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Squat Variations – Mixing it up without weight

The basic bodyweight squat is a great move and often overlooked because it seems so simple and well….easy.

Most people add weight to the squat to make it more challenging.

But what if you don’t have weights at home yet have progressed past the basic bodyweight squat for reps?

Here are some variations of the squat that can help you work your legs in different ways that may just be the challenge you need even without adding weights

1. Bodyweight Squat Hold – Holding a basic bodyweight squat at the bottom (aka when your thighs are parallel to the ground and your knees are bent to 90) isn’t by any means easy even if you can squat with quite a bit of weight. Try holding for 30 seconds to 1 minute…or maybe even 2 minutes. Do not let your chest fall forward (aka do not lean forward) and make sure your weight is in your heels. Do not sink below 90 as that makes the squat easier. Beginners may need to perform a shorter hold or hold up a bit higher.

2. Wall Sit – This is a variation of the Squat Hold and equally as torturous. If you have trouble holding at 90 during the Squat Hold or if you lean forward, a wall sit will be the best option for you. Sink down to 90 and drive through your back into the wall. Sit up nice and tall. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If this doesn’t feel incredibly challenging, you can do a single leg wall sit. Raise one leg off the ground and hold it straight out in front of you (the straighter out in front of you that you hold the leg off the ground, the more you will work that quad as well). Try a 30 second to 1 minute hold on each side.

wall sit

3. Squat Hold followed by reps – While bodyweight reps alone may not be challenging, bodyweight reps after a squat hold will be. Hold until your legs feel tired (30 seconds to 1 minute for most people). The longer you force yourself to hold before the reps, the harder the reps will be. Then do 10-20 reps after the hold and repeat. You can even advance this move further by doing a hold followed by reps of jump squats. (And to make this move extremely tiring, you can do a hold followed by basic reps followed by jump squats. OUCHIE!)

4. Slow Reps – Everyone always wants to go faster. No one ever wants to SLOW DOWN. And why is that? Because slow reps are AWFUL…aka REALLY HARD AND TORTUOUS! Try taking 5 seconds to lower down to the bottom of your squat before exploding back up to the top. Or try a 2-3 second lower, 5 second hold at the bottom and then a 2-3 second press back to the top. Mix it up. There are a ton of ways you can slow down the tempo. Just slow it down. Shoot you can even go quickly down, hold at the bottom for 5-10 seconds and then pop right back up!

5. Jump Squats – Just like slowing something down makes it harder, so does making something more powerful and explosive. With jump squats, it isn’t about performing a super deep rock bottom squat. You actually want just a little squat/hinge to load so that you can explode up. Squatting too deep can actually hinder your ability to be super explosive and jump high. So perform a more shallow squat and explode as high off the ground as possible. Beginners may need to rest between each rep. To make the move harder, jump up and sink right back into the squat to repeat. Really focus on a soft landing. You should never land with your legs completely locked out unless you want to hurt your knees. SOFT KNEES! Bend your knees to help you absorb the impact of landing.

squat jump

6. 90 Degree Hops – A variation of the squat jump where you not only explode up, but also rotate 90 degrees to each side. With this move you can either focus on getting high off the ground OR on staying low and moving quickly. Both can really make the legs burn. I love this move because it isn’t just a simple sagittal plane squat! Just like the basic jump squat, you need to remember to focus on a soft landing.

rotational hops

7. Staggered Stance Squats (and or Jumps) – A great way to work each leg individually without doing a single leg movement, is the staggered stance squat. Place one foot in front and the other foot about hip-width to shoulder-width apart and a bit behind the front foot (the back toe should be about even with the instep of your front foot). Squat down as low as possible, keeping your weight in your front heel. Do not worry if the back heel comes up. Do not lean forward or let your back round. Complete all reps on one leg and then switch to a staggered stance on the other side. To make this move harder, you can do one of two things – you can do a staggered stance squat jump or you can do a slow tempo staggered stance squat.

staggered squat

8. Single Leg Squats to Bench – This is a progression toward a pistol squat and a great way to correct any imbalances because the legs work individually. I did it with my IKEA table, but you can use a chair or bench or well…a step stool. Anything that is the proper height that you can sit down to. The lower the “box,” the harder the move. Start by sitting on the bench. Place one foot solidly on the ground with your heel right under your knee. Lift the other leg off the ground. I like to hold it out straight to make the quad work. Stand up straight. Try not to lean forward as you stand. Sit back down, controlling your decent as much as possible. As with all squat variations, you can slow down the tempo to make this move harder!

single leg squat

9. Single Leg Squats Using a Wall – This is more challenging than the squat to bench unless you have a super low box and have great control over your decent. Stand in a doorway with your hands on the each side. Straighten one leg out. Sit back into your heel and walk your hands down the wall as you squat as low as possible. Once you go as low as possible, walk your hands back up and drive through the heel back up to standing. Try to pull up with your hands as little as possible. Use the wall for support only as much as needed. Do not rock onto your toe. Drive off the heel as much as possible. Really keep your core engaged as you perform the move. Do not worry about your back being completely straight.

assisted single leg squat

10. Pistol Squats – Basically this is a single leg squat with no support! Go as low as possible, holding the other leg out straight. Drive up through the heel to come back to standing.


5 minutes of bodyweight squats – A great way to get in some cardio and work the legs using the BASIC BODYWEIGHT SQUAT is to set a timer and do as many reps as possible in the time allotted. I like five minutes. It is just long enough to be awful, but not so long that you need to take long rests. Work your way up to five minutes if you are a beginner!

What is your favorite squat variation without weight?

Surprised that she loved it

So this is the second week of my lifting class (sorry Francine that I couldn’t do one at a time that worked for you!).

And I’m loving it. But the best part is…SO ARE THEY!

And I don’t think all of them expected to…

I have one participant, Lois, who is also one of my personal training clients. We started working together in August and I’ve watched her get stronger and fitter and more confident in herself each and every time we meet.

And while Lois never gives up and is always willing to give an exercise a shot, I have to admit that I was blown away by her strength and determination in our  lifting classes so far.

We’d stuck to a lot of functional weight training in our personal sessions together and hadn’t yet done barbell bench press, barbell deadlift or barbell back squat.

But last week, Lois attempted all of them for the first time and excelled! I was more impressed/excited/proud than I could even express to her at the time.

And she continues to impress me. At the class today she deadlifted with the best of them. And she survived the killer auxiliary lift circuit we did, making the necessary modifications, but never giving up.

And the best part is that after both workouts, she has walked up to me and said that it was hard, but that she enjoyed it!

I think it surprised her actually how much she enjoyed lifting super heavy weights!

So if you’ve been shy about heavy lifting, give it a shot! I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you love it.

Also, I just want to give a big shout out to all of the members of my class. You all are AWESOME! 🙂

P.S. Lois if you read this post since I know you occasionally visit Man Bicep….KEEP IT UP! I’m so proud of you! 🙂

Get off the floor and stop doing crunches

99% of the people you see in the gym at some point do crunches, planks…any sort of ab exercise during their workout.

But only about half of those people ever do some of the BEST exercises for their abs and for that matter their entire bodies (and these exercises AREN’T crunches!)

They are four awesome exercises called the pull up, push up, back squat and deadlift. And to be honest, they are really all you need to have great arms, chest, back, abs, butt, quads, hamstrings and even calves!

So why are you wasting time on crunches? Actually, why are wasting time on a lot of those silly single muscle group movements!?! I mean seriously…those exercises only help the top 1% not the average Jane/Joe.

If you think you don’t have enough time to workout, you should stop wasting it by doing crunches and single muscle group movements and start doing these four exercises!!!

Pull ups:

Let’s face it…we know these are a great exercise because no one ever wants to do them! When no one wants to do an exercise, it generally means it is hard.

Just look at all the muscles used:

  • Lats
  • Lower sternal fibers of the pec major
  • Posterior deltoid
  • Teres major muscles
  • Lower traps
  • Pec minor
  • Levator scapulae
  • Rhomboid
  • Serratus anterior
  • Bicep
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Erector spinae
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Obliques

All of these muscles are used some more or less depending on which pull up variation you perform. (And if you need to make all of those muscles work harder just hang some weight around your waist or perform repetitions till failure!)

Grip can effect which muscles are used more during the movement. Chin ups and narrow grip pull ups are usually the easiest and engage the most bicep while wider grip pull ups isolate the lats more. For example, with a chin up the biceps brachii are used the most but with a prone or pull up grip the brachialis and brachioradialis (muscles that are part of the bicep) are used more than the biceps brachii.

Even the positioning of your lower half can alter which core muscles are doing more work. Ideally you want a straight position though so you are fully engaging every muscle in your core!

And there are no excuses for not doing pull ups. There is always a pull up assist machine around OR a band you can use to help pull you up. Heck even start with jumping pull ups! There is no excuse to skip these! There is a variation for all fitness levels!

Push Ups:

Again, rarely are women doing push ups in the gym and neither are men actually…Men usually prefer the more illustrious bench press…But push ups are AMAZING! AND there are a bazillion variations of push ups so they will never ever be too easy!

If you need proof of how amazing, here is a list of all the muscles worked:

  • Deltoids (anterior, posterior and medial)
  • Triceps
  • Pecs (both major and minor)
  • Rhomboids
  • Erector spinae
  • Rotator cuff
  • Serratus anterior
  • Rectus abdominus (ABS!!!)
  • Transverse abdominus (Oh and abs again!?!)
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Quadriceps

You may be thinking, “What?! Push ups work your legs too!?!” YES THEY DO!!!

Your glutes and quads aren’t primary muscle groups in the movement, but they do assist if you do push ups from your toes. They keep your body in a nice straight line!

And like the pull up there are variations that work the muscle groups listed in different ways. There is the narrow push up, which engages more tricep and shoulder (also known as the chaturanga or even the diamond push up) and there is the wide grip push up, which isolates the chest more. There is also the decline push up where you elevate your feet, which not only makes the push up harder but also works your pec major more. AND if you put your hands on unbalanced or uneven surfaces you can work your core more!

I mean there are just a bazillion push up varieties so you will never get bored. AND beginners can’t claim push ups are too advanced! Push ups from the knees are a great modification as well as incline push ups. You can even start by doing push ups by leaning against a wall! There is no excuse why anyone can’t do an incline push up against the wall! 😉

Back Squat:

Ok I love legs so I really love this move. And not only does this move work the biggest muscle group in your body but it also really works your core! (And if you want a great butt….SQUAT!)

A quote from “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” stating just my point!

Squats are considered a vital exercise for increasing the strength and sizeof the legs and buttocks, as well as developing core strength. Isometrically, the lower back, the upper back, the abdominals, the trunk muscles, the costal muscles, and the shoulders and arms are all essential to the exercise and thus are trained when squatting with proper form.

So the muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Transverse Abdominus (abs!!!)
  • Erector Spinae
  • Abductors
  • Adductors
  • Soleus (calves)
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

So one thing I haven’t mentioned with the two previous exercises (which is also true for them), but all of these strengthen your lower back, which so many people neglect while doing all of their crunches! And trust me, your back is as much a part of your core as your abs are even if it isn’t something you notice while wearing a bikini.

And there are also a bazillion variations of the squat. I personally have picked the back squat here to highlight because it is the most basic and you can add a ton of weight to it to make it challenging (I like heavy weights!).



Maybe I love it because it works like everything!! It works everything from your fingers (grip strength!!) to your toes!

It works (and I copied this list because well…the deadlift works everything).

  • Torso
    • Front
      • Abdomen
        • Rectus abdominis (under aponeurosis)
      • Obliques
        • Abdominal external oblique muscle
        • Abdominal internal oblique muscle
    • Back
      • Iliocostalis
      • Intertransversarii laterales lumborum
      • Latissimus dorsi
      • Levator scapulae
      • Longissimus
      • Quadratus lumborum
      • Rhomboideus major
      • Serratus posterior superior
      • Serratus posterior inferior
      • Splenius cervicis
      • Teres Major
      • Trapezius muscle
  • Legs
    • Quadriceps
      • Rectus femoris
      • Vastus lateralis
      • Vastus intermedius
      • Vastus medialis
    • Hamstrings
      • Biceps femoris muscle
        • long head
        • short head
      • Semitendinosus
      • Semimembranosus
  • Hips
    • Gluteal muscles
      • Gluteus maximus
      • Gluteus minimus
    • Piriformis
    • Superior gemellus
  • Forearms
    • Flexor digitorum profundus

Enough said? haha

The Primal Powerlifter

This past Sunday I competed in my first powerlifting event and I still can’t believe I actually did it. I was so proud of myself for even just showing up at the event. Also, I want to say a big “THANK YOU” to both Brian and Ryan for coming with me. Ryan was great moral support and Brian coached me to success!

The entire week before I was nervous and stressed. I was trying to make it through a long week of work while also making sure that I had everything I needed for the event (unisuit, t-shirt, shoes, socks…all conforming to their standards).

I also had to lose some weight to be able to compete in the 123 weight class (because of traveling and Thanksgiving I had packed on a few pounds haha). I stuck to Primal, eating only meat, veggies and protein powder (even though numerous people told me I should be eating carbs…like bread…). I ate pulled pork, ribs, oxtail…all nice fatty meats that made me feel full and content.

And over the week everything came together and before I knew it Sunday was here (of course Saturday morning I was so nervous that Ryan said I was shaking the couch enough to make him nauseated).

I had all of my equipment, and lots of Primal snacks, including potatoes, protein powder, macadamia nuts, and apples. I was also well within my weight class, weighing in at 118lbs. The intermittent fasting and Primal diet had paid off! And my energy level was high despite the week of weight loss because of all the fatty meats (and a few potatoes on Saturday) that I had consumed.

Even though I was ready, I wasn’t any less nervous. Even most of the girls who were competing for the first time had spent about the last year training while I had only really spent the last two months even considering entering.

That fact was a bit intimidating. I’m usually the over-prepared person…not let’s-do-this-at-the-last-moment-on-a-whim person.

But, hey, I had spent the last two months training so why waste all that hard work? Even if I didn’t do well, it would be a great experience!!!

But I did do well…despite the fact that conventional wisdom would have told you that I had absolutely no chance, between my low carb, intermittent fasting diet, inconsistent workout routine and lack of a weight lifting belt (Ryan thought the fact that I was one of the few without a belt was pretty “bad-ass” haha).

Anyway, the point is I was nervous and not fully prepared especially by conventional standards. I’d never squatted or benched on command and I’d always had a mirror in which to watch myself deadlift and squat. I was super worried I wouldn’t go low enough on my squats and that I would fail on all three attempts and be out of the competition in the first lift. (A bit pessimistic but this thought kept running through my head…so much so that I was literally revising my numbers in my sleep.)

Anyway, because I was so nervous for squats (and we wanted me to feel good for deadlifts, which were the third lift of the day), we set my numbers super low…I attempted 150 then 160 then 170. In practice I’d hit 200lbs numerous times, and had almost even gotten 205lbs, so all three lifts ended up being super easy. On my first squat, I was so worried about going low enough that I almost dropped my butt all the way to the ground.

But the three successful squats, while too easy, did make me relax and feel more confident.

After about a two-hour break while all the men’s flights went, was bench…my least favorite lift probably because it is my weakest.

In practice, I had hit a PR of 120, but it wasn’t with a pause (I got close 125lbs but it was such a freaking ugly lift to get it up that it definitely doesn’t actually count). So we decided that my attempts should be 90lbs, 105lbs and 115lbs. I had no problem pausing on my first two attempts. But on the third, 115 just wouldn’t go up. Looking back on the lift, I wish I had taken more time to set up because I think it would have gone up if I’d planted my feet more and gotten a bit more arch in my back. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.

Anyway, 105, while a slight bit disappointing still wasn’t too shabby.

Then again we had another long break before we finished the day with deadlifts. While I’d felt more relaxed for bench, probably because I didn’t expect too much, I was super nervous for deadlift. Deadlift is my best lift and I definitely wanted to impress!

In training, my PR for deadlift was 280 and the Mass. State record was 275lbs. I thought I had a good chance of tying it at least!

So we set my first two attempts at 245lbs, 260lbs and figured we would see how those went before deciding if I would attempt 275 or 280. The first two lifts were super easy although my form definitely wasn’t perfect…I was nervous and worn out from a very long day.

We decided that my last attempt should be 275 to tie the record. Again looking back, I wish I had taken more time to get psyched up and set for the lift before I attempted it. I think it would have made a big difference. But despite the fact that I’ve hit 275 almost every time recently when I’ve trained, I just couldn’t make it budge on Sunday.

I was super bummed. My last lift of the day and my strongest and I couldn’t hit a number that I’d just easily pulled that Monday before.

Not the way I’d wanted to end the day. But I was still proud that I’d at least managed to pull over double my bodyweight and hey…I’d made it through my first competition!

A little upset by my last lift and super worn out from the stress of the long day (it is amazingly hard to get revved up for an event then cool down only to have to get revved up two hours later to compete again!), we decided to stay for the awards ceremony just in case I won something.

I’m definitely glad we did! I ended up winning both my weight class and the Best Lifter award for the Women’s Raw Division. The Best Lifter award is a relative strength measurement. They take everyone in the raw division from every weight class and figure out who lifted the most weight in relation to their body weight.

So in the end I left proud and happy even though I still wish I’d made those two lifts.

Overall, a very successful meet. And one of the things that makes me most proud is that I did it my way. While everyone else was drinking Gatorade and eating bread and protein bars, I was eating my Primal snacks.

Although I do have to admit…I’d train a bit differently before my next competition. I would definitely create a schedule and a more consistent program than the one I did these past few months! haha

Anyway, Ryan made a video of the meet. Right now it is just on Facebook, but I’ll upload it to YouTube later today!

It was a great experience and if you are into powerlifting, I would recommend you enter at least one competition!

P.S. Sorry for the super long post…I’m just super excited!!!

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