Squat, squat, squat, squat, squat….
If I could pick one strength exercise to recommend to all runners (from all training backgrounds and levels), then it would be the squat.
As a runner, squats (along with planks) should be the bread and butter of your strength training. These are necessary whether you are a beginner looking to build the right foundation from the start or an elite runner looking for an edge in training.
The squat, in all its incarnations, is one of the best exercises you can do to boost your leg power, improve knee stability, enhance body awareness, and ward off common overuse running injuries.
Not only that, performing a wide range of squat variations can help you fix a lot of muscle imbalances that develop when you run without following a well-rounded strength program.
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Benefits of Squats For Runners
So what makes the squat such a fantastic exercise?
Here are some of the reasons:
Of course, as a runner you don’t need to become an Olympic weight lifter to reap the benefits of strength training, but strength is key for performance and injury-free training, and it should never be ignored.
And when it comes to strength training, few exercises are efficient and target as many muscles as the squat.
Squats are the ideal strength training exercise, and they target a lot of running-specific muscles, helping you increase strength and endurance in your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips and glutes.
Boosted Core strength
Although the squats are mainly a lower body exercise, if you do them right, your core muscles will be also put to the test. During the squat motion, your core has to work double hard to maintain proper form and ward off injury.
For more core activation, do plenty of front squats, overhead squats and twisting squats to your training program.
Not only that, squats can boost bone mass, helping you prevent osteoporoses and other bone trouble as you get older.
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Squats can help you become more flexible by forcing your body to move through its full range of motion, so the more you squat, the more you increase your range of motion and mobility throughout your ankles, knees, glutes and hips.
And as you might already know, proper range of motion is key for performance and injury free training.
It’s really a good deal here. And you are missing out, big time, if you don’t squat regularly.
The 11 Squat Variations You Should Try
Squats can be performed in so many ways. So here are 13 squat variations for your squatting pleasure.
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1. Basic Squat
This is the standard squat. Master this basic move before you move onto the more challenging variations.
Here are a few pointers to help you master the basic form:
Start off by standing with your feet hip-width apart, toes turned out at a slight angle.
Keep your arms hanging loose by your sides. Pull your shoulder blades towards each other, activate your core muscle and stand as tall as you can. That’s your starting position.
To perform the squat, bend your knees and come down until your thighs are parallel to the floor while keeping your knees aligned with your toes and your toes on the ground the entire time. If you can’t make it, then come as far down as you can with good form.
Pause at the bottom of the squat, then press back up by straightening your legs and squeezing your glutes until you are back in starting position.
Make sure to keep Make sure your knees tracking over your toes, with your weight on your heels throughout the squatting motion.
2. Weighted Squat
Once you get the hangs of the basic squat, then you can up the ante by adding weights. In this variation, make sure to have a set of dumbbells of a challenging weight.
Hold a dumbbell with palms facing each other, then assume an athletic position with feet shoulder-width apart. That’s your starting position.
Next, while engaging your core, squat down by bending at the hips and knee, pause, then slowly press back to starting position.
Aim for 10 to 12 reps to complete one set.
3. Wall Squat
This variation is relatively easy and can help you build mobility and endurance in your lower body. Do this variation more a lot if you are often plagued with runners knee or knee pain because wall squats are safe and target the quads more than the standard version; and according to study, weak quads are linked to knee pain in runners.
Begin by standing with your back against a wall, then assume an athletic stance with your feet about two feet out in front of you. Next, lower down by pushing your hips back against the wall and sliding it down until your knees are at 90-degree angle.
Hold the pose for one to two minutes, then slowly stand back up, return to starting position.
If this is too easy for you, then you can up the ante by alternating between lifting your right foot for second, and then your left. This will also engage more of your calves.
4. Tiptoe Squat
If you are looking to target your calves and quadriceps more thoroughly, then try out the tiptoe squat. This variation is also vital if you are looking bigger quads but not a bigger butt.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart, then shift your weight onto the balls of your feet. That’s your starting position.
Next, drop into a squat in a slow manner, pause for moment, then stand straight up while remaining on the tiptoes the entire time.
If you are having balance problems then be sure to engage your core muscles as you go up and down. This will also protect your lower back.
5. Figure-four Squat
This variation targets the glutes and legs (just like the standard squat), but with the added bonus of stretching out those often-ignored glutes.
In other words, It’s a squat and a stretch in the same time.
Figure-four squats are also ideal for boosting balance and endurance in the quadriceps and glutes.
If you have balance problems then you can do this one while holding a chair, or with your back against a wall.
Assume a slight squat position with back straight and core engaged, then raise your right leg up, bend the right knee then cross it over your left leg, with the right ankle resting above the left knee. That’s the starting position.
Next, squat down by pushing your hips back and bending your left leg, pause for a moment, then press back up to starting position. That’s one rep.
For balance, be sure to engage your lower back and core muscles the entire time.
Do 8 reps on each side to complete on set.
6. Sumo Squat
Sumo squats engage about every muscle in the lower body, including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Not only that, this variation also increases muscular endurance and mobility.
The bodyweight sumo squat is challenging enough, but if you are looking for more, feel free to use a barbell or dumbbells for more training effect.
Begin by assuming the traditional sumo stance by standing with your legs wide, toes slightly turned out.
Next, while keeping your heels on the ground and back straight the entire time, squat down until your thighs are in line with your knees, pause for a moment, then press back to standing position. You can also pulse at the bottom of the movement.
Do 10 to 12 reps to complete one set.
7. Squat Jumps
Add a plyometric effect to your squat by incorporating this variation to your training arsenal. The squat jump hits the core hard, and targets just about every other muscle in the lower body, and will push your endurance and cardio conditioning to the breaking point.
Assume an athletic stance, then squat half way down and then explosively jump up in the air as high as you can by pushing through the ankles, knees and hips.
Land on your feet as quite as a cat, then move immediately to the next rep.
Do 12 to 15 reps to complete one set.
8. Single-leg Squat
This variation is the ultimate test of leg strength, balance and mobility. And in case you don’t’ have weights laying around, the single-leg squat can come in handy since no weights are required (unless you are really, really, strong).
Begin by assuming an athletic position then balance on your right foot, with the left foot held out in front.
Next, squat down as low as you can with good form, pause for a moment, then press back to starting position by driving up through the heels. That’s one rep.
Make sure to keep your back straight the entire time.
Do 8 to 10 reps on each sides to complete one set.
9. Frog Jumps
Assume an athletic position, then squat down while keeping your torso upright, head up, and arms straight on the floor. Next, jump into the air as, raising your knees as high as you can, and bringing your feet together.
Make sure to swing your arms overhead to help propel your body forward.
Land in deep squat, absorbing the impact through your legs, then jump again.
Do 8 to 10 reps to complete one set.
10. Squat Box Jumps
This is another plyometric squat variation that can help you build explosive power and turbo-charge your running speed. Just be careful here, there is an element of danger in it so be safe the entire time. This is, after all, an advanced squat. Tread carefully.
Stand in front of a steady platform, assume a squat position, and instead of standing up jump with your both feet onto the box, landing gently on your feet. Then immediately jump down to your starting position, drop into the next squat and repeat.
The higher the box, the harder this exercise’s gonna be.
Do 8 to 10 reps to complete one set.
11. Overhead Squat
This is one of the most sought after moves in the CrossFit world, and it’s famous for one reason: it delivers. The overhead squat is vital for improving athletic movement whether you are a recreational runner or an elite athlete.
Nonetheless, they require high degrees of balance, strength and flexibility. So be careful and only do the overhead squat once you have mastered the above variations (and the front squat as well).
Assume an athletic position while holding a bar overhead with arms fully extended.
Next, sit your hips back as far as you can and squat down between your feet, pause, then use your quads and hamstrings to press back up to starting position. That’s one rep.
Do 10 to 12 reps to complete one set.
Core activation and a flexible lower body are keys for performing this movement right. So be careful. Always be in control.
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Here you have it!
I hope you liked my 13 squat variations list. Just make sure to start doing them as soon as you can.
In the meantime thank you for reading my post.
Feel free to leave your comments and questions below.
Featured Image Credit – Eric DeJuan via Flickr