Equipment needed: body bar/barbell of desired weight, step

Don’t have a body bar or barbell? The same exercises can also be performed with dumbbells or without weights. With the exception of #2, these squats can also be done while wearing a backpack with a few books for some creative lifting!

Don’t have a step? Try using a stepstool or a stack of books pushed up against a wall!

Estimated time: 20 minutes

Before you start…

As with any workout, warming up is necessary and fundamental. Warming up raises your heart rate slowly and safely, and allows you to burn calories (and fat) more efficiently. This can be as simple as jogging around the block a few times; whatever gets you moving and your heart racing!

  1. Back squat

Intensity: low-medium

Starting out with the traditional squat, stand slightly wider than hip width apart with both feet facing forward. Bend your knees into a squat, being mindful of keeping your knees behind your toes and not buckling your knees in.

Do not compromise your form. Before your quads are strong, you may not be able to bend as far as 90 degrees to keep your knees behind your toes; know that you will still be working your leg and glute muscles despite this. The goal is to have your legs at a 90-degree angle, parallel to the ground. Keep your chest high and back straight, and focus on bending your knees rather than hinging your hips to prevent your chest from leaning forward. Place weight on your shoulders, either holding a dumbbell on top of each shoulder or placing a body bar on the “squishy” part between your neck and shoulder blades.

Try 12 reps, then hold the squat for about 30 seconds. 3 sets

Tip: If this exercise puts strain on your back, do not squat as low and try some low back exercises to strengthen those muscles as well.

Challenge: add a resistance band around your calves or your thighs (stay away from joints like your ankles and knees!) and focus on keeping your knees from buckling in. The resistance band helps sculpt those pesky outer thigh muscles.

  1. Front squat

Intensity: high

The front squat is similar to the back squat with the exception of the weight placement. Rather than placing the weight on your shoulders to rely solely on your leg muscles, placing the weight in front of you distributes some of the weight to your upper body for a total body workout.

The form stays the same as the back squat, with the knees behind the toes and the chest high and back straight, but this time the body bar/barbell will sit on top of your shoulders in front of you, nearly on your collarbone. Your arms will stabilize the bar and prevent it from falling forward, so keep your arms up high (aiming for a 90-degree angle with your arms and shoulders). This gives your triceps a great workout while still burning out those quads and glutes.

Tip: If you are using a backpack with books for weight, put the backpack on backwards so that it is on your chest, but be very mindful of your chest staying high and not leaning forward to put excess strain on your back.

Try 12 reps, then hold the squat for about 30 seconds. 3 sets

Challenge: add a shoulder press after each squat for a total body workout.

  1. Sumo squat/plié squat

Intensity: medium-high

This squat targets the inner and outer thigh muscles. Shape your thighs by turning your feet out so your toes are facing the corners of the room. When you bend down into your squat, tuck your butt under so that your torso is in one straight line.

The form is still the same as the other squats, aiming to keep your knees behind your toes.

Try 12 reps (see a pattern here?), then hold the squat for about 30 seconds. 3 sets

Challenge: lift one heel up off of the floor to burn out your calves and isolate your thigh muscles even more; alternate heels with each set.

  1. Uneven squat

Intensity: medium

This twist on the original back squat isolates the elevated leg to further intensify the workout on that one side. The form is the same as in the back squat except one foot is placed about 10-12 inches higher than the other. Be mindful to keep both feet parallel with each other; one foot is not in front of the other.

Try 12 reps, then hold the squat for about 30 seconds. Reverse. 3 sets (but actually 6)

Challenge: lift and lower your foot that is on the ground repeatedly while keeping your elevated foot stationary, but do not straighten your stationary leg; this isolates the muscles in the elevated leg and is a killer for toning. Try to do 16 lifts.

  1. Narrow squat

Intensity: low

Placing your feet in a narrower stance targets the outer thighs and glute muscles. Keeping your feet narrow (slightly smaller than hip width apart), keep your form the same as the original back squat. You may have to play around with your stance a little to find your narrow squat—some people feel more comfortable with their feet closer together, some like their feet a few inches apart. Find whatever works for you.

Try 12 reps, then hold the squat for about 30 seconds. 3 sets…you know the drill.

Challenge: turn this (or any of the squats, actually) into a cardio exercise by adding a jump after each squat. Just be conscious of landing softly. If you extend your arms straight up while jumping, or the “ski jump,” your once lower body sculpting workout becomes a great total body exercise. This should not be done with added weights.

And you’re done!

If completed, you will have finished 216 squats(!). Try this workout at least once a week with your other workouts, and feel your quads and glutes strengthen in no time (I promise, you’ll feel it in a heartbeat).

About The Author

Rebekah is in her third year of nursing school at Northeastern University and has been a Certified Group Fitness instructor teaching various cardio and sculpting classes for one year. She is always finding and trying new ways to stay active, whether it be in the gym lifting or teaching or outside hiking or rock climbing. With a love for all creatures, she is known for befriending (and homing) many furry animals and you could probably find her at the local bookstore cafe sipping chai while writing.

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