Which squat variation is best for you?


The long-term health benefits for females who resistance train are endless – from a faster metabolism and greater bone density to improved mental health – and the education and attitude towards women who lift is improving. Yet the way men and women train tends to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. But it doesn’t have to be.

A lack of confidence and a fear of looking like the Hulk are two factors contributing to our reluctance to pick up a heavy barbell, say our experts. A fear that’s often unfounded.

‘Typically, men are more muscularly developed than women and carry less body fat due to differences in sex hormones and physiology,’ says Strength and Conditioning Coach, Joey Cantlin.

Women have much lower levels of testosterone, one of the hormones responsible for growth of bones and muscle mass. So unless you’re training and eating like an athlete, you’re unlikely to gain more than half the amount of muscle as your male counterpart.

Research published in Human Movement Science found that novice female weightlifters gained just 500g to 700g of muscle following a structured eight-week program of back squats and deadlifts, twice per week.

Add to this our lower ratio of fast twitch muscle fibres, and you can resistance train seven days a week without fear of ‘getting big’.

The squat is one of our experts’ favourite lady lifts. And for good reason.

Quads, glutes

The quads are made up of four muscles and the glutes three, so the squat – which targets the lot – provides epic bang for your buck no matter your goal, says Cantlin.

Whether it’s shapely glutes, strong legs, chiselled hamstrings or simple calorie burn you are after, there’s a squat for your goal. Do more of the variations that best target your weaker areas.

Back squat: With barbell on shoulders, this move requires greater recruitment of the power of the glutes.

Low bar squat: If your goals are powerlifting focused, a low bar squat will likely be the best choice. Rest the bar on the rear of your shoulders to increase load in that area of your back.

‘This style requires your torso to be at a slightly forward lean (targeting the quads), allowing you to lift more weight because of the more even distribution of force being generated from the hips and knees,’ says Powerlifting Coach Alex Deken.

Front squat: The barbell sits across the front of your shoulders, placing greater emphasis on your quads, and requiring lighter load than the back squat. This thigh-building move is easier on your back and knees, so it’s great for women, who are more prone to knee injuries than men.

Split squat: A loaded stretch, great for lower-body mobility – particularly the hip flexors, a common weak area for women, which prevents the glutes from engaging properly. Take a long step forward and elevate the other foot on a bench behind you; all weight should be in your front foot, and ensure your upper torso is upright (ribs stacked on hips) and core braced. Descend, flexing your knee and sitting back at the hip, to lower your body down until you nearly reach the floor. Drive through your heel to return to starting position.

Sumo squat: The wider stance works to target the inner thigh and glutes. Start with your feet about 30 centimetres beyond your shoulders and toes pointing out at 45-degree angles. Drop into a squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground.

You’ll find the full article on the differences in men and women’s hormones and physiology and what this means for your training protocols in our October/November edition of the magazine.