The Best Squat Variations to Fix Your Problem Areas

The back squat is considered by most in the strength & conditioning world to be the king of all lifts, BUT what do we do when our squat progress stops? How do we address our specific weak points limiting progression? Try these squat variations to address your specific problem areas!

Note: for more details on diagnosing squat weaknesses, check out Episode 6 of the Performance Plus Podcast.

Belt Squats

The belt squat is my go-to choice to bring up quad strength in athletes with relatively weak legs compared to their back. By hanging the weight from a belt positioned around the hips, we significantly decrease the low back’s contribution to the squat and put all of the load onto the legs, also making it a great squat variation to use when rehabbing a back injury.


Zercher Squats

Zercher squats are a brutal squat variation that crushes the upper back and legs. By holding the barbell in the crook of your elbow, your rhomboids & traps will have to work incredibly hard, making this a great exercise to use for athletes having difficulty keeping their thoracic spine extended during front squats! This rounding over of the spine results in lots of missed lifts in athletes, as you see in the picture to the right.


Hanging Band Squats

Many athletes have a very difficult time coordinating shoulder and core strength to perform a proper heavy overhead squat. For these athletes, making the exercise harder by hanging weights from resistance bands will quickly improve their form. The hanging weights are incredibly unforgiving, and will quickly show an athlete when they get out of position. So after just a few reps, many athletes will rapidly figure out their sweet spot when they are most stable.

HBT Overhead Squats using a fantastic product called The Yoak available at

Spanish Squats

Spanish squats allow the athlete to 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 exercise to use for quad hypertrophy or during rehab.

The resistance band makes the lockout much tougher on the quads and lets you shift the center of gravity far behind the knee as you descend. Both load the quads more! Note how I keep shins close to vertical in the bottom and lean back slightly into the band at the top. This is probably my favorite of these squat variations.

Kang Squats

We started with belt squats for those needing squat variations to improve quad strength relative to their back. Now let’s finish with the opposite problem.

For an athlete needing to bring up back, hip, and hamstring strength for the squat have them perform Kang squats as shown here by Don McCauley of Mash Elite Performance.

Need squat mobility help? Check out our squat mobility overhaul program!