Rehab Specialist Barry Sigrist returns to the blog again today to talk squatting. This time he’s really raised the bar (quite literally) with a cracking article and set of videos. These exercises are fantastic for building thigh muscles, as demonstrated by the QuadFather himself @NorthLightPhys;


Follow Barry on Twitter via @BarrySigrist. For more exercise ideas and advice see Barry’s Youtube channel and website

Again thanks to Tom for having me back on this fantastic resource. This blog hopes to shed some light onto squat variations that may prove useful for any runner hoping to improve their maximal strength that may transfer into more efficient running!

It’s important to know that squatting polarises not only medical and science staff but also the public. Historically linked to damaging your knees or back, people have been scared about squatting due to sensationalised views reported in the media or told to them by their GP.

I can tell you now this is false, well, like anything if done without good form, considered programming or adequate timing, it could be detrimental. But with a graded exposure to load, good well practised form, appropriately timed within your week, and when required, a spotter, squatting can be very very useful!

Here are a few variations to consider:

Back squat

Hugely underestimated lift that requires a number of technical points to maintain control and share the stress along the kinetic chain. What’s often overlooked in the back squat is your structure! Foot positions will vary depending on your hip shape, with the retroverted among us often finding a narrower stance tricky! Those with a long femur also find the form tricky to execute and therefore maybe better using the front squat or overhead squat. As well documented, a wider stance inceases gluteus maximus activation (Paoli, et al. 2009) as does squat depth (Caterisano, et al., 2002).

Overall lower limb recruitment is extremely high, creating stiffness via co-contraction of lower limb muscles with especially high peak force created compared with an overhead squat (Aspe & Swinton, 2014). Initially quads are dominant but as hip flexion excedes 60 degrees a greater contribution of force is provided by the hamstrings, gluteus maximus (Caterisano, et al., 2002) and adductor magnus. When the hips passes 90 degrees the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus really take the majority of load and initiate the triple extension require to stand.

Front squat

Great alternative for those who struggle getting the adequate shoulder and thoracic angle of motion. This variation will apply greater load to the thoracic region due to increasing the distance between the load (bar) and the back musculature. Due to the pattern required to lift the weight more load will be placed onto the quads and away from the gluteals, however Gullet et al (2009) suggested overall muscle activation did not differ from the back squat, but with less compressive forces at the knee and a small knee extension moment this variation may be better for those with a history of knee joint issues. Maintaining the high elbow position is an adequate way to ensure control of the vertebrae throughout the lift although some find this difficult, a cross variation may be a nice alternative.

Overhead squat

As you can see by the weight I’m lifting in the video (stop laughing at the back there) it’s a pretty stressful lift. Aspe and Swinton (2014) showed a significantly greater activation of anterior trunk musculature over the back squat (only 2-7% greater force magnitude). The increased demands on the shoulder girdle and trunk equate to large gains in strength (probably isometric) through this region. This is also a good alternative to the back squat for those of us with relatively long femurs compared to the lower leg.

It’s important to note good control is vital here so I’d recommend learning the pattern with a piece of theraband stretched between your hands first. It’ll help you get used to engaging the muscles surrounding your scapular and stabilising your shoulder as you move through range.

Sumo squat

A nice alternative to the back squat, but you can also tweak the front squat in the same way. Putting the feet wide and turning them out will increased the demand placed upon the adductor and medial hamstrings, good to note adductor magnus’ vertical fibres and the medial hamstrings sit in the same posterior compartment of the thigh, hence restrictions in this movement due to soft tissue tightness may be a result of either.

This stance maybe useful for those retroverted hips due to opening out of the hip joints from the abducted and laterally rotated leg position. The large stress in this movement comes at the greater depths when the hips drop below the knee joint. Getting to this depth during this movement is the goal for larger hip loading.


The squat pattern certainly looks like a pattern adapted during many sports and strengthening this range has been linked to performance gains. Form is king so get good quality movement before adding extra load. If your feet aren’t perfectly position for each rep, or you slightly deviate during reps.. Do not fear! This type of variety is normal and is actually helpful as it exposes the system to slightly different stress. Just like running or sport.

Paoli, A, Marcolin, G. & Petrone, N (2009). The Effect of Stance Width on the Electromyographical Activity of Eight Superficial Thigh Muscles During Back Squat With Different Bar Loads. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: 23(1), 246-250

Caterisano, A., Moss, R., Pellinger, T., Woodruff, K., Lewis, V., Booth, W. & Khadra, T. (2002). The Effect of Back Squat Depth on the EMG Activity of 4 Superficial Hip and Thigh Muscles. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 16(3), supplement 4.

Gullett, J., Tillman, M., Gutierrez, G. & Chow, J. (2009). A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(1), 284-292.

Aspe, R. & Swinton, P. (2014) Electromyographic and Kinetic Comparison of the Back Squat and Overhead Squat. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(10), 2827–2836.


  1. In the past I hadn’t felt the need for squats as part of my training regime, however, last year a friend of mine suggested I try it to improve power. To be honest I was a little wary of using this training method due to the points you mention at the start of your piece, namely injury to my back and knees.
    After reading this article and watching the videos I think I will definitely be incorporating squats into my regime but I think I will be using weights just a little smaller than the ones being used in the videos.

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