3 Squat Variations for Toned Legs

The simple squat is a great all-around toning and strengthening exercise. Try mixing up your squats with these forms.

Cute women doing some squats

If you have time for only one lower-body exercise, squats should be it. They strengthen your quadriceps (thighs), hamstrings, and glutes (butt), giving you a firm foundation and a toned, great-looking lower half. What's more, they are easy to do and require no fancy equipment—just a little bit of know-how.

To start, you need to know basic squat form. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Your toes can be pointing forward or slightly outward. Bend your knees and push your hips back as if you were sitting on a low stool. Keep your back straight with your chest and chin up. You can extend your arms out in front of you or pull your hands in toward your chest. Try to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor. If you can't go that far, that's ok. Keep your weight in your heels for stability and don't let your knees extend forward past your toes. Pause at your lowest point, then push yourself back up to standing position, driving through your heels and bringing your pelvis forward as you come back to standing position. That's one repetition. You'll typically want to do sets of 10 reps. Three sets gives you a solid workout for starters.  

If you're ready to go beyond the basics try these three variations on the theme:

Dumbbell squats

To do these squats, hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms by your sides. (You can also do what's called a goblet squat by holding one dumbell with both hands close to your chest.) Perform a basic squat, keeping your arms straight (don't lock those elbows!) and chest up. Repeat.

The added weight of the dumbbells helps strengthen your legs and backside even more while also engaging your core muscles.

Jump squats

Perform a basic squat, but as you rise to come back to standing, jump in the air, raising your arms overhead. Land softly, bending your knees to lower back into a squat position. Repeat. 

These are a terrific way to add some calorie-blasting cardio to an already great exercise.

Speed squats

Looking for a way to increase your agility? Look no further. To perform these, simply do quick repetitions of the basic squat. For an added challenge, place a barbell across your shoulders. These squats are also ideal for athletes who want to improve their reaction time.

When doing squats, remember to watch your form to avoid injury. If you can, do your squats in front of a mirror until you get the hang of it. If you have pain in your knees when you do squats, stop doing them and reach out to speak to a healthcare provider.

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