8 Squat Variations for Major Strength Gains

Squats. Oh, squats. You either love them or hate them, but one thing is for sure: You can't do without them. They're one of the most functional exercises you can perform and are incredibly beneficial for your muscles and joints. Tired of your standard front and back squats? Here are eight squat variations to spice things up.

Side note: The first four squat variations can be completed with both front and back squats.

8 Squat Variations to Add Into Your Programming

1. Pause Squats

Want to make any exercise more challenging? Add a pause to it. You can do this at just about any point in a squat. Commonly, athletes will pause at the very bottom or at parallel. The latter of these you can do on the way down and up. 

The reason pause squats are so hard — and so good for your body — is that they increase time under tension. And time under tension is what challenges our muscles and makes them grow.

Bear in mind (especially if you add a pause at the bottom of your squat) not to release tension. Most athletes opt to take a big breath before the squat and hold it through the full motion — including throughout the pause. This is because holding your breath helps you maintain a tight and upright torso. Therefore, you won't cave under the pressure.

Either way, always think of having a proud chest. Maintaining an upright position is one of the hardest parts here.

2. Tempo Squats

Similar to pause squats, tempo squats increase time under tension. However, instead of coming to a complete pause, you simply slow down a portion of the movement. 

This typically means slowing down the down-phase — the part of the squat where you're bending your legs and heading toward the bottom position. Choose how many seconds you'd like to make this last. Some athletes will opt for a three-second down-phase, which is already pretty spicy. 

However, others will take it even further and opt for a whopping 10-second down-phase. It always helps to have a friend count for you. When we count for ourselves during tempo squats, five seconds somehow magically turns into something more like two seconds. *wink wink*

Want to really go for it? You can combine pause squats with tempo squats. Prepare to be sore the next couple of days. You've been warned.

However you decide to approach it, as always, be sure you're being smart with your weights. Start with something conservative before working your way up. These do not feel like your average squat.

3. Chained Squats

Nothing makes you feel like a badass quite like chained squats. 

These are exactly what they sound like: squats with chains. You drape chains on both ends of the barbell and hang on for dear life. 

The chains don't just add weight to your squats. It's a little more complex than that. As you lower into your squat, more of the chain starts to rest on the floor, taking the load off of you. Thus, it gets lighter.

As you stand up in the squat, more of the chain lifts off the floor, so the weight becomes heavier. 

This means that the weight on your bar changes throughout the lift. Pretty sweet, right? 

Aside from being plain old challenging, chained squats are cool because they force you to better accelerate through the lift. You have to work harder to finish the squat because the weight is increasing. 

Do these enough and even when you remove the chains, you'll still use that same acceleration. This type of explosiveness will serve you well across squatting and weightlifting in general. 

4. Frog Squats

"Frog squat" can refer to a few different exercises, so let's make sure we're all on the same page.

These are very commonly done as back squats, although they work for front squats, too. The main difference with frog squats is that you bring your feet much closer together so that your heels are maybe only several inches apart. 

Frog squats are beneficial because they force you to load your quads more — making this a neat alternative for people who tend to lift with their back. Don't stress if you need to stick with a much lighter weight than you normally would. It's almost impossible not to, as frog squats change the dynamics of the traditional squat pretty substantially.

Since having your feet so close together can make mobility an issue, try putting a small plate under your heels. This makes it more feasible to hit a better depth on your squats, kind of in the way that weightlifting shoes do. (Note: You might very well need both the shoes and the plate — this is okay!)

5. Sissy Squats

These are a bodyweight squat, and the name is kind of deceiving, but don't be fooled: Sissy squats aren't for the faint of heart.

They sort of mimic what you do in a leg extension machine. The purpose is to really isolate and target your quads. (If you're feeling these in your knees, try using a wall or another surface to offer a little support as you get through the movement.)

To perform sissy squats, start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, take a deep breath, and begin to tilt your torso backward while your knees bend forward. Your heels will start to come off the ground — this is normal.

Tip: Think of forming a straight line from your head to your knees.

To return to the starting position, think of pulling your knees back and bringing your torso forward once again.

Once you've mastered these bodyweight sissy squats, if you're looking to make them harder, try holding a weight (a dumbbell, kettlebell, or plate) at your chest.

6. Jefferson Squats

We might be cheating here because these are a squat/deadlift hybrid. In fact, some people call them Jefferson deadlifts. Either way, they deserve a spot on this list. 

Jefferson squats quite literally combine squats and deadlifts. You actually straddle the bar, placing one foot in front of it and one foot behind it. From there, you bend to meet the bar and stand up with it. Jefferson squats really do combine the best of pulling and squatting. Talk about a compound movement.

What we love about these is that they take a typically symmetrical movement and make it asymmetrical. Because symmetrical, bilateral movements don't do a good job of pointing out and correcting muscle imbalances, something like Jefferson squats will. 

Athletes will add a slight variation to these. Some face forward so that they're almost in a lunge position. 

Others will face one end of the barbell, like this.  

7. Zercher Squats

These will set your entire body on fire — but, you know, in a good way.

With Zercher squats, instead of resting the bar in the front or back, you rest it in the crook of your elbows. Like we talked about earlier, squats are already challenging because of how hard you have to work to keep your torso up. Zercher squats amplify that even more. Your back, shoulders, and core have to work even harder to support the weight — which is more out in front of you — and keep you from caving forward.

Be sure to start with a lighter weight — these are a lot harder than traditional squats.

8. Bulgarian Split Squats

Man, oh man. Out of all of the squat variations we've listed, perhaps more than any other, this one will make your behind burn with the fire of a thousand suns.

To perform Bulgarian split squats, rest one leg behind you on a bench or chair. You're left squatting with one leg, and it is not easy. 

Be sure to keep your torso straight up (avoid leaning forward) and when you squat, your knee should be in line with your toes — not ahead of it. Think of kissing the floor with your knee. 

You can make these harder by holding weight — such as dumbbells or kettlebells in either hand (or one at your chest) or a barbell in the front or back. To begin, just use your own weight. These are even harder than you're thinking. 

Get the most out of these squat variations and make sure you're wearing your Atlas watch while you train. Remember that each of these exercises will need to be calibrated since your form changes with each!

Which one of these squat variations will you try first? Just a friendly reminder to be modest with your weights and always prioritize good form. Technique trumps load any day of the week!