Squat Variations: How, When and Why to Use Them

Posted on April 8, 2022 at 12:00 AM

Former strength & conditioning coach Bryan Dermody breaks down different squat variations and why you should be using them.

Undoubtedly many before have recommended variations of the squat in order to address specific training needs or weaknesses. You may have heard one or more of the following:

  • If you struggle at the top end of a squat, do rack squats or squats with bands or chains
  • If you drop your chest on the squat, do squats with the safety squat bar
  • If you have weak quadriceps, do the front squat
  • If you struggle at the bottom end of a squat, do pause squats

These are all great variations of the squat. I use all of them myself at some point in my training, and I would recommend them to you as well. However, in this blog I wanted to give you some squat variations recommendations that are a little less common and you may not have heard of before.

Tempo Squat

 Traditional tempo squats use a 3, 4, or 5-second descent, but you can use up to a 10-second descent. As a general rule, take 2.5% off for every second of tempo. For example, if you would normally perform 70% of your 1 rep max (RM) squat for 5 repetitions, for tempo squats you would do 60% for 5 repetitions with a 4-second descent (2.5% x 4 repetitions = 10% reduction in intensity).

When & Why:
Tempo squats are usually reserved for training periods further out from the competition. They can correct technical errors in the squat and are also a great way to increase time under tension for work capacity and hypertrophy purposes.


Pause Squat

1. Pause On the Halfway Down Squat

Pause half-way on the descent of the squat, and then finish the descent with greater speed during the second half of the descent. Here are some examples on how to incorporate these:

  • 60% 3 reps x 4 sets with a 5s pause

  • 65% 3 reps x 4 sets with a 4s pause

  • 70% 3 reps x 4 sets with a 3s pause

  • 75% 2 reps х 4 sets with a 2s pause

When and Why:
This variation can be used at all times but is especially effective in the contest prep period when the goal is to move heavy weight. Often athletes slow the descent so much with heavy weight in an effort to control the weight that they cannot hit proper depth or greatly lack speed coming out of the hole. This variation will correct those problems.

2. Pause On the Halfway Up Squat

Pause half-way on the ascent of the squat, and finish with great speed. Here are some ways to incorporate this method:

  • 2 sec pause - 70% 3reps x 4 sets or 75% 2 reps x 4sets

  • 3 sec pause - 65% 3 reps x 4 sets or 70% 2 reps x 4 sets

  • 4 sec pause - 65% 2 reps х 4 sets or 60% 3 reps x 4 sets

When and Why:
This variation can also be always used. The athlete often has problems allowing the hips to rise faster than the chest coming out of the hole on the squat. This variation will correct that problem, and strengthen the specific range of motion where the pause takes place (particularly in the quadriceps and core musculature).


Anderson Squat

This is a concentric only squat, so the athlete begins the lift with the barbell resting on the safety pins and performs only the concentric portion (from the bottom up) of the lift or you can utilize a yoke to perform this lift.

When and Why:
This is basically a variation of the pause squat. If you struggle with the bottom portion of the squat, give this variation a try. It will build rate of force development in the bottom portion of the squat and teach and improve proper core bracing in the squat.


One- and One-Half Squat

Perform the descent of the squat as normal, but then only come up half-way on the ascent. Then descend to full depth again and finish the squat as normal with a full ascent.

When and Why:
This variation is best used in the early stages of training when trying to improve hypertrophy and clean up technique flaw. If your hips rise faster than your chest on the ascent of the squat, this variation will correct that problem. It will also help you add muscle mass if hypertrophy is your goal.

This video shows the correct technique, but you can add a barbell to your back to make this more difficult.


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