The Anderson squat and pin squat are often used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same movement. If you’re interested in adding more squat variety to your training, you should know the differences between these two variations to determine how each one can benefit you.
So what are the differences between the Anderson squat and the pin squat? The Anderson squat starts from a dead stop. It trains the concentric, or upward, portion of the squat. The pin squat is more similar to a pause squat because you pause at the bottom of the squat with the barbell just barely touching the pins before you stand back up.
Because the Anderson squat and pin squat are similar, it’s important to understand the nuances that make each exercise unique. This will allow you to determine which one will be best for you to incorporate into your training.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- The differences between the Anderson squat and the pin squat
- The pros and cons of Anderson squats and pin squats
- How to perform Anderson squats and pin squats
- Different variations of the Anderson squat and pin squat
- Who would benefit the most from doing Anderson squats, pin squats, or both
Anderson Squat vs Pin Squat: An Overview
The Anderson squat and pin squat are two squat variations that allow you to work through various sticking points in the squat. They can also be used to help you break through strength plateaus or to add more squat volume at varying intensities, which can help you manage your fatigue levels.
The Anderson squat, sometimes called the bottom-up squat, is a squat variation in which you start at the bottom half of the squat and stand the weight up from a dead stop. It was named after Olympic weightlifter, powerlifter, and Strongman Paul Anderson, who created the movement.
While anyone who does squats can benefit from this variation, it’s a particularly useful tool for athletes in power sports such as wrestling, basketball, and soccer because it helps to develop explosive strength in the lower body.
It’s also a good movement for powerlifters who tend to fail just past parallel when standing up from a squat. The Anderson squat helps to improve glute strength, which is often the limiting factor that causes lifters to fail a squat during the lockout.
Pin squats require you to complete the full range of motion of a squat while using the safety pins in the power cage to determine how deep you need to squat. They’re a useful tool for lifters who have trouble squatting to depth.
The pin squat is also beneficial for lifters who are returning from knee or groin injuries because you control the depth to which you squat. For example, if you experience knee pain once you get below parallel, you can do pin squats just to parallel until the knee pain has resolved. (This is assuming you’re otherwise squatting with proper form.)
Anderson Squat vs Pin Squat: Pros vs Cons
Anderson Squat Pros
- You can use heavier weights. Anderson squats are often done using a partial range of motion. Instead of starting at or slightly below parallel, you may start just above parallel. As such, they’re a great way to train at supramaximal weights. This gets your body accustomed to moving heavy weight without having to go through the full range of motion of the squat.
- You eliminate the bounce out of the hole. Bouncing out of the hole makes it easier for you to stand the weight back up, but it’s a bad habit to pick up. It teaches you to rely on the stretch reflex rather than your own strength to generate more force into the bar to complete the lift.
- It can help you work through common sticking points of the squat. Although this isn’t true for all lifters, many people fail at about the halfway point of a squat. This is where the Anderson squat starts, so it can help you develop more speed to get through a difficult part of the squat.
- It develops explosive strength in the lower body. As I mentioned earlier, the Anderson squat removes the stretch reflex from the bottom of a squat. Since you have to lift a heavy weight from a dead stop, it trains your lower body to become more powerful, which is beneficial for athletes in sports such as wrestling and football.
- It has a carryover to the deadlift. The Anderson squat is excellent for strengthening the hip flexors, which are an important muscle group used in the deadlift. And because it removes the stretch reflex, it closely resembles the concentric portion of the deadlift when you first lift the weight from the floor.
Anderson Squat Cons
- You need access to a squat rack with safety pins. You may find it difficult to do an Anderson squat properly if your gym doesn’t have power cages with safety pins. You can do them on a squat rack with spotter arms, but since they tend to be shorter than safety pins, you’ll have to be more mindful of where you’re placing the bar on the descent.
- It’s tempting to want to “jerk” the bar up. There’s a difference between generating force through the bar to get it off the pins and using momentum to get the weight up. The point of an Anderson squat is to squat the weight from a dead stop. You’ll want to avoid getting underneath the bar as quickly as possible and trying to propel the weight upward. Instead, you’ll need to brace your core and create tension in your upper body before you move the weight, much like you would do for a regular squat.
Pin Squat Pros
- It teaches you how to squat to depth. Setting the pins at a height below parallel gives you something to aim for when doing squats, which can be helpful if you have trouble reaching proper depth. If you don’t touch the pins, you know you’re not getting deep enough in the squat.
- It encourages you to maintain a proper bar path. Pin squats take a lot of effort to control so you’re not just slamming the weights on the pins during every rep. This allows you to work on the correct bar path for squats because falling forward or backward can cause you to lose control, which makes it more likely that the bar will come crashing down on the pins.
- It develops proprioception. Much like pause squats, pin squats help improve your proprioception. They help make you more aware of your positioning at the bottom of the squat and can teach you how to make adjustments mid-movement if something feels off with your form. You’ll also be able to determine whether you shift to one side when you squat because one side of the bar will hit the pins before the other side does.
Pin Squat Cons
- You can lose tension once the bar hits the pins. Once you get to the point where the bar is at the pins, it’s easy to forget to maintain tension in your upper body. If this happens, your back can begin to round, which can cause herniated discs or other injuries.
- You can’t lift as much weight. When doing pin squats, you may find it more difficult to squat weights than you can easily do with other squat variations. This is because it’s more challenging to move a heavy object from a dead stop and you can’t rely on bouncing out of the hole.
Anderson Squat vs Pin Squat: Muscles Used
The Anderson squat works the following muscles:
- Hip extensors
- Spinal erectors
The quads are worked to some degree, but if you train the Anderson squat from an above-parallel position, they aren’t emphasized as much.
Instead, there will be greater demand on your hips from this position. Along with the glutes and adductors, they’ll do most of the work to help extend the hips as you lift the weight up. The hamstrings also assist with this hip extension while your core and spinal erectors work to stabilize your torso.
The pin squat works the following muscles:
- Upper back
- Spinal erectors
As with most squat variations, the quads are the primary muscle group used. They help extend the knee joint from the bottom of the movement. The glutes work simultaneously to keep the hips in a position that lets you keep your knees over your toes and to help extend the hips during the lockout. The adductors and hamstrings also play a role in hip extension.
The core, upper back, and spinal erectors all work together to maintain tension in the upper body and prevent your back from either rounding or hyperextending too much.
Anderson Squat vs Pin Squat: How to Perform
How to Do Anderson Squats?
- Set the safety pins in a squat rack to the height at which you’d like to start the movement.
- Place the barbell on the pins and load the weight.
- Using the same stance width and hand placement that you’d use for your normal squat, get under the bar.
- Keeping your upper back tight, brace your core and lift the weight up. Avoid rocking forward or backward, and don’t come up onto your toes.
- Pause at the top for a second, then slowly lower the weight back down, making sure not to slam it onto the pins.
How to Do Pin Squats?
- Set the safety pins in a squat rack to your desired height. Ideally, this would be at a level where you can squat just below parallel.
- Change the J-hooks so you can set the barbell to about armpit height and load the weight.
- Step up to the bar, place your hands on it with your desired grip width, squeeze your upper back and shoulder blades, and set the bar across your back in either the high bar or low bar position.
- Unrack the bar and take a couple of steps backward.
- Adjust your stance width.
- Brace your core.
- Squat down, making sure to bend your knees and hips at the same time.
- Keeping control of the weight, gently touch the bar to the pins. Don’t relax in the bottom position, and don’t unload the weight on the pins.
- Explode up as fast as you can.
Anderson Squat vs Pin Squat: Incorporating Variation
Anderson Squat: Variations
People like to criticize those who never squat to depth, but intentionally doing partial squats has its benefits. They utilize more of the glutes and allow you to train at heavier weights than you use with a regular squat, which can help you address issues with your lockout and build more confidence when lifting more weight.
Box squats aren’t exactly a direct comparison to Anderson squats, but they have many of the same benefits. Like the Anderson squat, the box squat allows you to train at supramaximal weights and works more of the glutes and hip extensors.
Anderson Zercher Squat
As the name implies, the Anderson Zercher squat combines the Anderson squat and the Zercher squat. By holding the bar in the crook of your elbows, it challenges your core stability and encourages you to remain upright in the squat.
The Anderson Zercher squat is also an excellent variation for those looking to increase quad hypertrophy.
Anderson Squat Programming Considerations
Anderson squats can be used as an accessory movement for squats or in place of regular squats. If you’re a powerlifter who’s looking to replace your squats completely with Anderson squats, I recommend doing so in the off-season or as far away from competition as possible.
If you wish to incorporate both regular squats and Anderson squats into your weekly schedule, I recommend doing them on different days of the week. You can do your heavy squats or competition squats during your first squat session of the week and Anderson squats during a light or technique day. This may look like:
- Squat Day 1
Back squats 3×6 @ 70%
- Squat Day 2
Anderson squats – 4×3 @ 95-101% (if you’re doing the Anderson squat from a below-parallel position, you should stick with 70-75% of your 1RM)
If you want to do both in the same session, I recommend keeping the load of the Anderson squat on the lighter side. For example:
- Squat – 4×4 @ 75-80%
- Anderson squat – 3×6 @ 70%
Pin Squat: Variations
The pause squat is just like the pin squat, except you don’t have to touch the bar to pins. You simply pause in the bottom of the squat before you begin the ascent.
Like the pin squat, the pause squat prevents you from bouncing out of the hole. It helps improve your positional awareness and allows you to correct common squat mistakes such as leaning to one side.
Pin Front Squats
Pin front squats are performed exactly the same way as pin squats except you do them with a front squat instead of a back squat. The quads are used a lot more in the front squat than the back squat, so this is a good variation for lifters with quad weaknesses.
Pin front squats are especially beneficial for Olympic weightlifters because they can help develop more power and speed out of the bottom of a clean.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to maintain control of the weight during pin squats to ensure the bar doesn’t crash onto the pins. Tempo squats require a similar amount of control because they require you to slow down the squat. They’re most frequently performed by slowing down the eccentric, or downward, portion of the squat.
You’ll usually see them programmed in a series of four numbers such as 3310. This means you would spend three seconds on the descent, pause for three seconds at the bottom, stand the weight back up in one second, and not pause at the top before your next rep.
Pin Squat Programming Considerations
Like Anderson squats, pin squats can be used either as a supplementary exercise or in place of your back squats. But because the pin squat is more challenging since you’re moving through the full range of motion with a pause at the bottom, it’s best to do them with moderate reps and weights.
If you’re replacing squats completely with pin squats, you may wish to program them as such:
- 3×5 @ 70% of your squat 1RM
- 4×3 @ 80% of your squat 1RM
Alternatively, you can do squats and pin squats in the same week, with heavy back squats in one session and light pin squats in a second session. This may look like:
- Squat Day 1
Back squats – 4×3 @ 80%
- Squat Day 2
Pin squats – 3×6 @ 65-70%
Which Exercise Is Best for You?
When To Use The Anderson Squat?
- You participate in another sport that requires explosive power in the lower body, such as football or wrestling.
- You have a weak squat lockout or you’re weak off the floor in the deadlift.
- You’re trying to gain more confidence when squatting heavier weights.
- You need to improve your glute and hip strength.
When To Use The Pin Squat?
- You need to improve your squat depth.
- You’re coming back from a knee or groin injury.
- You’re trying to improve your squat technique.
When To Use Both?
- You’re in the offseason from powerlifting.
- You want to increase your squat volume without training the competition squat multiple days per week.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Start A Squat From The Bottom?
You can start a squat from the bottom by doing an Anderson squat. It requires you to set the safety pins in a squat rack to just below or just above parallel. Starting the squat from these positions teaches you how to be more powerful out of the hole or how to grind through the top of the squat to complete the lockout.
Are Pin Squats Harder Than Normal Squats?
Pin squats are harder than regular squats because you’re bringing the weight to a dead stop before you stand it up again. Many lifters also find pin squats harder than pause squats. Because of the greater technical demands of the pin squat, you’ll likely use much less weight than your regular squat.
The Anderson squat and the pin squat are both effective squat variations that can help you work through different sticking points in the squat. The Anderson squat can help you improve your squat lockout while also getting you more comfortable with squatting heavier weights. The pin squat is ideal for addressing weaknesses coming out of the hole.
In training, either squat variation can be used in place of the back squat or as a supplemental exercise performed after your main lifts. When deciding which one to prioritize, you’ll need to consider where you are in your current training block and what weaknesses you need to overcome.
Other Exercise Comparisons
- Box Squat vs Back Squat: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Step Ups vs Squats: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Sumo Deadlift vs Back Squat: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Eccentric vs Concentric Squat: What’s The Difference?
- Olympic Squat vs Powerlifting Squat: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Leg Press vs Squat: You Don’t NEED To Do Both
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.