Squat: The Ultimate Guide to CrossFit Squat Variations

Air Squat

The air squat is one of the fundamental movements of CrossFit. This is because it is a natural movement we learn from birth and use in our daily lives. We use the air squat in some capacity when we first learn to stand. A natural example is sitting down and standing up from a chair.


Some of the best people at air squats are toddlers. They’ve found the most efficient, effective way to compete the movement. This is because they do it in the way that feels most natural to their legs and back. Many factors can cause our form to break down as we age. Over or under-development, injuries, bad posture; all these things contribute to bad form.

First, set your feet. They should be shoulder-width apart. You want your toes to angled outward. Lower your body down until your thighs are below parallel with the ground.

The angle your feet are at should match the angles with witch your knees are pointing. You should engage (tighten) your back to prevent it from arching downward.

A “wink” is an incorrect form tendency when don’t engage your lower-back at the bottom of a squat. The result is your lower back pending to point their buttocks toward the ground.

Your body weight should distribute through your feet. If your weight is on the balls of your feet, you need to shift your weight back until you can feel pressure on your keels. Having your weight too far forward will begin to wear on your back.

Benefits of the Air Squat

Mastering the air squat improves your form in every type of movement on this list. Doing this without a load means you can focus on proper form. Remember, proper form means correct depth and knee position (over your toes).

“The squat is a beautiful, natural movement. It demands midline stabilization, posterior-chain engagement and core-to-extremity movement, and it can be used to move your body weight or very large loads held in a variety of positions.”

CrossFit Journal

Top Air Squat Workout: Murph

  • Complete a 1-mile run
  • 100 pull ups
  • 200 push ups
  • 300 air squats
  • Close with another 1-mile run

Back Squat

The back squat a primary indicator of lower-body strength. It involves using a loaded barbell. Lifters support the weight across the shoulders and follow an air squat progression.


To master the this, you need to master the air squat, then add weight. Depth should be until your thighs pass parallel. The weight of the bar should be even across your entire foot.

Feet should be shoulder-width apart with toes pointed outward. If you feel your form break down, you should decrease weight until you can master the form. This will avoid injuries and support a higher weight as you continue to train.

Examples of bad from: feeling more weight in your toes, back can’t stay rigid, and knees are caving inward.

Benefits of the Back Variation

A back squat is one of the most efficient ways for the human body to carry large loads over a distance. A better competency will increase your balance, strength, and speed.

“The back squat is the most basic strength exercise in weightlifting, and one of the most commonly used exercises other than the competition lifts.”

Catalyst Athletics

Top Back Squat Workout: Hitman

Complete three rounds for time of:

  • 10 back squats
  • 400 meter run

Box Variation

The box squat alters the common technique. It forces your body to release and re-initiate pressure against a load. If done right, this happens in both the upward and downward part of the movement.


Using common back squat technique, squat down over a box or bench until the butt rests into the surface. Once the weight isn’t supported by your legs, explode back into the upward motion of the squat. Lift the weight back up to a standing position.

Benefits of the Box Variation

This can result in increased performance when trained. It can also improve your range of motion and mobility in your hip, knee, and ankle joints.

“Despite the fact that powerlifters have been using box squats to lift inordinate amounts of weight for over a half-century, it’s still considered by some (like Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell) to be a secret weapon that can explode your strength and squat numbers.”

Box Life

Dumbbell Variation

A dumbbell squat is very similar in form to the air squat. The main difference? It allows a lifter to practice the motion with a lower center of gravity. It also better-engages the upper body. You support the weights with your hands, forearms, biceps, triceps, chest, and shoulders.


With a dumbbell in each hand, allow the weights to hang at your sides. Using the same form as the air squat, lower your body until your thighs pass parallel.

The weights should be close to the ground, but not touch. Lift yourself up, back to a standing position.

Be mindful that your weight stays distributed in your feet. Check that your back stays engaged (no bending or winking).

Benefits of the Dumbbell Variation

For one, those with balance issues can enjoy the lower center of gravity in this lift. The engagement of extra body parts means this is a more-effective workout. Especially if your goal is multi-muscle group training.

“It’s not sexy, but the dumbbell squat is a surprisingly effective quad-crusher.”

Men’s Health

Front Squat

Trainers are sure to program the front squat in conjunction with the back squat. They do this because the movement does a better job of engaging your full body. The barbell should be resting on your chest and shoulders. We call this a “front rack” position. It un-balances your body puts the load forward. To support the changed position, your posterior chain has to be more engaged.


Step up to the bar, allowing it to rest in the meaty part where your chest meets your clavicle. Point your elbows out in front of you, curling your arms back to let your fingertips rest under the bar.

Engage your arms and shoulders. With plenty of help from your posterior chain, keep your elbows pointed straight ahead of you. They should not point down at any point in the movement.

If you release your back and shoulders, the bar will slip forward. This will injure your back, force you do drop the weight, or both.

Benefits of the Front Variation

Changing the location of the weight forces you to adapt. It better-engages more muscles. Do the movement from a front-rack position as often the conventional movement. It will increase the quality of your lifts and the amount of weight you can lift.

“This significant adjustment forces your quads, the muscle group on the front of your thighs, to manage and move more of the load, as well as making your core muscles work even harder to keep your torso upright and your upper body balanced.”

Coach Mag

Top Front Squat Workout: Josie

For time:

  • Run one mile

3 rounds of:

  • 30 burpees
  • 4 power cleans
  • 6 front squats

Close with one more mile

Goblet Variation

Goblet squats are an odd-object movement. They train your ability to – you guessed it – handle oddly-shaped objects.


In this case, we’re swapping barbells and dumbbells for a kettlebell. Much like a front rack version, we’re clutching the weight over our chest. Grab the sides of a kettlebell with both hands, supporting the weight under your chin.

Benefits of the Goblet Variation

Here, we’re completing the full motion of the basic movement, but with the added benefit of some extra weight. Without going too heavy, we can crank out a higher volume of squats in a a shorter period of time. This is a great movement for high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

“Breakfast for dinner. Outdoor showers. When the gauc doesn’t cost extra. These are some of life’s underrated pleasures. Another to add to the list? Goblet squats.”


Jump Variation

Laser-in on your explosiveness by using the jump squat. It’s also known as a plyometric squat. The movement uses bodyweight and works to aid your other leg work many ways.


This is the same range of motion as the conventional movement. Lower your body down until your thighs pass parallel to the ground. From here, explode upward in a jumping motion. Your feet should leave the ground.

Note: on your way back down, catch yourself with bent knees. This will prevent unnecessary stress on your joints. You can then continue into your next rep.

Benefits of the Jump Variation

The speed and explosiveness coming out of a jump squat helps you gain mobility. It also enhances your balance and quick-twitch power.

“While regular squats are great, squat jumps offer a new take on the traditional — one that you’re definitely going to feel in your quads.”


Overhead Squat

You could consider the overhead squat to be mindfulness exercise. As much as it is a workout for your core and posterior chain. I say this because you have to be conscious of what your body is doing through the entire movement. Any moment of broken focus can result in you losing control of the weight and having to bail out.


Ignoring your arms and shoulders for a moment, not much of an overhead squat is different than your core technique.

Adding the weight, you should lock the barbell out overhead. Your arms should be much wider than shoulder-width apart. The insides of your elbows need to be facing toward the sky.

Keep your core and shoulders as tight and engaged. Be mindful of them as you proceed downward past parallel, then back up to a standing position.
Your arms should never bend, and the weight should follow a linear path from the top to the bottom of the motion.

Benefits of the Overhead Variation

Besides active core engagement, the overhead squat does you an amazing favor. It exacerbates any issues with your form. If your weight is too far forward or too far back, if you release your back at any time in the lift, etc., you’re going to know it.

“The overhead squat is a punk. It is one lift that vexes many new CrossFitters and weightlifters alike. Arms collapse, knees come forward, you go up on your toes…”

Breaking Muscle

Top Overhead Squat Workout: Nancy

Five rounds for time, of:

  • 400-meter run
  • 15 overhead squats

Pause Variation

Pause squats alter the basic technique, much like the box squat. They force your body to support the full weight for a period of time. You then re-initiate full upward-pressure and push to reach the top of the movement. The pause squat does this instead of de-loading (no sitting on an object at the bottom of the movement).


Using common technique, squat down until your hips pass parallel to the ground. Once there, pause for a count of five seconds. Then, you re-engage and explode back into the upward motion of the movement.

Benefits of the Pause Variation

Good use of the pause variation in your training can help everything. You’ll find extra power for final reps, and add some weight over time.

“As the fast twitch fibres continue to fatigue during the pause, slow twitch fibres (and muscles) are recruited in order to help stabilize the body in that position.”

Box Life

Pulse Variation

Consider the pulse squat to be a cousin of the pause variation. Everything about the movement is the same, including the benefits. The one difference is that we aren’t pausing at the bottom of the movement. Pulse up and down a few inches to create an active version.

Split Squat

Split squats are an ugly cousin of the infamously-effective lunge. The major difference? You don’t alternate legs, walk, or lower your back knee all the way to the ground. Instead, repeat the movement on the same leg, and only lower down until our back knee is a an inch or two from the ground.

“Exercises like the split squat can further improve joint stability and minimize injuries that may arise from muscle imbalances and movement asymmetries.”


Sumo Variation

Also known as the plié squat (named after a dancer’s plié), the sumo focuses much more on your gluteal region. That means your butt, buddy.

Wall Balls

A wall ball shot is what you would get if a goblet squat and an overhead squat got married or had a baby. Or, if they were two consenting, responsible adults. It epitomizes a HIIT CrossFit workout. The wall ball shot demands speed, repetition, and explosion. All while needing extra engagement of the shoulders.

“The functionality of throwing or shooting an object from overhead and standing up is hopefully obvious.”

Greg Glassman

Top Wall Ball Workout: Karen

For time, complete 150 wall ball shots to a 10-foot target

By Ben Garves

Ben Garves is a digital product expert, author, entertainer, and activist. His portfolio of thought leadership in digital marketing and web experiences has included major clients like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, eBay, and Facebook. He’s also a freelance health and fitness journalist with over 400 stories written since 2018, a podcaster with 200 episodes to his name, and runs a YouTube channel with over 100 fitness and activism-oriented videos and live streams. Ben has founded the Fitness is for Everyone™ initiative to raise awareness about social injustice in both racial inequality and socioeconomic disparity in access to quality fitness and nutrition options around the globe.

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