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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
December 09, 2022
A variation of a single-leg squat, the cossack squat is an exercise that combines flexibility, joint mobility, and strength. Although there are a wide variety of unilateral leg exercises to choose from when including one in your workout routine, the cossack squat is unique in that it’s not only ultra-challenging, but it's also able to improve your movement quality, mobility, overall strength, and athleticism.
With benefits like that, we’re certain you’ll want to include the cossack squat in your routine as quickly as possible! But before you do, it’s important you first learn proper form.
Don’t worry, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the cossack squat, including:
The cossack squat is a single-leg variation of a traditional squat, requiring and improving hip and ankle mobility, lower body strength, and flexibility. From runners to powerlifters, the cossacks exercise can benefit all types of exercisers and athletes.
Although they’re considered to be more difficult and complex, there are several modifications that will allow you to slowly work up to the full cossack position.
The cossack squat is named after its similarities to traditional dance moves of the Cossacks of eastern Europe, which dates back before the 12th century. Cossack squats are also called archer squats, and both names are often used interchangeably.
When comparing a cossack squat vs lateral lunge, there are several key differences to consider before deciding which to include in your workout split.
Here are 5 differences between the archer squat and a side lunge.
When comparing the cossack squat vs side lunge, the lower body in both the cossack squat and side lunge are positioned laterally, as you step into a wider stance. It is recommended to keep a wider than shoulder-width apart stance to target the glutes and open through the hips.
However, the leg position in a Cossack squat stays wide throughout the entire range of motion. As one foot stays planted, the other one pivots through the heel, pointing the toes up toward the ceiling, never leaving contact with the ground. The feet will always stay wide and planted as you shift from side to side. A lateral lunge is a lunge variation in which the feet step out about shoulder-width apart.
The start of the lateral lunge requires you to step out into the lunge and then step together to switch sides for the next repetition, which is a more dynamic movement than the cossack squat.
The foot position in the cossack squat shifts as you descend into a deep position. The foot of the active leg that is bending is positioned outwards at a 15-45 degree angle, allowing the hip to open and the knees to track the toes.
The foot of the straight leg is angled outward but shifts as you continue descending into the deepest cossack form. The heel stays planted as the foot flexes and rotates until the toes point toward the ceiling, allowing a greater range of motion and emphasis on a deep stretch.
In a lateral lunge, both feet stay planted and face forward through the entire movement.
There is a distinct difference in torso angle between the two moves. In a cossack squat, the angle of the torso should stay as upright as possible. Whereas in the lateral lunge, the torso slightly drops forwards, which offsets the hip hinge.
In both the cossack squat and lateral lunge it is crucial that the torso remains neutral, avoiding unnecessary rounding or flexing of the spine.
Unlike most leg exercises, the cossack squat requires a deeper range of motion and can be significantly more challenging to achieve. The cossack is a squat that requires you to go as low as your body can allow you to with proper loading mechanics.
In the lateral lunge, your range of motion extends to when your thighs are parallel to the ground, which is a lot more accessible for most people.
Depending on your overall training goals, choosing one exercise over the other may better compliment your workout objectives. With the cossack squat, you may want to use it for a warm-up that targets the hips and lower body prior to squat-heavy workouts designed to build muscle.
Cossacks are also used as a way to improve flexibility, helping you gain hip and ankle mobility. The exercise is also used to build muscular strength and hypertrophy through its entire range of motion.
Lateral lunges are mostly used to build strength and muscular hypertrophy and not as common for deep stretching and improving mobility.
The cossack squat mainly targets the quadriceps of the bending leg and the hamstrings and adductors of the straight, stable leg. Before we get into answering the question "how do you cossack", here are the main lower body muscles worked in the cossack squat.
Cossack squats are often overlooked as just a flexibility drill or bodyweight leg exercise. But this is one of our favorite lower body exercises because it requires a proper range of motion, movement mechanics, strength, and mobility.
Performing and improving the cossack squat can lead to significant improvements in squatting patterns and squat strength.
A limited range of motion can slow the progression of your squat strength and can lead to injuries.
Cossack squats improve the lower body's range of motion by developing hip, knee, and ankle mobility along with adductor and hamstring flexibility. It's important that you use just your bodyweight with this exercise until you can comfortably work through your entire range of motion.
Frequently moving joints through their full range of motion while resisting tension improves movement quality. Being able to fully dip down into the cossack squat with control and tension through the hips, knees, and ankles promotes joint health.
The cossack squat targets the lower body’s joints in a way that they’re meant to move: through their full range of motion.
One of the most common setbacks of squatting is the inability to squat at full depth. With a reduced range of motion, it is more difficult to control heavier loads, build strength, and achieve muscle hypertrophy. Working one leg at a time in the cossack squat can help improve lower body mobility, translating to better mobility and control in squats.
Single leg movements are used to fix muscle imbalances between sides and improve strength where it is lacking. Spending time drilling the cossack squat can help you recognize potential areas of improvement.
Traditional strength training programs focus on exercises performed within the sagittal plane. However, movement takes place in all three planes, sagittal, frontal, and transverse, and failing to train in all three planes can lead to imbalances and injuries. Building a well-rounded fitness routine requires movement in all planes of motion.
The cossack squat takes place in the frontal plane, a crucial plane that taps into lateral exercises. Both athletes and the average person can benefit from lateral movement, improving on shifting weight, enhancing mobility, and building strength.
Ready to perform a cossack squat with perfect form? Here's a step-by-step walk-through of how to do them correctly.
How to do the Cossack Squat:
Perfect the cossack squat by following these form tips and avoiding these common cossack squat mistakes.
Most people will not have the proper range of motion to do perfect cossack squats right away. Instead, there are gradual progressions that help increase the range of motion in a controlled way over time, so eventually, you can squat deeper. This improved range of motion will help make more progress on the dumbbell squat variations that are a part of your regular workout routine.
Staying on top of stretching pre and post-workout, specifically targeting the adductors and hamstrings, along with hip and ankle mobility, can help you prepare to fully descend in a proper cossack squat.
Follow progressive overload principles when starting to incorporate cossack squats into your routine. Use a box or TRX strap to help assist your range of motion. When you feel confident with your form, start to dip down lower and work with that range until you're ready to progress even lower.
Incorporate lower body stretches often, and start to incorporate the cossack squat 2-3 times into your weekly routine. The more quality repetitions you can practice, the more your body will start to adapt to the movement's demands.
Cossack squats can be incorporated into your routine in a variety of ways. Here are the most common ways you can start drilling the cossack squat.
Complete your general warm-up routine, like this dynamic warm-up, before going into warm-up cossack squat reps. The cossack squat requires mobility and will feel best after you’ve completed a few movements prior to jumping into it.
Complete 1-2 rounds of 6-8 repetitions on each side. Move slow and build up to a moderate tempo, focusing on quality reps.
Your mobility work can be incorporated within your warm-up routine or on separate muscle recovery days. Practice your cossack squat early in the training session, after you’re fully warmed up.
The cossack squat can serve as the main focus during your recovery days, allowing you to practice and move through the entire lower extremity. Complete 3-4 sets of 5-10 repetitions for each leg. Use just your body weight and tension, moving slowly and controlled.
The cossack squat is categorized as an accessory movement. This is a great way to include it in strength and conditioning work. The cossack squat can be programmed in a circuit along with other movements or it can be programmed along with lower body-only exercises.
Workout examples include:
Completing cossack squats in a circuit with other movements will challenge your body to maintain proper form and technique through fatigue. Anywhere from 2-5 sets of 5-10 repetitions on each leg is adequate.
Progressive overload will ensure you continue making gains and building muscle. When you feel ready, try a cossack squat progression to continue challenging yourself.
This progression requires hip mobility in order to switch sides. Instead of standing all the way up from your cossack stance, stand halfway up, shift all of your weight to your opposite side, and drop right back down to the cossack.
This progression is a great way to challenge control and mobility under constant tension.
To perform the goblet cossack squat, add a kettlebell, dumbbell, or a weight plate in a goblet position (front rack) and maintain proper form and technique in your cossack squat. A cossack squat with weight is a great way to ensure you feel some lower body burn!
Not only does the additional weight challenge the lower body in the cossack goblet squat, but it also targets core integrity and your ability to keep a neutral posture throughout the movement. Whether you're performing a dumbbell cossack squat, kettlebell cossack squat, or a weighted plate cossack squat, when performing this goblet squat variation, it's important to start with a moderate weight and increase the intensity over time.
The landmine is one tool that can really intensify the cossack squat along with assisting your form by providing a counterweight. Since the landmine is anchored and stable, going heavier may feel more stable in comparison to the goblet variation.
The frequency of how often you perform cossack squats is dependent on your training goals. If you are struggling with squat mobility or strength imbalances in your legs, including cossack squats 2-3 times per week is ideal.
Start to incorporate them as a warmup and and during mobility training. Once you get a good foundation for its form and function, add the cossack squat into your strength and conditioning circuits.
Looking for some cossack squat variety? Whether you're looking for a supported cossack squat variation or something different, like the lateral lunge, these four alternatives will provide similar results to the cossack squat.
A favorite cossack squat alternative is to perform an assisted cossack squat. To do this, hold on to a TRX strap or anything stable in front of you (like a squat rack) and allow the support to act as a counterbalance as you descend into your cossack stance. Use the support to help you pull deeper into the cossack position while maintaining your form.
Having this additional support can help you work around any limitations and imbalances you may have. It can also help you find your current cossack stance. This is a great way to start learning the cossack pattern without forcing yourself to push through a range of motion that feels uncomfortable. As you get more familiar with it, you may even want to continue bumping up your reps and work on your muscular endurance.
Elevate the foot that you’re squatting into. The foot elevation helps reduce the ankle mobility of the active leg. This makes it more accessible and comfortable if you’re experiencing limited ankle mobility or discomfort in the bottom position.
In this variation, complete all your repetitions on one side before alternating cossack squats to the other side. Stack plates or use a 6 inch box to find a comfortable height for the elevation.
Regressing to a fundamental movement pattern, the lateral step-up is a variation of a classic step-up and targets the same muscles as the cossack squat. It's also a great hip strengthening exercise.
Stand to the side of a box or bench (lower than knee height) with your right leg facing the side of the box. Bend through your knee, open through your hips, and step onto the box.
Drive up into your step-up and reset. You can do this by lowering back down on the right leg, or switching sides when on top of the box, and lowering down on the left leg instead.
When doing lateral step-ups, the leg that’s stepping onto the box must open out to the side, similarly to the cossack squat. Practice keeping your torso squared toward the front.
A simplified version of the cossack squat, the lateral lunge incorporates similar functions of squatting with half the requirements for mobility.
The lateral lunge helps develop the movement pattern in the frontal plane, adapting you to loading your body weight onto one leg at a time. Make this move even more challenging by adding weights!
The cossack squat can be challenging to successfully complete if you have tight muscles. These three stretches can help you elongate and loosen tight muscles, so you can better perfect the cossack squat exercise.
This stretch will help you gain familiarity with the deep squat stance, along with keeping your torso neutral throughout the squat. Stand in your squat stance and bend over to reach toward the tops of your feet. Bend through your knees and hips and pull yourself in a deep squat. Keep your hands on the tops of your feet or on the ground.
Send your hips up and hold this forward fold stretch before pulling yourself down into the next repetition. Complete this stretch at the start of your workout as an active warm-up or finish your workout with a deep, static bootstrapper stretch as part of your cool down exercises.
This exercise also happens to be a great way to target tight adductors. Stand upright with both of your feet wider than shoulder distance apart. Have both of your feet slightly angled outwards. Place your hands on your hips to ensure you’re keeping your torso squared to the front.
Bend through your right knee and sit into your right hip as you straighten your left leg. Make sure your right knee tracks your right toes. For a deeper stretch, position your feet even wider.
Complete this stretch before your workout by doing alternating lateral lunges at a moderate pace or cool down with a deep stretch, holding the lateral lunge stance.
Another stretch to target nagging adductors is the standing wide knees adductor stretch. Stand with your legs double shoulder width apart and your feet facing outward. Lower into a squat, using your hands to gently push your knees outward.
Hold this stretch after your workout for 2 sets of 15-60 seconds. You should feel the stretch in your inner thigh.
The cossack squat is a valuable addition to your lower body training days and can help develop flexibility, joint mobility, and muscular strength.
The variations and progressions of the cossack squat keep the body guessing and improving toward better movement quality and strength gains. Sounds like reason enough to start including it in your routine!
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September 21, 2023
September 21, 2023
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