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Every gal worth her weight in iron knows that squats are where it’s at when it comes to leg development. But making this brass-tacks basic into a unilateral move can challenge you in new ways, encouraging change. Check out these three squatting variations — their benefits and functions — and rotate them into your roster regularly to improve the look of your lower half.
Split squats look like a funky lunge, with one foot forward and one foot back, but your stance is narrower and your weight is placed more on your front leg. Split squats are a must-do for any program because they build the strength of each leg individually, correcting imbalances, improving sports performance and preventing injury.
>>Stand upright with your feet staggered and a barbell balanced on your shoulders; your front foot should be flat on the floor with your rear heel lifted.
>>Bend both legs and drop your back knee straight down. Your front shin should be perpendicular to the floor.
>>Keep your torso erect and your shoulders back throughout the move, and imagine moving straight up and down in a vertical plane like a piston.
>>Both knees should form 90-degree angles as you lower to your deepest point. If one knee has a smaller or larger angle than this, adjust your feet forward or back so they are both in this range.
>>When your front thigh is parallel to the floor, extend your legs and return to the start. Repeat for reps, then switch lead legs.
This variation incorporates an element of motion, which not only works the large muscles of the quads, hamstrings and glutes but also the inner and outer thigh and many smaller hip and ankle muscles that don’t normally get worked with traditional squatting. Holding a weight overhead ups the ante by challenging your core, back and shoulder muscles, making this a real workhorse of an exercise.
>>Stand with your feet together and hold a dumbbell straight up over your head. Keep your abs tight to protect your spine, and don’t allow your back to sway.
>>Take a step to the side so your legs are wider than hip-width apart, keeping your feet parallel.
>>Kick your hips back, then bend both knees to squat straight down, tracking your knees over your toes. Take your squat as low as you can to target the glutes, bottoming out if your flexibility allows.
>>As you lower down, mindfully keep the dumbbell straight up overhead; don’t allow your arms to come forward. Beginners can hold the dumbbell at chest level with both hands as a modification.
>>Drive through your heels to stand up, then push off your foot to return to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching, or alternate sides to add an element of cardio to the exercise.
Option: To make it easier, hold the dumbbell at chest level.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This alternative to the split squat typically has your back foot elevated on a bench to place even more emphasis on the quad and glute of the front leg, helping to correct imbalances and stabilize joints.
Option: Using a stability ball requires your leg and core muscles to work double time to maintain your balance as you do your set.
>>Stand several feet in front of a bench and lift one leg behind you, placing the laces of your shoe on top of the bench with your knee bent. Most of your weight should be on your front leg, so keep that knee soft to protect your joints and help maintain balance.
>>Bend your standing knee and slowly squat down, tracking your knee over your toes and keeping your torso upright; don’t lean forward.
>>When your front thigh is parallel to the floor, extend your leg to return to the start. Repeat for reps, then switch sides.