Scaling The Squat

Scaling The Squat

The best fitness professionals have a plethora of exercises they can pull out at a moment’s notice to scale a movement based on a client or athlete’s needs. Unfortunately, far too often we see programming without sufficient scaling options to ensure safe and effective workouts for all gym members. Join Dr Zach Long (The Barbell Physio) and Dr Andrew Millett in this series on scaling exercises to best serve the client’s you work with (or yourself). This week we’ll cover: Scaling The Squat!


Goblet Squats

The Goblet Squat is a squatting variation that involves holding a kettlebell or dumbbell against the chest.  It is a good variation to either start athletes off with who are just beginning to learn how to squat or for clients who are dealing with shoulder or low back issues.  It helps to take the stress off of the shoulder as compared to a back squat variation.  It also helps to decrease axial loading through the spine and in turn can feel better on the lumbar spine.  It is a variation that can help improve squatting depth in that it helps to activate the anterior core musculature to stabilize the spine and pelvis as the athlete descends into the squat.

Start by holding the kettlebell or dumbbell against your chest.  Spread the floor with your feet and think of “dropping down between your knees” as you descend.  The goblet squat is a variation where you don’t want to think of “sitting back.”  Instead, think of descending down in between your knees.  Maintain a neutral spine and return to standing.  You will not be able to lift as much load with this variation as compared to a back or front squat.

Box Squats

The Box Squat is a squatting variation that involves sitting back to or onto a box.  There is a Squat to a Box where you squat back and tap a box and return to standing OR a Box Squat where you squat to a box, sit while maintaining a neutral spine, and then return to standing.  The Box Squat or Squat to a Box are great variations for athletes who are suffering from knee pain or who don’t tolerate anterior translation of their tibias during squatting variations.  It can be useful tool to use in a rehab setting, someone recovering from an injury, or dealing with cranky knees.  There is a greater mobility demand on the hips and lumbar spine since the knees and ankles are not moving as much as compared to a traditional barbell front or back squat.

Start by holding the bar in a high or low bar position.  Focus on maintaining a vertical shin and pushing your hips back towards the box.  Maintain a vertical shin and neutral spine.  Depending on which variation you prefer, either tap the box or sit back and then return to standing.  Make sure to spread the floor to keep your lower body in a good position.


Ring Assisted Squats

The Ring Assisted or TRX Assisted Squat is a great regression for a beginner athlete learning the squatting pattern.  It provides support to the athlete to decrease the stability demands on the body.  Many athletes will have a difficult time attaining squat depth due to a motor control or stability issue in their body versus a true mobility limitation at the hip, knee, or ankle.  This is another variation that can be used for someone rehabbing an injury or just starting off learning how to squat.

Start by holding the rings or TRX at chest height.  Using the rings/TRX as support, squat down between yours hips/knees.  If you need more support from the rings/TRX, feel free to use more to descend deeper.  If you need less support, decrease your amount of support.  Once this becomes too easy, you can progress to less support, one handed support, or finger tip support.



The landmine squat allows for heavier loading of a squat-like pattern but with the huge benefit of decreasing the balance demands of the squat. This can make it a great scaling option or way to switch your training up a bit!


Spanish squats

Spanish squats allow the athlete to really sit back into the squat while keeping the shins vertical. While this is far from a “normal” squat for most, it does allow for heavy loading of the quads with decreased patellofemoral pain, making this a great way to scale squats when an athlete is getting over an injury.


Front vs Back Squats

Another great option for scaling the squat is to change the loading location. For example, a front squat with the bar resting on the anterior shoulders will shift the athletes center of gravity forward, making it easier for many athletes to keep their torso & chest upright and the get anterior-posterior balance in the squat.


Andrew Millett is a practicing physical therapist in the field of orthopedic and sports medicine physical therapy.  He helps to bridge the gap between physical therapy and strength and conditioning.  By evaluating and treating his clients using multiple lenses, such as the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA), the main goal for all of his clients are for them to move and feel better and to keep their body functioning at high levels.

Learn more from Andrew on his website AndrewMillettPT.comand be sure to follow him on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram.