There Are Many Ways to Skin a Cat: Squat & Deadlift Variations

By November 10, 2013 Strength Training

I’ve never understood why so many lifters love to follow gurus who preach to their students that there’s only one way to squat (or one best form that suits everyone). Pull up video clips of the 20 best squatters in the world and you’ll notice markedly different form from one lifter to the next. Louie Simmons, arguably the most successful powerlifting coach in the history of the sport, employs dozens upon dozens of types of squats with his lifters. This isn’t to say that you should change up your workout every session or jump around between different variations with no rhyme or reason. It does mean that you should experiment with bar positions, stance widths, and styles to find what’s most comfortable for you and also what transfers best to your goals.

Most excellent lifters employ a few styles of each main lift throughout the year. For example, Ed Coan, one of the most successful powerlifters of all time, liked to perform high bar squats throughout the year. Even successful raw powerlifters take advantage of variety, for example Dan Green, a freakishly strong modern powerlifter, loves his front squats.

While the vast majority of lifters can find a type of squat that suits their body well, not every body is well-suited for deep squats or wide stance squats. Furthermore, not every body is well-suited for every deadlifting variation, but with practice most lifters can find several that work well for them.

In my latest TNation article, I show 19 different squat and deadlift variations and explain why you should experiment to find which variations work best for you. Click on the link below to check it out. And if your guru doesn’t acknowledge that lifters should squat and deadlift differently depending on their anatomy and experiment to find the best variations for their training, fire him!

19 Squat & Deadlift Variations

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32 Comments

  • Magda says:

    Alex – “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
    Prov. You can always find more than one way to do something.”

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Genetics is the key to success in athletic undertakings. The old saying of “The Great athletes are the ones who picked their parents well” certainly holds true. Genetics is the factor that is also responsible for the anatomical differences that exist among each individual as certainly the training philosophy of “one size fits all” undoubtedly raises concern. Some examples of the individual’s anatomical differences for squatting and deadlifting include, but are not limited to; i.e. at the hip (i.e. coxa vara, coxa valga, and hip dysplasia), at the knee (i.e. genu varus, genu valgus, patella Alta, patella Baja, and trochlear dysplasia) and ankle (i.e. pes planus, pes cavus, etc.. ) as these anatomical differences will have an effect on an individuals ability during exercise performance. Individuals are also asymmetrical and it is these “asymmetries” that are often responsible for the success in their athletic endeavors (i.e. retroversion of the shoulder in the overhead athlete). Genetics is also responsible for the neuromuscular/physiological structure of the athlete i.e. predominately fast twitch or slow twitch, elastic abilities, etc…

    We as coaches can certainly enhance the physical qualities of an individual (i.e. strength, power, elastic/reactive abilities, speed, etc…), and based on individual differences some of these physical qualities will improve more that others. However, to accomplish this one must have the knowledge and ability to coach and not just follow the methods of those professionals considered to be the authorities in the specific field of practice. The corroboration of scientific evidence along with empirical experience = the art of coaching, as coaching is an art, and not just the ability to “copy” what someone else does.

    As former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Plans are nothing; planning is everything”. A coach must be able to adapt an athletes training when unforeseen situations arise and these events will surely occur. Whether teaching the technical aspects of an exercise performance or the development of the athletes program design, the ability to plan and make adjustments through this process vs. copy another coaches training program ensures the ability to successfully adapt to both unexpected and difficult training situations. As Mike Tyson stated “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth”. Coaching and copying are definitively two different abilities, as only one of these abilities requires “talent”.

    • Bret says:

      Awesome input Rob!!! I’d like to add body segment length ratios and also tendon insertion points to this list as together they play a large role in the strength of a lifter. Thanks as always!

  • Dawn says:

    Bret – I’m glad you shared this article on your site! I have been wondering about my own “optimal squat variation” because I REALLY have an anatomical disadvantage for squatting. I just started your Strong Curves program, which in the first 4 weeks includes a box squat at 3×5. I am 6’1″ with only a 5’9″ wingspan and a 36 inch inseam – thus very tall with very long legs, relatively short arms. I have been performing the box squat as a front squat (because I had read that back squatting is not as good if you’re tall) down to a medium box that puts my femurs just about parallel to the floor. But sadly, I can only do 3-4 reps at 65 pounds, which is less than half of my body weight (around 150). Scary! It feels just as hard, if not harder, on my back/erectors/core as it is on the quads, so I don’t even know if I’m targeting the right muscles with my chosen variation. What do you think? Should I be squatting to a higher box or using an even lighter weight?

    • Bret says:

      Dawn, seems to me like you’ve found a great variation that works for you. Stick with the 65 lbs and when you can do 3 x 10 reps, move up in weight. There are many female lifters in the same boat as you and you just have to keep plugging away at the squats while enjoying the strength of your other lifts such as deadlifts and hip thrusts.

  • Alex's #1 fan says:

    Are you drunk?

  • Dixon says:

    GREAT article… having trouble finding the right squat stance for me. . going to check out the variations. Thanks again

  • Animal Lover says:

    Alex, if someone told you that they had done something 1 million times, would you actually believe they did it one million times? If one said, “that was a piece of cake”, would you get hungry? Would you threaten, spam, beat or attack whoever said it when you found out that they didn’t have any? Maybe you have.
    Have you heard of a figure of speech, an idiom, or figurative language? Do you have any friends? Pardon me if you’re a re’tard.
    Like Bret, I couldn’t hunt either, and unlike you, Alex- I take no offence to this title. I always wondered under what rock censorship of speech/political correctness came from and now I know.
    Bret, this asshole is a dangerous psychopath. Unreal!

  • Kim says:

    Thanks for posting this Bret. Not sure but I may have a weird body for squatting. Someone told me my femurs are very long (what a compliment). When I hit parallel it feels like it’s taken me forever to get that low. I started with bodyweight squats, then a dumbbell, then a broomstick on my shoulders (no joke). Right now I do low bar. I’ve tried high bar but can’t keep my back upright enough. It’s been quite a struggle. I still practice with bodyweight holds and do lots of ankle mobility. I watched the starting strength video on squatting and was super annoyed to see those people pick up low bar squatting in like 20 minutes. Anyways, thanks for the video. I’m going to try out some new stuff.

    • Will Arias says:

      Kim, obviously it not my business but, I found very interesting your post, particularly two aspects: your long femurs and the fact that you are doing heaps of ankle mobility. I wonder if you are trying to perfect front squats technique when probably your long femurs perhamake you more suitable for wide stands, perfect for a hip drive and suitable for long limbs. So, I humbly recommend you to try more box squats which don’t require as much talocrurial mobility but rather hip flexion, wich optimize the activation of your adductor Magnus, hamstrings and glutes. Also, trying Sumo deadlifts seems to be compatible with your anthropometric profile and works beautifully the inner aspect of your tighs (VMO)…. Anyway, a coach might be able to assess and help you to perfect your technique and tailor the best squat alternative for you. It’s all about the right set up. The main thing is your positive attitude and mantain thirsty for knowledge. Just saying. Cheers. Will 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Agree with Will, keep experimenting. Wider front squats might work well for you. And maybe squats won’t ever be your favorite, but you can do them with dynamic effort and hit Bulgarian split squats and hip thrusts hard, for example. Best of luck!

  • Polina says:

    HI Bret !
    I saw the comments Alex posted here. It’s seems like he took this title thing too far. Maybe it’s a joke or bad sense of humor?
    NO offense to Alex, but why would someone think that you are trying to propagate animal abuse on a “strength and conditioing” blog. It makes no sense to me/

  • Michael T. says:

    Hi Bret,

    Like most of your readers, I come here daily because I value your forward thinking, scientific and common sense approach to health and fitness. You realized that the 3-4 sets of 6-8 squats wasn’t the end all for all bodies and that resonates with me. I’m sure I speak for so many others as well.

    Another reason we follow you so closely is to hear the additional feedback from your readers. While I support free speech, this “Alex” person is turning your comment board into the same garbage that plagues so many open forums. I recommend using your authority to moderate and delete comments that are clearly written to antagonize and insult you and your readers. Criticism, disagreement and debate is one thing, offensive and hateful speech is another.

    • Bret says:

      Michael, I thought about deleting Alex’s posts indeed. But this is a slippery slope and I wasn’t quite ready to do so. After some thought, however, in the future, I think I’ll delete comments like these. I suppose I could also edit them. I believe that I can block people too if need-be. Thanks for your insight!

      • ggs says:

        Please do Block Delete or whatever else you need to do to keep this verbally abusive person off. It figures my bad luck to choose today to share my Sunday morning ritual with my seventeen year old granddaughter catching up on your blog postings….
        Well needless to say I had some explaining to do….People can be rude, crude and ignorant and those people are best ignored or in this case BLOCKED.
        and as far as I am concerned You are the CATS MEOW….
        As always info much appreciated

  • Steve says:

    I hate cats!

  • imposterdamus@yahoo.com says:

    I’ve skinned my neighbors chat on your orders, now what?

    Capture Cat > Skin Cat > ???? > Hypertrophy!

  • Cláudia says:

    hi Bret

    I’ve gained 3kg since I began my school… i’ve trained hypertrophie but now i’ve started training in circuit mode… But, sadly i can’t loose weight… What is the better volume/reps training i must do?

    ps sorry for my bad english i’m portuguese but i’m your fan!! thank u a lot for all your help

  • Nadia says:

    Hi Bret! I just purchased your Strong Curves book yesterday and read through most of it so far. I am ready to start the Gluteal Goddess workout program (but have been doing hip thrusts, deadlifts and squats through info on this site already). I can hip thrust about 115 pounds so far as well as for deadlifts and squats. Should I start all over from bodyweight as Weeks 1-4 recommends? I’m thinking this will mess up my progress. But I also don’t have time YET to start the advanced lifters full body program. What should I do?

  • Lisa says:

    That is disgusting language to use and the C word is offensive to any women reading this page. The mark of someone unintelligent and ignorant is an inability to put across ones point without using foul language and insults.

  • Susan says:

    Time to start screening comments to keep out the psychos!
    😀

  • Monica says:

    ALEX!!!!! Youre an angry little puppy uh?! Chill out dude!!! Go lift some weights hun. And if Bret’s posts piss u off so much then dont read them and go hate somewhere else

  • Gina says:

    poor poor Alex- never got attention from his mommy…

  • shimin says:

    Alex

    You should see a psychiatrist.

  • Gerry says:

    Hey Bret, do not change anything you’re doing here. It’s obvious that poor little Alex needs attention and wants to ruin an excellent site you put together. There’s no need for you to tap dance with words when writing your articles. I see no reason to post negative articles like that. We are all here for one thing,health and fitness. So by all means, please weed out the crap! It’s a waste of all of our time. It’s actually a little depressing for your readers to wast time responding to something so trivial before we can learn something new. Please don’t let little Alex or others change the way you do things. That’s exactly what they are trying to do. Feel free to delete them all!

  • Rocky Steele says:

    I wouldn’t dignify anymore of that reprabate nose bleed’s comments. He’s mentally insignificant.

  • Steve says:

    Bret, et al., Alex is just Trolling. Ignore him and delete his posts.

    “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” – George Bernard Shaw

  • The Real Alex says:

    Brett,
    As always, great post. Thank you for sharing your knowlege. I have found your material as a great resource for me as a coach.

    @Alex a heard the lifetime channel is replying “cat on a hot tin roof” I suggest you immediately go and troll there web page and stay off this blog. The cat’s of the world are now safer thanks to your valiant trolling efforts.

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