For many gym-goers the back squat is the Holy Grail for leg development. Known as a means of separating the serious trainers from the weekend warriors, the exercise has taken on a near mythical place in gym lore.
Yet like all things, too much of a good thing can lead to stagnation and poor results. While the back squat is undoubtedly a handy tool in the weightlifter’s repertoire, it can prove cumbersome for some lifters based upon their body structure or even boring for other lifters based upon their overexposure to it.
With this in mind, today’s article highlights three time-tested but often neglected squatting variations. Don’t be deceived into thinking these exercises are easier substitutes by the way. Once you try them, you may find yourself running back to the comfort of the back squat!
The Sissy Squat
Popularized first by Monty Wolford and then by the ‘Iron Guru’ himself, Vince Gironda, the Sissy Squat is as simple as it is tortuous. To begin the exercise, take a slightly larger than shoulder width stance and place one hand on a support at about waist height. In the other hand, hold a weight against your chest. Get up on the balls of your feet, bringing your heels together and squat down. As your knees travel over your toes, you’ll feel a burn in your quads. It only gets worse…
What makes this exercise particularly advantageous is that it can be done with relatively light weights without the need for a squat rack. Similarly, if you’re looking for a finishing exercise after a set of traditional squats, then look no further!
Does it Work?
So effective is this exercise at isolating the quads that Gironda often favoured it over the back squat. His reasoning? Back squats tended to increase the size of the glutes and the quads too much. Whether or not you agree is a matter of opinion. What matters is that Gironda built a stable of bodybuilding champions using the Sissy Squat.
The Zercher Squat
Named after 1930s strongman Ed Zercher, the Zercher Squat is one of the most effective exercises for the taller weight trainer, as it allows much more hip flexion and glute activation without overloading the posterior chain. In layman’s terms, it allows you to squat down deeper without kicking your ass out. Coupled with this, there’s little denying how badass this lift makes the trainee look.
To start the exercise begin with a wider than normal stance. Next, place a barbell inside the crook of your arms. Leading with the hips squat down and then power back up through the heels. Keep your chest up, lest you fall over, and pray for the set to end.
Does it Work?
Though the exercise can be uncomfortable at first, there’s little denying the lift’s effectiveness for quad and core strengthening. By keeping the bar closer to one’s centre of gravity, the Zercher squat prevents cheating during the concentric (or up) portion of the squat.
Tips and Hints
Wrapping a towel around the bar can help ease the pressure on the arms. Once you’ve done this exercise for a few weeks however, the discomfort passes.
The Hack Squat
No, not the machine, but the real deal. As in the lift created by the famed Russian wrestler George Hackenschmidt in the early twentieth-century. A throwback to old school bodybuilding, the traditional hack squat helps to develop the quads without overworking the hips.
To begin the exercise, place a barbell behind your legs. Squat down and take hold of the bar with an overhand grip…hold tight! Next, lift the bar by extending the hips and straightening out the legs. Drive from the legs and keep a neutral spine throughout the movement. Really squeeze out the quads at the top and your in for a winner.
Does it Work?
Based on Hackenschmidt’s own world renowned power, few have doubted the Hack Squat’s efficacy. An excellent quad builder, the lift is particularly useful in ill-equipped or busy gyms, as it requires no equipment other than a barbell and a few plates. Be warned though, heavy lifting on the Hack Squat is more the stuff of fantasy than reality!
Tips and Hints
Most trainees seem to struggle at first with the flexibility needed to execute the Hack Squat properly. To remedy this, it’s often suggest to place small plates under the heels to allow the trainee to achieve a proper depth.
While the back squat remains one of the most important weightlifting exercises, there is no reason for lifters not to experiment with new squatting techniques. Trainees may find that the lifts mentioned here suit their body better, are more fun, or more likely, more effective.
So why not try out these lifts and let us know how you get on?
As always, happy lifting!