Try subbing out any of your regular squats with one of these variations. You should notice how each style recruits different muscles throughout the body, and together they will build a better, more rounded athlete.
“Essentially, bar placement during a back squat impacts the joint angles involved, and thereby influences how force is applied to the low back, legs and hip musculature”
The loaded (High Bar) back squat is an industry standard and probably the most common back squat style practiced. The bar is positioned on the trapezius muscle, below the C7 vertebrae on the spine. It rests on the upper crests of the rear belt muscle. The actual distribution numbers are hard to gauge, but the high bar back squat incorporates marginally more quadricep muscle than the low bar back squat. Furthermore, it facilitates an increased vertical spine, with less of a forward lean (hinge) compared to the low bar back squat. One of the reasons the high bar back squat is so beneficial in a training regime is that it mimics the postural position you would be in while sitting in a chair.
Known as the “record making” back squat style, the low bar back squat allows you to recruit more posterior chain muscles (hamstring and glutes) than the high bar back squat. Additionally, it creates a larger compression force via the diaphragm, as it requires the torso to be in a more horizontal position. As the low bar squat does not require as much mobility, your knees are not required to travel forward as much, thus shortening the range of motion. Because of this, the athlete is able to typically lift more weight.
One of my favourite styles of squatting – the box squat – allows the athlete to focus on form at each point within the lift. Place a box behind you in a slightly lower height than a normal seat. The box is used to support you in the movement so that you don’t fall backwards, and thus you can focus driving your knees forward and out to the side, pulling your hips even further forward, compressing into the shins and lengthening the spine. The position of the box also allows you to slightly de-load and rest before transitioning back to full extension. It is not a complete de-load, however, so don’t just sit and relax. A common error is that clients sit on the box, de-load the weight and round the lower spine. Instead, this is a point in the exercise where you can do some minor postural tweaks before exiting the bottom position. Focus on driving the hips back to lengthen the hamstrings and keeping your chest as vertical as possible.
The overhead squat is the villain, the archenemy of the squatting community – nothing exposes mobility and flexibility issues as the overhead squat does. It requires the most amount of structural integrity at every point within the squat to maintain a strict and vertical spine. Furthermore, if mobility in your scapula (shoulder region) is limited, your weight will be forced forward and make it nearly impossible to position the weight overhead. We should focus on this squat as it recruits the most amount of core (abdominal, hip and posterior chain) work.
If you ever get into Olympic lifting the front squat is your go-to squat. It requires an immense amount of upper body strength to keep the load from pulling you forward and it allows you to focus on lengthening the abdominal wall to build structure. This squat is common when working with kettle bells and is an awesome one to use when combating an upper thoracic curvature from sitting all day. Think about popping your chest, keeping your elbows high and bracing the abdominal wall (sternum to hips contraction).