7 Squat Variations to Sculpt Your Lower Body

Cathe Friedrich doing one of her many squat variations

If there’s one exercise most people include in their strength-training program, it’s squats. And why not? Squats are a fundamental movement. It’s an exercise that works multiple lower body muscles at the same, making it a time-efficient compound exercise. And depending on the resistance you use and the tempo, can build muscle, power, and strength, including functional strength.

You can’t go wrong doing a standard squat, but why stop there? You don’t want to get into a rut doing only one version of squats. By including various squat variations into your lower body strength workout, you can target different muscle groups. Plus, you’ll never get bored. Let’s explore various squat variations and the muscle groups they emphasize.

The Standard Squat

So, what muscles are you working when you launch into a set of squats?  Your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves are all chipping in and generating force, but the party doesn’t stop there. Your core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae, must contact to stabilize your body as you lower and raise your body into a squat.

You’re already familiar with a standard squat. Here’s a review: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Your toes should point slightly outward. Hold your chest up and engage and tighten your core muscles. Now, lower your body as if you’re sitting back into a chair. Continue to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Return to the starting position by pressing your heels into the floor as you raise your body back up. This is a good starting point, as a beginner. However, once you’ve mastered your form, try to go deeper, below parallel. This is known as a deep squat.

If you use a barbell with standard squat, you place the barbell on your upper back and rear deltoids. This distinguishes it from the next type of squat – the front squat.

Front Squat

The front squat is a variation that places greater emphasis on the quadriceps and upper back muscles compared to the standard squat. Unlike the standard squat, where the barbell rests on your upper back and rear deltoids, with a front squat, you place the barbell on the front of your shoulders. This creates a more upright torso position, which increases the demand on your quads and core.

To perform a front squat, position the barbell on the “shelf” created by your front deltoids and clavicles. Your elbows should point forward and with your fingers lightly gripping the bar. Keeping your core tight and chest up, descend into a squat, then drive through your heels into the ground to return to the starting position.

Sumo Squat

There’s another squat variation that you should include in your strength-training routine, especially if you’re targeting your glutes. This variation, called the sumo squat, is a major glute burner. Plus, it targets the muscles in your inner thighs more than other squat variations. It also requires a wider stance, which further places emphasis on the inner thighs and glutes.

To perform a sumo squat, stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Point your toes outward at a 45-degree angle. Holding your chest high and while engaging your core, lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Press through your heels to return to the starting position.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a helpful squat variation for correcting muscle imbalances, where one side is stronger or more developed than the other side. Because you target one leg at a time, you can do greater volume on one side and bring it up to speed. It’s also an ideal variation for improving stability and balance. This variation targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes of the leg in front.

To perform a Bulgarian split squat, stand with one foot elevated behind you on a bench or step. Lower your back knee towards the ground while keeping your front knee in line with your toes. Press through your front heel to return to the starting position, then repeat on the other leg.

Jump Squat

The jump squat is a plyometric squat variation that’s dynamic. When you do this variation, it adds an explosive component to the exercise. You target all the muscles in your lower body, but because you’re thrusting your body into the air, you build power and speed for better athletic performance. It also raises your heart rate more.

To perform a jump squat, set it up as you would a standard squat. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then explosively jump upward, extending your hips, knees, and ankles. Land softly on the balls of your feet with bent knees, then immediately lower into the next squat.

Box Squat

Ready to take your squats to the next level? The box squat uses an added feature – a box or a bench. It’s an ideal variation for developing hip strength and power without placing excess stress on your knees. Like the standard squat or back squat, it targets the glutes, lower back muscles, and hamstrings more than a front squat.

To perform a box squat, place a box or bench behind you. A good starting point is a box around knee high in height. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed outward at 45 degrees. Lower your body (with a tight core and straight back) until your glutes touch the box, then press through your heels to return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes at the top. Adjust the box height as you get comfortable with the move for more challenge. The lower the box, the more challenging the movement is.

Overhead Squat

The overhead squat is a challenging squat variation but don’t let that discourage you. Overhead squats work lots of muscles, including the muscles in your lower body, core, shoulders, and upper back. To do this variation safely and successfully, you should have good mobility in the shoulders, hips, and ankles. So, work on that first!

To do an overhead squat, hold a barbell or dumbbells overhead with fully extended arms. Holding the weight stable, lower your body into a squat, then press through your heels to return to the starting position. Focus on maintaining a tight core and upright torso as you do each repetition.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a beginner-friendly variation. It’s a movement that targets the quads, glutes, and core. Since you hold the weight in front of your chest, you’re less likely to use poor form and lean forward as you descend into the squat. This front-loaded position has the added advantage of making your core work harder too. A bonus is you’ll be able to squat deeper with a front-loaded goblet squat. It’s also a good variation for improving hip and ankle mobility.

To perform a goblet squat, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height with both hands. Keeping your elbows close to your body, lower into a squat, then press through your heels to return to the starting position. Focus on maintaining an upright torso and engaging your core throughout the movement.


When you do any type of any type of squat, focus on form first. Begin with lighter weights or bodyweight exercises first. Then gradually progress to more challenging variations and loads once you’re comfortable with the movement. Think beyond squats too. They’re only one component of a well-rounded strength training program. Combine them with other lower body exercises, such as lunges, deadlifts, and hip thrusts, to target your muscles from different angles of attack. Including more variations helps reduce the boredom factor too.


Lorenzetti Snces:, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, Zimmer P, Jentsch L, List R, Taylor WR, Schellenberg F. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018 Jul 17;10:14. doi: 10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7. Erratum in: BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2020 Jan 29;12:7. doi: 10.1186/s13102-020-0160-6. PMID: 30026952; PMCID: PMC6050697.

  • Straub RK, Powers CM. A Biomechanical Review of the Squat Exercise: Implications for Clinical Practice. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2024 Apr 1;19(4):490-501. doi: 10.26603/001c.94600. PMID: 38576836; PMCID: PMC10987311.
  • Ribeiro, Alex S. PhD1,2; Santos, Erick D. MSc1,2; Nunes, João Pedro MSc2; Nascimento, Matheus A. PhD2,3; Graça, Ágatha MSc3; Bezerra, Ewertton S. PhD4; Mayhew, Jerry L. PhD5. A Brief Review on the Effects of the Squat Exercise on Lower-Limb Muscle Hypertrophy. Strength and Conditioning Journal 45(1):p 58-66, February 2023. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000709.

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The 5 Best Squat Variations for Beginners

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Squat Depth: How Low Should You Go?

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Squats vs. Lunges: Which is Better for Glute Development?

The Surprising Fitness Benefits of Half Squats

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How Effective Are Deadlifts for Glute Development?

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