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Master the Cossack Squat – How to Do It, Benefits and Muscles Worked

The Cossack Squat is an advanced variation of the traditional squat and lunge.

At first glance, the Cossack squat might look like a poorly executed squat, or a cheat squat movement. Far from the truth! The Cossack squat has many benefits that a normal squat does not provide, and it adds a new layer on how to work out your lower body.

Nevertheless, you must be able to properly do squats and lunges before attempting the Cossack Squat, as the exercise is viewed as an advanced variation of the traditional squat.

Table of contents:

Before you try to do the Cossack Squat, you must warm up properly. Check out the ultimate guide to warming up before doing any squats.

How To Do the Cossack Squat

The Cossack Squat is fairly similar to a normal squat, only you essentially shift your body weight more prominently on one leg, instead of relying on both legs to squat.

Follow these instructions to perform correctly the Cossack Squat:

  • Stand up with feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Toes should be pointing forward, or slightly outwards, but not too much.
  • Shift your weight onto one foot and start squatting until your hip is below the knee.
  • One leg should bend, while the other remains straight.
  • Chest should be kept upright and the hips down at all times.
  • Push your body back to the initial position with the strength of your bent leg.

The movement should be performed in a slow and controlled fashion.

A good Cossack Squat workout for beginners would be 3 sets of 10-20 reps (5 to 10 on each leg).

Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Adductor
  • Obliques
  • Calves
Cossack SquatSource: Mat Fraser's Instagram

The Cossack Squat is primarily a leg exercise, but it will also engage your obliques (the side of your abs), and your glutes.

Compared to the traditional squat, the Cossack Squat activates more your glute medius, quads and obliques.

The more you are able to bend your knees, the more your quads will be activated. The obliques are used in order to prevent your body to twist while performing the movement.

Mistakes to Avoid

There are four common mistakes people do and that you should pay attention to and should avoid.

1. Leaning too forward

Keep your chest upright at all times during the Cossack Squat. You should feel like you are sitting back on your glutes during the exercise. Try to keep your weight back during the entire movement.

2. Moving too quickly

This is not a competition to know how fast you can do the Cossack Squat. In fact, performing too quickly will compromise form and could result in an injury. Do it slow and you will see the benefits of the exercise.

3. Back arched

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with number 1. If you are leaning forward, chances are that you are rounding your back. If you do not keep your torso straight during the Cossack Squat, you will place extra stress on your spine, which is not the intention of the exercise.

4. Heels come out of the floor

Your foot of the bent leg should be planted on the floor while performing the movement. If your heel comes off the floor, it is because you probably have a flexibility issue. In this case, lower your body as far as you can without lifting up your heel of the floor and work on ankle mobility exercises.

Cossack Squat Variations

The Cossack Squat is, well, a squat variation. And what do people love about squatting? That you can increase the amount of stress you put on your legs by adding weight.

The most common variation of the Cossack Squat is performing it with extra weight. To do that, simply hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your body with both hands and perform the movement in the exact same way. This will add an isometric contraction to your arms and further tension to your core.

Source: Matthew Sichkaruk

Another variation of the Cossack Squat is performed with only your body weight, but it is more demanding than the original Cossack Squat. We are talking about the Seated Cossack Squat.

Perform the movement as you normally would, but at the bottom of the exercise, when you are almost sitting on your ankle with the bent leg, sit on the floor. Utilising only your glutes and legs, push yourself back to the starting position – you may use your hands to assist you, but ultimately you should strive to be able to stand up utilizing only your lower body muscles.

If you cannot quite perform the Cossack Squat, you can also help yourself with the TRX Cossack Squat. The straps will help you reach full depth.

If the Cossack Squat has become somewhat easy for you, try out the one-leg squat, known as the Pistol Squat in the CrossFit community.

Benefits of the Cossack Squat

The Cossack Squat is a unilateral exercise, meaning you will effectively work out one side of your body and correct indifferences with a possible weaker side. If one leg is stronger than the other, for example, the Cossack Squat will highlight that disparity and work out the imbalances.

As it is an advanced variation of the squat, this exercise will help you build strength and hypertrophy in the lower body. Although not as demanding as the pistol squats, the Cossack Squat will tear more muscle fibre on your legs than a traditional squat.

Besides building muscle, the Cossack Squat will also stretch your legs. The movement will strengthen one leg while stretching the other. Talk about a win-win situation for your quads. Some advanced lifters use the Cossack Squat as a warm-up.

You can also see an improved range of motion after incorporating the Cossack Squat into your training routine. If you perform the movement and hold your body at the bottom position for 60 seconds, your hips will sink further and calves and inner thigh will get looser.

Now that you know the benefits of the Cossack Squat, would you like to further strengthen your lower body? Check out 5 exercises and 5 WODs to build explosive leg power.

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