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April 03, 2022 1 Comment
There are a lot of different ways to do kettlebells squats. From load & body positioning to using one or two kettlebells to more dynamic movements that even target upper body muscle groups, there are many ways to change the stimulus placed on your body, which is great for hypertrophy, strength and conditioning.
In this article, we are going to discuss 9 of the best kettlebell squat variations that you can implement into your workouts and what makes each one unique.
Before we start, we'd like to touch upon the importance of the squat in general. There’s a lot of truth behind the “if you don’t use it, you lose it” saying. This is particularly true for the squat. As a young child, you most likely had the perfect squat, without instruction, you would shift your weight and hips to move up and down off the floor or to pick something up. This is because you had no limitations in your mobility. As we get older and enter into school, we sit at desks and have a minimum of a 13-year commitment in school, while some many go on to university and into a career that requires sitting at a desk for long periods of time, every, single, day. During this time, the body is getting used to sitting in chairs, in a 90/90 level, where your hips never drop past your knees. All furniture in the western world has been brought up to a comfortable level. This causes us to lose balance, mobility, and core strength. We become the physical beings our environment has allotted us.
This is why adding squats to your workouts is beyond important. It's not even just about building impressive quads and glutes, it's about our ability to move freely, and innately. So, master these kettlebell squat variations, your body will appreciate it. The older you get the more you’ll realize how important it actually is.
While your bodyweight alone is enough, and there are many implements out there that will work well for squats, kettlebells provide some unique benefits, such as:
As a beginner, starting with a single kettlebell is your best bet. Using a single kettlebell as a beginner allows the new exercises to be more approachable and easier to learn.
On top of that, one hand kettlebells movements are asymmetrical/offset which challenges core stability significantly. Moreover, if you have any muscular imbalances (MOST people do), the single kettlebells exercises will help you iron those out. Since the single kettlebell movements are unilateral, it will bring light to the imbalances and the body will not be able to compensate as much as if you were using a barbell for the movement.
Benefits of using a single kettlebell:
Double kettlebells will ultimately create a greater load on the body which will allow for gaining strength and muscle mass much quicker than using a single kettlebell. The double kettlebell also helps aid in explosive strength, since the load is greater on the body but the weight is more evenly distributed it doesn’t have the same effect on balance and coordination so this will allow you to gain strength in the lower body faster.
Benefits of using double kettlebells:
Related: Single vs Double Kettlebell Training
Generally speaking, the kettlebell squat will work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, and to a degree, your calves. Squats will also work your entire core, as you need to stabilize and keep your torso upright.
Further, since you are holding onto the weight, rather than placing it on your back like with a barbell, most kettlebell squat variations will work the upper back pretty well, to keep your spine from flexing forward, and your arms, to hold the kettlebells in place. This becomes more prominent as you use heavier weight.
Now, where things get interesting is how you can do variations to hone in on certain muscles. For example, if you take a wider stance and place your toes outward a bit, you will work your hip abductors more OR if you bring your stance in close and keep your toes pointed forward, you will emphasize your quads even more.
You will see with the squat variations below how things change based on (in terms of muscles worked and difficulty):
So, pay attention to that.
The kettlebell squat is not only effective but a foundational exercise for strength training. It should be implemented with various weights, positions it’s being held in as well as off-set stances. There are plenty off-setting stances that will challenge mobility, strength, and stability. Being able to utilize the kettlebell in different positions, use different weights at the same time during a movement, single-leg positions as well as stagger stance positions will create strength and stability in a much different fashion than a traditional barbell squat.
The following squat variations can be done with either a single or double kettlebell. It will come down to what quantity and weight of kettlebells you have that can determine if you will be using a single or double combination.
This is the most basic of squats besides a bodyweight squat. As such, it will be the easiest to learn. You should also be able to load it fairly heavy since it's easy to manage the kettlebells when held down in this position. This grip variation of the kettlebell squat will also take stress off the lower back. The only downfall is you may be limited in your range of motion as the kettlebells will hit the floor before you can go deep.
Be sure to keep the movement pattern as a squat, as a lot of beginners start to look like they are doing a deadlift by creating too much hip flexion and leaning too far forward. As for muscles worked, this kettlebell squat variation will really focus on your quads, glutes and hamstrings.
The goblet squat is one of the best variations you can do. It forces you to learn how to squat properly, and DEEP. This can be a game-changer for a lot of practitioners who have not yet perfected their squatting technique. It is a foundational movement for every other variation of kettlebell squat, as well as even barbell squats.
Mainly, the kettlebell goblet squats work the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, similar to the ‘regular’ squat. Being that the weight is centered near the chest, the abdominal muscles will be fired up and engaged for the duration of the repetition. While the upper back and lat muscles help keep the kettlebell in place in front of the chest. The goblet squat invokes less stress on the back than a traditional barbell back squat, since the spine isn't loaded, yet as you go heavy, you'll begin to feel your low back hurt if you don't keep good form.
And just to be clear, for this one, you'll only be using one kettlebell. As for foot positioning, you can play around with your stance to alter the muscles worked or get into a more comfortable squatting pattern for you (i.e. if you need to open up your stance a little more or point your toes slightly outward, that's fine).
Here is an in-depth article we wrote on goblet squats.
A front rack position has the kettlebells up near your chest and shoulders with your arms flexed and tucked and the bells resting on your forearms. This is one of the harder and more serious kettlebell squats. This is a load position that allows for the heaviest squats.
With front rack squats, you can go one or two kettlebells. With one kettlebell, you'll be challenging your core to resist leaning to the weighted side. With two kettlebells, you can really up the load. Either way, both variations challenge core strength and upper back strength, especially as you go heavier.
Like the goblet squat, the front rack squat allows you to go deep into your squat. This is great for building up your quads, glutes, hamstrings. Like with the goblet squat, you have plenty of wiggle room for your foot positioning, so that you can get into a comfortable squat position.
Overall, it's big compound movement that involves power and force from the legs and endurance and strong stability from the upper body.
The sumo squat can be done with the kettlebell held down in-between your legs or from a goblet or front rack position. This is really just about your leg positioning. A sumo squat entails a wide stance with toes pointed outward. This will work your hip abductors and adductors to a higher degree than regular squats. So, if you want to hit that side booty and inner thighs, this is a good one.
Note: You don't need raised platforms as pictured above. It's just good if you want to get more depth in your squat with that load positioning (arms held down).
Here is an in-depth article we wrote on sumo squats.
The overhead squat is an advanced exercise simply because it requires really good mobility to maintain the kettlebell in the overhead position (correctly) while squatting.
The upper body muscles used here are the triceps, deltoids, lower trapezius, and serratus anterior muscles, but the upper trapezius levator scapulae, rhomboids, and pectoralis minor also provide stability and mobility. And, of course, the lower body muscles, working through the squat.
Overhead squats can be done with one or two kettlebells. If you use one, then you have another dynamic of core/spinal stability added to the mix as you'll need to keep your torso from bending to the side.
The split squat is also about body positioning, not load positioning. As such, you can load it with your arms holding the kettlebells down, in a goblet position, or a racked position.
Since this is a unilateral squat this will force the core and glutes to work hard to maintain your balance. The muscles worked are the ones of the lower leg - quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. The is more difficult because of being in single-leg movement either you can keep the rear foot on the floor or the progression would be to elevate the rear foot. This will help significantly target the hip complex and glute muscles in the front leg. You can also elevate the front foot to increase quad activation.
The side squat, aka lateral squat, is responsible for targeting the gluteus medius and hip abductors. It may look simple, but actually it requires good hip mobility.
For anyone who has difficulty firing up those muscles during other movements, adding these to your workout regime is a good idea. The side squat also helps with dynamic balance, mobility, and coordination.
As for grip options, the easiest is to hold the kettlebell down at arms length, front and center. However, you can also hold it in a goblet squat or racked position.
This is a dynamic squat variation. Not only is this great for getting your heart rate up, but it will help you hit those hamstrings to a much higher degree (as it involves a kettlebell swing, which is a hip-hinge movement) and build explosive hip power. It, of course, works your quads and glutes too as it involves a squat each rep as well.
You’ll start off in the position to do a kettlebell swing. You'll perform a swing, and when the kettlebell reaches the apex (top position), you will pull the kettlebell into a goblet hold and then perform a squat. Once you squat back up, you push the kettlebell out from the goblet hold and allow it to swing down and through your legs to perform a kettlebell swing.
For this exercise, you can use one kettlebell (and transition into a goblet squat or front racked squat) or two kettlebells and transition into a front racked squat. You can even transition into an overhead squat, which will entail doing an American kettlebell swing!
The kettlebell thruster is a dynamic movement too, but different than the swing squat as it is not a ballistic movement, it is a power (grind-type) movement. It is truly a total body movement, with major focus on your quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, and shoulders.
Begin with the kettlebells in a front racked position (or goblet position if just one kettlebell), lower to your squat position and as you use your lower body to stand up then immediately press the kettlebells overhead.
Thrusters improve muscular endurance, coordination and balance. Lower and upper body strength and mobility are worked in this movement too.
Now, that you’ve been introduced to several variations of the squats, you have to figure out how to implement them in your workout regime. Decide what your end goal is and where you are now.
If you are a beginner, start with the basic squats and just get the movement pattern down. Don't worry about going heavy, worry about performing them with good form.
We'd recommend beginners to just focus on goblet squats and then eventually front racked squats. As you progress, you can implement the various other forms of kettlebell squats by playing around with load position and body position.
Generally speaking, using one kettlebell is best for beginners. People who have good strength training experience can start with both singles and doubles, depending on the movement or your goal for that workout.
If you have questions about kettlebell squats or your specific programming, please feel free to leave a detailed comment below!
Related: 7 Kettlebell Deadlift Variations
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