5 Best Squat Variations You Must Try
Benefits, Muscles used & More!

Squat Variations: Which Squat Is Right For You
Written by Isaac

No workout program would be complete without the ‘king of all weight lifting exercises’, the squat.

Too many people avoid this exercise either because they don’t know how to do it or because it’s just downright hard.

But, if you want to see excellent progress with your workout program, the squat is one exercise you’ll want to have in the picture.

All it takes is one set of very heavy squats for you to see how much these get your heart rate up.

If done properly, you can almost skip over your entire cardiovascular session and do squats instead as you will reap similar benefits.

Why Squat Variations Matter

It’s not just your goals you need to take into consideration however when deciding what squat to do. You’ll also want to look at your flexibly levels, your skill level, as well as your overall biomechanics.

Some people simply have a body type that is built better for a specific type of squat than another.

While this doesn’t mean they can’t perform that other squat, it does mean they may find they feel more awkward when doing so and this could lead to them not lifting as much weight and as such, not progressing as quickly as they should.

And, they may also be at a slightly higher risk of injury as well.

So it pays to know which squat is the best squat for you.

Woman showing how to perform surfer squat exercise

Surfer squat exercise is a fun squat variation.

5 Squat Variations 

1. Front Squats

Front squats are one of the hardest squat variations to do and also require a high amount of upper body strength as well as you’ll be balancing the barbell across the collarbone region.

This squat exercise places far more emphasis on the front of the body over the back due to the fact the weight is centered across your front.

Front squats do tend to place slightly less strain on the lower back muscles when done properly, so those who are suffering from lower back pain may find they are drawn to front squats for this reason.

Man performing front squat

This squat variation will require a higher amount of sheer flexibility.

Muscles Worked: quads, upper back and core. In addition to that, you’ll also definitely call into play the hamstrings and glutes as they act as secondary movers and stabilizers.

Who It’s Best Suited For - This exercise is best suited for those who have a higher degree of flexibly and upper body strength and who want to focus primarily on developing their squat muscle strength.

Points To Remember

  • Keep the head looking forward, never down and to keep the should blades open so the front part of the chest is best able to balance the bar.
  • This squat does take some practice at first to learn the pattern of movement, so don’t be afraid to use just the bar when starting to ensure you get the feel of it.
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    Remember to keep the knees over the toes at all times, never letting them move inward or outward from the body.

2. Back Squats

The primary benefit of back squats is strength progression of the lower body.

This move is a primary exercise for strengthen all the main lower body muscles including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

It also tends to be a relatively comfortable exercise for most people to perform, therefore almost everyone can perform it successfully.

Arnold Schwarzenegger performing back squat

This form of squat is going to require a high degree of mental tenacity.

The level of flexibility required for this exercise is moderate as one does still need to be sure to go all the way down to reap full benefits. Many people will ‘cheat’ this exercise by only squatting to parallel.

Muscles Worked: glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, lower back, and the core. 

Who It’s Best Suited For: Back squats are well suited to anyone who wants to improve their lower body strength and power and who wants to lift a heavy amount of weight.

Points To Remember

  • When doing a back squat, the key point to remember is to lower yourself all the way down. You do not want to stop halfway through this movement or you won’t fully engage the glutes like you should.
  • Pay attention to your breathing during this squat and make sure that you are using the intra-abdominal pressure at the bottom of the lift to help you press yourself upwards.
  • Play with your stance. You might find a slightly wider stance and turned out helps give you the best range of movement in this exercise while others may prefer a slightly narrower stance.

3. Low Bar Back Squats

With low bar back squats, the bar is placed lower on the body therefore this means the total stress distribution pattern from the weight will be different compared to when it is placed higher up near the neck.

The primary benefit of low bar back squats is ‘booty building’. For those who really want to bring up their glute muscles, this is usually the primary exercise chosen to do so. 

Woman performing low bar back squat

Low bar back squats are going to focus more exclusively on the posterior chain.

Additionally, this exercise is the one that will usually allow you to lift more weight as most trainees can lift 10-15% more when doing a low bar back squat compared to a high bar back squat.

Muscles Worked: glutes, hamstrings, calves, and lower back, however you will still have the quads coming into play as a stabilizing and secondary muscle mover.

Who It’s Best Suited For: Low bar back squats are best suited to those who really want to lift heavy in the gym or who want to build up their glute region. It’s also well suited to those who aren’t all that flexible or who may have knee problems that prevent them from going all the way down.

Points To Remember

  • Remember to keep the head up and looking forward. You will have a slight forward lean in the upper body when doing this exercise given the weight placement of the bar, but this shouldn’t have you leaning too far forward. Doing so will place extra strain on the lower back joints.
  • Remember to think of pressing up through the heels as you come out of this move as that will help ensure that you targeting the right muscles as you should.

4. Hack Squats

Hack squats can be a powerful way to work the lower body. If you want larger quads, the hack squat can help you achieve that.

They're performed by placing the barbell behind the body on the ground and then grasping it using an overhand grip with the arms extended down beneath you.

squat illustration

Muscles Worked: Quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Your forearms will be hit as well as your shoulders to a small degree as they are helping to support the weight as you lift it.

Who It’s Best Suited For: The hack squat is well suited to those who do not have a squat rack to perform a front squat, back squat, or low bar back squat as well as for those who don’t have a great deal of flexibility.

Points To Remember

  • When doing hack squats, focus on keeping your upper back as upright as possible. This position can be quite awkward, especially at first as you learn the movement pattern.
  • You’ll also want to ensure that your knees are tracking directly over the toes as well at all times. Many people have a tendency to lose their knee tracking when doing this squat variation and that needs to be prevented in order to avoid knee pain from developing.

5. Sumo Squats

The primary benefit to the sumo squat, also sometimes referred to as the wide stance squat, is comfort.

If you have naturally wider hips or a natural turnout, you’ll find that you may feel a lot better moving down into the squat position when doing sumo squats.

Many people will find they can go down deeper in this stance without their heels lifting off the ground, so this may help yield better benefits as well if you lack that flexibly.

elephant squat

Sumo squats can also be done holding a dumbbell between the legs rather than a barbell across your back if you really prefer, which opens doors for those doing home workouts who may not have a barbell available.

Muscles Worked: quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, and glutes, along with the back and core for stabilization purposes.

Who It’s Best Suited For: The sumo squat is going to be well suited to anyone who is lacking in flexibility or who cannot perform a standard squat due to their own biomechanics.

Points To Remember

  • The key thing to remember when doing this exercise is to really focus on opening up the hips. If you aren’t keeping the hips open, the knees will move inward, placing great strain on the knee joint.
  • Also remember to keep the body upright and the core tight. This will help you stay rigid as you lower yourself down and press back up again.

How To Integrate This Into Your Routine

Now that you have a better idea of all the different squat variations, how do you add these to your workout routine?

The important thing to remember is that you should never be attempting all of these squats in one workout. Usually you will do just one variation, maybe two, before moving on to accessory work.

The squat exercise in itself is very intense no matter what variation you are doing, so attempting too many sets will burn you out quickly and lead to overtraining. You should aim to do no more than 5-6 sets total, going slightly higher only if you are a more advanced trainee.

Attractive woman and squat now enjoy later sign

Also keep in mind that your rep range will dictate how many sets are performed. The higher the reps you are doing, the fewer the sets you will likely do.

It is a good idea to cycle between a couple of these squat variations however to add more variety to your workout program, to prevent a progress plateau, and to keep you psychologically interested in the workouts at hand.

Focus on one squat variation for 1-2 months and then once you’ve made some good progress there, consider switching it up and focusing on another variation for another few months after that. This will yield optimal results over time and allow you to build a lower body workout program that is well-balance and yields maximum results.

About the author


I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits.