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Beyond the Squat

How To Do A Barbell Squat and 5 Modified Versions

how to do a barbell squat

Whether you want to tone and strengthen your legs, or improve athletic performance, barbell squats are a great full-body exercise that works your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, hip, back and core.  Plus they’re easy to do and if you hold proper squat form, you may find other benefits.

Squats help avoid injuries (source) and will make you jump higher (source), sprint faster (source), and run longer (source). They also pay dividends in everyday activities like hiking up the stairs or picking up multiple kids without toppling to the ground.  But you have to keep the right form so you engage the right parts of your body at the right time, and reduce your risk of hurting yourself.  You can either hire a trainer, or use a squat machine like ours to build muscle memory and train your body.

Here’s how to do the standard barbell squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Position the barbell across your shoulders, behind your neck.
  3. Descend as if you're sitting in a chair.
  4. Keep descending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  5. Pause and then push through your heels to stand up.

Once you get good at the standard barbell squat, you can modify it to focus on other key muscle groups.  This allows you to emphasize certain muscles and work to correct imbalances.  Here are five of our favorites.

Front Barbell Squat

This type of barbell squat moves the weight in front of your neck, which changes the center of balance versus the back squat. You might choose this for improved cycling performance because this change makes your quads work harder than the barbell back squat (source).

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the barbell in the rack position with an open hand grip, elbows up, and chest up.
  3. Descend as if you're sitting in a chair.
  4. Keep descending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  5. Pause and then push through your heels to stand up.

Hack Barbell Squat

If you pulled a hamstring but still want to do some squats on leg day, then try the hack squat. This take on the barbell squat heavily targets the quads while taking a load off your back and hamstrings by changing the starting position with your body at an angle to the floor, and your head slightly behind your heels.

Hack squats are also good for beginners because the use of a machine helps you balance while you get the motion down. If you’re at the gym, the smith machine will make sure you don’t go “head over heels” on your first rep.

  1. Place the bar from the smith machine across your shoulders behind your neck.
  2. Position your feet a few inches in front of your body so that when your thighs are parallel with the floor your lower legs are perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Descend as if you're sitting in a chair.
  4. Keep descending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  5. Pause and then push through your heels to stand up.

Sumo Squats

By spreading your feet wide apart, this variation really works your hip adductors (i.e. your groin muscles) throughout the squat. You’ll want to do lots of sumo squats if you play cut-to-run sports like soccer or hockey so you avoid hurting your groin, which is one of the most common athletic injuries (source).

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed outwards at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Place the bar either like you would in the back squat or the front squat depending on your preference.
  3. Move your body downwards, bend your knees, and push your hips away from your feet.
  4. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  5. Push through your heels to stand up.

Unilateral Split Squats

If you need to fix muscle imbalances between legs, then split squats are for you since you can focus on one leg at a time. Plus, because your feet are front and back versus side to side, splits will help you improve your balance.

This variation of the barbell squat is similar to the lunge except that your feet don’t move.

  1. Stand with one foot in front of you and one behind you.
  2. Position your front foot so that when your thigh is parallel with the ground your knee does not extend past your ankle.
  3. Place the bar either like you would in the back squat or the front squat depending on your preference.
  4. Descend until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and then push through your heel to return to the starting position.
  5. Switch legs and repeat.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats give you all the benefits of a unilateral split squat with the added bonus of a deeper stretch in your off leg. Choose this if you want to equalize the strength between legs while getting a great hip flexor stretch to counteract all those hours spent in a chair during the day.

  1. Stand with one foot on the floor in front of you and one with your toes on a bench behind you.
  2. Position your front foot so that when your thigh is parallel with the ground your knee does not extend past your ankle.
  3. Place the bar either like you would in the back squat or the front squat depending on your preference.
  4. Descend until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and then push through your heel to return to the starting position.
  5. Switch legs and repeat.

Now that you know how to do the classic barbell squat along with 5 variations, you’ll have no problem achieving your goal, whether it’s a faster 40-yard dash, a firmer backside with powerful legs, or an easier time hiking the trail.  Subscribe to our blog below for more workout and fitness tips like these.

11 Glute Exercises You Can Do At Home

glute exercises you can do at home

If you want a well-defined booty but don’t have the time to hit the gym, or are tired of paying for a gym membership that you never use, these glute exercises are for you.  Each of these can be done throughout your home while giving you a break from daily household activities like folding laundry or walking from room to room.

Strong glutes aren’t just for everyday activities like walking, running, and climbing stairs. They also help reduce lower back pain by working with your hips, pelvis, legs and torso while you move around.

So if you’re ready for a tight tush that turns heads without going to the gym, here’s 11 options you can do at home.

  1. Squats
  2. Sumo Squats
  3. Clamshells
  4. Standing Donkey Kicks
  5. Glute Kickbacks
  6. Glute Bridges
  7. Lunges
  8. Curtsy Lunges
  9. Hip Thrusts
  10. Frog Pumps
  11. Fire Hydrants

Squats

During a squat your glutes help you stay balanced as you descend and stand back up.  And if you incorporate them into a cardio routine, you could release endorphins that help reduce your stress (source) and assist you with a better night’s sleep (source).

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Descend as if you're sitting in a chair.
  3. Keep descending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  4. Pause and then push through your heels to stand up. 
  5. Squeeze your backside when you return to your starting stance.

If you struggle to find proper squat form or feel your glutes, try a glute-focused squat machine like ours.

Sumo Squats

Your gluteal muscles engage as you push through your heels, and again if you remember to squeeze your tush at the top of the movement.  The perfect time to do sumo squats is during a break between calls as they don’t take up much room and give you a nice stretch as you reach the squatting position. 

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed outwards at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Move your body downwards and bend your knees keeping them positioned outwards vs. caving in.
    1. i.e. don't let your knees collapse inward, your knees should track along with your ankles.
  3. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  4. Push through your heels to stand up.
  5. Squeeze your behind when you return to your beginning stance..   

Clamshells

Clamshells use your backside to lift your upper leg simultaneously keeping your pelvis steady.  If you do these regularly, you’ll improve your hip function which helps to alleviate hip pain (source).  

Because clamshells are done laying down, and don’t require hand movements or torso motion, they’re the perfect glute exercise to do while watching tv, playing a video game, or just chatting on the phone with a friend.

  1. Lie on your left side with your left forearm resting on the ground, and your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  2. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee as high as possible without moving your pelvis.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement for a second, squeezing your butt together.
  4. Move your knee to the beginning stance.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Walking Glute Kickbacks

Your glutes are used to lift and maintain your leg in a stable, upright flow.  Not to mention they help you maintain your balance while swinging your legs backwards.  These are perfect if you have to make trips up and down a long hallway during the day. 

And if you get bored of doing the same movements over and over, walking kickbacks can easily be mixed with lunges and standing donkey kicks. 

  1. Begin with your hands and knees on the pavement with your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees directly under your hips.
  2. Lift one leg off the ground and extend it behind you, keeping your foot flexed and your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Your leg should be parallel to the ground.
  3. Squeeze your buttocks to lift your extended leg towards the ceiling as high as possible.
  4. Hold for a second or two at the movement's top.
  5. Move forward a few steps on your hands and the opposite knee without descending your leg. Then, do another kickback with the same leg.
  6. Continue moving forward with each repetition, alternating between legs.

Standing Donkey Kicks

When you lift your leg up and back, your bottom works hard to keep your hips steady and your leg extended.  Standing donkey kicks are ideal to do after you finish a row of the walking kickbacks above, or from a doorway while watching your kids play and nobody is behind you. 

  1. Place a resistance band around your thighs.
  2. Get close to a wall and place your right hand on it for support and put your left hand on your waist.
  3. Stretch your right leg straight out and squeeze your rear.
  4. Move your leg to the beginning stance.
  5. Repeat with your left leg.

Curtsy Lunges

Curtsy lunges are not just for sculpting sexy legs, they’re amazing for glutes and agility too!  And once you get good at the movement, they can be turned into a challenge for yourself, or with friends. 

Use a timer to see how many you can complete in 1 or 2 minute intervals.  You’ll be burning calories while working your way to feeling confident in your favorite leggings. 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Step backward with your right foot, crossing it behind your left foot.
  3. Bend both knees and descend your body towards the ground. Stop when your front thigh is parallel.
  4. Push through your front heel to return to standing, returning your right foot to the beginning stance.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Glute Bridges

Glute bridges activate your booty from the start of the movement to the finish, and provide some extra burn at the peak when you hold and squeeze. And because they don’t require you to move over a distance, they’re perfect when you are having “me time”.  

Lay out a yoga mat and do a few sets while reading a book, or watching tv.  It’s an easy glute exercise that does not take much focus allowing you to enjoy your solitude while toning your tush.

  1. Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.  Your feet should be hip-width apart, with your arms resting at your sides.
  2. Squeeze your tush to lift your hips towards the ceiling, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Your feet should remain flat, and your knees should align with your feet.
  3. Hold for a second or two at the top of the movement, then slowly move your hips to the starting position.

Pro-tip:  You can vary the width of your feet or the placement of your arms and target different muscles.

Lunges

When you perform lunges, your backend is activated as you step forward or backward and bend your knee.  Then they activate again to help you rise when pushing through your heel on the way back up. Lunges are perfect to mix in with other “up-and-down” the hallway exercises, and to get a cardio fix during a stressful day at work.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a big step forward with one foot, keeping your knee directly above your ankle and your other foot in place.
  3. Descend, bending both knees until your back knee is just above the ground or as low as you can comfortably go.
  4. Push off with your front foot, and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on your other side by stepping forward with your other foot.
  6. Continue to alternate legs.

Hip Thrusts

These aren’t just part of a dance routine with your favorite halloween “horror” movie, they activate and work your glutes, if you remember to squeeze. You can do it to the rhythm of your favorite song while cleaning around the house, or while using a standing desk during the work day.

  1. Begin by sitting on the ground in front of a sturdy couch. Your spine should be against the front of the sofa with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground hip-width apart.
  2. Lean against the couch, resting your shoulders on the edge of the seat cushion.
  3. Push your heels into the ground while lifting your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  4. Squeeze your rear end at the movement's top and hold for a second or two.
  5. Descend your hips down to the ground.

Frog Pumps

Frog pumps strengthen and sculpt your posterior as you pull your legs up.  They are similar to a glute bridge, but are going to target more the gluteus medius and minimus due to the external rotation of the thighs.  

  1. Lie down and bring the soles of your feet together so your knees are out to the sides, forming a diamond shape with your legs.
  2. Make fists with your hands, and keep your elbows on the ground with your forearms perpendicular to the ground.
  3. Press your lower back into the floor.
  4. Squeeze your posterior and lift your hips toward the ceiling as high as possible, keeping your feet together and your knees out to the sides.
  5. Pause at the top, then slowly descend your hips to the starting position.

Fire Hydrants

When you raise your leg to the side, you engage your buttocks making fire hydrants one of the best glute exercises you can do at home.  Although it may be tempting to watch a show on your tablet while you workout at home, keep focused on form and the movement to help ensure you’re getting the glute workout you want.

  1. Set out on your hands and knees on the floor with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Keeping your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle, lift your right thigh up and out to the side as high as possible while flexing your right foot.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement, then move your leg to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement with the other leg, lifting and moving it to the side.
  5. Continue alternating legs.

You don’t need a gym membership to get a toned tush.  You only need to modify some of your daily routines.  And this is easy now that you have 11 glute exercises you can do at home.

Abductors Versus Adductors Why They Matter

abductors vs adductors the difference and when to train each

Your hip abductors and adductors are antagonistic muscle groups, but that doesn’t mean that they’re “mean,” although it might feel like they are if you injure them. It means that they work to move your limbs in opposite directions from each other.

Your hip abductors are mostly on the outside of your hips and move your legs away from your body while the opposite is true for adductors. Adductors work to bring your legs back in.  Think about a jumping jack, the abductors are used to split your legs on the first jump, and adductors are used to bring them back together on the second jump.

To feel your abductors in action, try this.

  1.     Stand on just your left leg
  2.     Put your right hand just above the pointy part of your hip bone (like you’re putting your hand on hip while waiting for someone)
  3.     Keep your right leg straight and lift it out to the right (don’t let it move forward or backward)

Next feel your adductors working.

  1.     Grab a basketball, empty 2 liter of soda, or something similar and place it between your knees (you can do this standing or sitting)
  2.     Squeeze it and hold
  3.     Those muscles contracting inside your thighs are your adductors

An easy way to remember which is which is to think about aliens “ab”ducting or taking you away vs third grade math of “ad”ding things together (like adding your legs back together).

Below is a table that shows the differences between the muscle groups and also some advice for when you should choose exercises for one versus the other.

You’ll also find links to several exercises to directly target these muscle groups. But rest assured that they’ll also get a workout with many other exercises you do on leg day like the squat, deadlift, or the DB method workout.

 

Abduction

Adduction

Direction of Movement

Away from the body, like being abducted by aliens

Back together, like adding the limbs

Good Looking Benefits

·         Toned hips

·         Thigh gap

Main Muscles (technical names)

The “hip” muscles

·         Gluteus Medius

·         Gluteus Minimus

·         Tensor Fasciae Latae.

The “groin” muscles

·         Adductor Longus

·         Adductor Brevis

·         Adductor Magnus

·         Gracillis

Common Pain Areas

·         Knee pain

·         Hip pain

·         Groin pain

Exercises to Get Good Looking Benefits

·         Hip drop with step

·         Fire hydrant circle with a dumbbell

·         Curtsy lunge

·         Clamshells

·         Leg side circles

·         Single-Leg Glute Bridge

·         Cossack Squat

·         Lateral Lunge to a box

·         Copenhagen Side Plank

·         Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss

 

When to focus on abductors over adductors

If you’re looking to tone your lower body for a slimmer silhouette, then focus on abductors over adductors as your hip abductors cover the area where you feel that point in your hip bone.

Abductors are also more important than adductors for upright stability and balance in sports where you do lots of running or walking (source).  

If you’re having pain in other body parts like your knee or hip, you might need to focus on your abductors over your adductors. That’s because your abductors are part of the chain on the outside of your body that connects into your glutes and down into your knee.

Runners for example can suffer from knee pain or IT band pain complicated by hip abductor issues (source).

This also makes abductor exercises great for everyday preparation where you might need to shove something with the outside of your foot. Like when you’re walking down the hall and need to kick some toys back into the kids’ rooms without breaking stride.

When to focus on adductors over abductors

Because the adductors run inside your thighs, focus on exercising them over your abductors if your goal is to get a thigh gap (although genetics plays a role in this, so perfect adductors won’t guarantee this result).

You should also choose adductors over abductors to strengthen the groin area for sports that involve lots of direction change since adductors play a stronger role in “run-to-cut” actions like in soccer or hockey (source).

Groin pain (i.e. adductor strain) is one of the most common injuries athletes suffer (source) and a simple strain can turn into a career limiting (or even completely debilitating) chronic injury (source). To avoid this nagging pain, focus on adductors over abductors.

And choose adductor exercises over abductors for important things in daily life, like pushing a box of bottled waters down the hall while your arms are full of groceries/kids. Your abductors will help you stand upright on one leg, but your adductors will give you the control and strength to slide that heavy box of water down the hall with your other foot.

So, whether you’re an athlete that wants to get stronger and avoid injury, or you want to gain more confidence in the appearance of your hips and inner thighs for swimsuit season, you can make abductor and adductor exercises part of your regular leg day routine and choose which one to focus on depending on your goal.

And if you are short on time and don’t want to have to choose between an abductor or adductor machine at the gym, do exercises that do complex, multi-joint movements like the squat.  Just make sure you keep proper squat form, and if you need help, use an assisted squat machine to train your muscles.

But make sure you don’t overdue one versus the other. It’s important to keep both groups strong and balanced with each other to avoid injury (source).

 

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