5 Best Squat Variations to Build Mass, Muscle and Strength

Squats are a staple of every athlete who wants to have a strong lower body. However, not all squats are equal. We have come up with a list of the best squat variations to build muscle and strength.

Check these out and add them to your training routine if you want serious gains and power on your legs.

best squat variationsSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.


The box squat is a great way to increase your strength, mass and ability to generate power and that is why it is first on our best squat variations list.

If you have access to one, use a safety bar. The way that it sits on your back will make you engage your back so much more. This type of bar also forces your back to stay a lot tighter in order to rise back up out of the hole.

It is also good for building up the posterior chain and will also help to improve your deadlift as well.

The Box is a good depth gauge, and it stops you from dropping into the hole and springing right out of it. Make sure to pause for about one second. For Brian Shaw, he uses box squats with a safety bar to build the starting strength that carries over into exercises that involve lifting objects up such as Atlas stones, or generating power for throws. It is also a great exercise to build all-round strength.

Brian Shaw: “If I had to pick one bar to always squat with it would be the safety bar.”

Check out this meeting between fitness and strength.


The Zercher squat was invented by a lifter when he was in prison and didn’t have access to any racks so he had to lift from the floor. You will use lower weights with the Zercher squat because you will find it simply impossible to handle anywhere near your max loads.

This Squat variation builds power out of the hole. The initial awkwardness of the movement forces you to balance in a new way as well.


When it comes to getting strong, people do a lot of fancy things, but there are already proven ways to get strong and dead stop squats are one such tried and tested method.

You may have noticed that the first rep of a Deadlift or Bench Press is always the hardest, and a hand release push up is way harder than a normal one. This is not because of exhaustion, but because you have no momentum or power from the eccentric movement phase. In other words, you are generating all your force from a zero point. Movements that operate from this position are called “Dead Stop” exercises.

These also have the additional benefit of completely stopping you from bouncing reps out of the hole.


Marcus Filly: “This is a terrific way to challenge your squat posture and position. Any forward deviation will make holding the bells upside down very difficult. The bottom up position as we have stated a number of times helps connect the upper flexor chain and scapula to any movement.”


Mix up the way that you squat. Changing the stimulus for your body is a great way to improve your lift and get stronger. Unless you are working through a specific program that dictates the bar be set into a particular position, try switching up the position you use the next time you squat. A high bar position naturally forces your body into a more upright position. Your body mechanics will also determine which of these two variations may feel more natural, so if you only ever use one then you won’t know which one may suit you more.

Many athletes can typically lift more weight with a low bar position.

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