As a society with information at our fingertips at any given point in the day, you can follow just about any of your favorite strength coaches and trainers on social media and get bombarded by knowledge bombs every minute, on the minute, if you please.
This can be a blessing and a curse, though, as the inexperienced athlete/coach can easily be overwhelmed by the number of variations, and simply not know which to choose once they get to the gym or which variations to have their clients use.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have athletes/coaches that simply get stuck performing/programming what they’re good at and fail to venture out into the unknown.
If you started training pre-instafacebook days then you had no other choice but to spend time reading, researching, and experimenting in the trenches (I still think practical knowledge is one of the most valuable tools to becoming a successful coach or trainer.)
Here’s my list of favorites in no particular order
- Safety Bar Box Squat: The SSB Front Squat is a variation that I love to test every 12 weeks. This variation if perfect for those that are lacking quadriceps strength and may not have a great front rack position. Your SSB Front Squat and Front Squat numbers will be comparable. These can also be used for dynamic effort work quite effectively (as shown.)
- 1 1/4 Front or Back Squat: I think it’s safe to say there aren’t many people that don’t want to add size to their legs and we know that if we add time-under-tension, we can effectively increase the length of our sets, thus inducing muscular hypertrophy. Adding a 1/4 rep to each rep will increase the length of each set as well as reinforce proper positioning with our squat pattern. Depending on your goals, I’d recommend performing these for sets that last somewhere around 30-40s in length. For the general population, this variation can add much-needed hypertrophy but also reinforce positioning.
- Anderson Zercher Squat: The Zercher Squat and its variations are some of my favorite squats. Of course, the demand on the anterior chain and upper back are great, but I’m particularly good at these which is probably more of the reason I like them so much. But in all seriousness, this favorite of Christian Thibadeau is beneficial because the stimulus is quite different from a Front Squat. In fact, your Front Squat numbers may not correlate with your Zercher Squat (I can actually Zercher Squat 50lbs more than I can Front Squat) and, in particular, from Deadstop off pins forces you to engage the anterior core and upper back because you’re starting at a disadvantageous joint angle. And, frankly, regardless of what the keyboard warriors say about Zercher Squats being “dangerous,” I’ve only seen positive results from including them in my (and my clients’) programming. These can also be done as a Front Squat and Back Squat from multiple heights for 1,2,3 rep maxes.
- Wide Stance Box Squat: I can’t credit Louie Simmons enough for what he has provided to the strength training world and the popularization of the Box Squat is largely due to Westside Barbell and Louie Simmons. The Wide Stance Box Squat is definitely a game-changer for every athlete I’ve used them with. There are a few reasons. 1) The box squat breaks up the phases of the lift, forcing you to use less loading (less spinal compression) and not use the stretch reflex as many lifters become accustomed to using. 2) The wide stance puts a great deal of stress on the hips, hamstrings, and adductors, where most trainees tend to be lacking. Additionally, if you have knee issues, the box squat is a great alternative, as there is less shear force on the knees. Lastly, in a group setting where ability varies, the box squat can double as a teaching tool and reinforce proper hip-hinge pattern. Overall, the box squat is arguably the biggest-bang-for-buck squat in my opinion.
- Squats to pins: These may be one of the most challenging variations of the squat you haven’t tried. Pausing on pins releases elastic energy accumulated during the eccentric phase of the lift more so than a Box Squat as your body is completed unloaded once the bar meets the pins. These can be done with either the front squat, back squat, or Zercher squat and are done for Max Effort or repetition effort work. Stick with rep ranges inside of 5 reps to avoid excessive amounts of movement breakdown. Add band-tension and your core will be lit.
- Paused Squats: If any of you have seen Dimitri Klokov perform his infamous paused squats with an unGodly amount of weight then you can probably guess these are pretty effective for developing absolute strength! The great thing is that you can vary the length of your pause and where you pause, and how many pauses you add through eccentric or concentric range of motion to add new variations to your mix. Paused squats will help reinforce good positioning as well as additional time under tension. Win-win.
- Cluster Set Squats: Cluster sets aren’t exactly a different variation of the back or front squat, but they were simply too effective for me not to mention. Cluster sets work incredibly well when done with squats providing brief bouts (10-20s) of intra-set rest to allow trainees to work with heavier loads than they’d normally be able to work with for a straight set. For example, a cluster set for the Front Squat may look something like this: 5 x 2.2.2 (15s). Rest 3-4:00. This simply means you’d perform a double, re-rack the weight, rest 15s, and then perform another double until you’ve done 3, cluster sets of 2 reps. After all 3 sets, you’d rest anywhere from 3-4:00 minutes, depending on the load you’re using. For beginner athlete, cluster sets allow us to reinforce better movement patterns because we are able to rest between repetitions making the chance of performing less than optimal repetitions less likely.
Hopefully, this list helps you add some new variety to your programming. I’d recommend experimenting with all variations before programming them for your clients. Nothing here requires any special equipment that cannot be found at a typical box so give it go!