leg to stand back up to the start and repeat. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Tip: If you have trouble getting back up, hold a PVC pipe at your side and use it to help you rise, or try touching down onto a low plyometrics box to shorten the distance until you become stronger and can go lower.