One of many squat variations out there is the bowler squat. As you compare it to other squat variations, you may wonder what it’s good for and whether or not you should do it, and it’s a fair question!
What is a bowler squat? The bowler squat is a single-leg squat variation most commonly performed by standing on one leg and squatting while leaning forward to touch your grounded foot with the opposite hand and returning to a standing position. It can be used to train balance and coordination in the lower half of your body.
This squat variation has a few quirks to it compared to other squat variations, so let’s dig into the details together.
Bowler Squat Muscles Worked
The bowler squat doesn’t quite use the same muscles as a standard squat. The term bowler squat is actually a bit of a misnomer, in my opinion, as it’s more of a hip hinge exercise than a squat and relies on more hip motion than knee motion.
Because the bowler squat emphasizes the hip hinge, this variation puts more emphasis on the erector spinae (a group of muscles that bend and straighten the back) and glutes. But it still incorporates the quads, adductors (inner thighs), calves, and all your feet and ankle muscles to maintain your balance.
Although the quads and glutes are still somewhat used, this is not a quad-dominant or glute-dominant variation like most squat variations out there.
How To Do a Bowler Squat
The steps to perform a bowler squat are simple:
Step 1: Stand on one leg
Stand on one leg in such a way that you can maintain your balance.
Step 2: Bend your standing leg at the knee
Squat downward by bending your standing leg at the knee.
Step 3: Reach for your standing foot with your opposite hand
While squatting downward by bending your knee, reach for your toe on your standing leg with the opposite arm so that you are reaching across your body.
Step 4: Extend your free leg behind you
Balance yourself by using your free leg to counter your weight behind you. The weight of your arm reaching in front of you and your leg extended behind you will help you stay balanced.
Step 5: Return to a standing position
Without putting your free foot on the ground, return to a standing position and repeat while standing on one leg.
Step 6: Repeat for as many reps as the program requires and switch legs
Once you’ve performed the necessary reps with a single leg, switch to the other leg.
Want to improve your squat technique?
Benefits of the Bowler Squat
The bowler squat offers two main benefits:
1. It Can Reveal Imbalances
Because this is a unilateral, or single-leg, variation, you can compare your form/progress on each leg to identify imbalances in your body. For example, you might find you are able to perform more reps with your left leg over your right leg or that you have better mobility on one side than the other.
This is generally true with any unilateral or single-leg/single-arm exercise. Most information you find online about the bowler squat is circulating through physical therapist circles, as it’s commonly used by these groups to identify imbalances in the first place.
2. It Can Train Coordination and Balance
Let’s be honest, you can’t add much weight to a variation like the bowler squat, so it’s not a great exercise for building significant muscle and strength. It can, however, be a great tool to train coordination and balance.
As you perform a few reps of a bowler squat (or watch a video of one being performed), it’s instantly clear that most folks will need to focus and practice to do it right because of the need for balance and coordination.
While other squat variations can be performed with very little skill, focus, or coordination, the bowler squat stands out as a great option to help uncoordinated or unbalanced lifters develop these very necessary skills for general athleticism and health.
If you find that you lose your balance when doing squats, check out Losing Balance When Squatting: 10 Tips To Fix.
Drawbacks of the Bowler Squat
There are some pretty major limitations to the bowler squat compared with other squat variations:
1. Limited Progression Options
An exercise is only good so long as you can progress it and keep it challenging. With the bowler squat, a lifter could master it in a short amount of time using body weight alone. While you can perform this with a dumbbell in hand, this is not the intent or best use of the bowler squat, so you can’t really progress it.
Because we can’t progress it, once you get the hang of it, that’s pretty much the extent of what you can do with it. You can continue to use it as a warm-up to keep your balance and coordination sharp, but nobody will ever develop visibly larger or measurably stronger muscles from relying on the bowler squat.
2. It’s Only Good For Training One Thing
Think of the bowler squat as a very specific tool for training balance and coordination in the lower half, and that’s about it.
Some physical therapists somewhere at some time might see a specific patient that needs to build some elementary strength where they can use this exercise.
But chances are a lifter who is that weak and that green would be way better off doing a simpler, more robust squat variation long before we throw in the complication of doing it while standing on one foot.
Once you are balanced and coordinated enough to do this squat variation, it’s time to move on to other things that can actually introduce a significant load that you can progress. This is true whether your goals are to lift for strength, appearance/size, or general health.
For a list of exercises that I recommend for beginner lifters who are learning the squat, check out these 11 squat progressions.
Bowler Squat Mistakes to Avoid
If you feel like bowler squats need to be part of your regimen, be sure to avoid the following mistakes:
Not Using Quality Technique
The whole point of this exercise is to train balance and coordination. If you aren’t going to do them right, don’t do them at all. Form and technique are key to reaching these outcomes.
An exercise will only get you where you want to go if you’re doing it right, so take the time to learn the form. Record and review videos of yourself doing it, or have a gym buddy watch and comment on how you can improve.
Relying on Them Alone
The bowler squat is an accessory movement to other squat movements. Be sure to use bowler squats only as a supplement to a more robust squatting plan.
This doesn’t need to be complicated, but your workouts should include some version of a full squat with a decent load.
If you fool yourself into thinking these bowler squats will give you all the benefits of a full squat to the point that you only need to do bowler squats, you’re making a big mistake and missing out on all the benefits you think you’re going to get.
Who Should Do a Bowler Squat?
Ultimately, I think there are just 2 kinds of lifters who should do bowler squats:
I can’t say it enough – this lift is designed for one thing: training balance and coordination.
If you find yourself unbalanced and uncoordinated, bowler squats can be a great solution to building those skills in yourself. There’s no need to throw your hands in the air and say “this is just the way I am.” You can take matters into your own hands, put in the work, and develop the balance and coordination you need.
With that foundation, you’ll be prepared for the next set of physical challenges you face as you get deeper into your lifting journey.
Lifters Who Need An Extended Warm-Up
Bowler squats may not be part of your main program, but they can absolutely be a great warm-up that everyone can incorporate.
The real growth and benefits will come from doing full compound movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, like a standard squat, or a variation of the squat that is much closer to the real thing. But we can get ourselves prepared to do that work and get those benefits by doing bowler squats as part of our warm-ups.
Even at my stage, where I’d call myself a high-intermediate powerlifter, I’m not great with single-leg balance and coordination. I’d never throw out my other squat work for bowler squats in a trade straight across, but I can absolutely be better about doing this kind of work in my warm-ups.
The same may be true for you, so if you warm up before you lift (and you should), this can be a great option for you.
Learn more about how to effectively warm up for squats.
How To Program a Bowler Squat
As we already established, the bowler squat is an accessory movement and should not be a primary squatting exercise in your program. For that reason, you should program it as a warm-up in most cases. In rare cases, you can program it to specifically train balance and coordination.
If you do need to train balance and coordination, give the bowler squat its due attention and put it in your program for 3-4 weeks. This exercise will not be particularly taxing to most lifters, so you can do it with every lower body workout in the week.
If you need to progress it further, add a dumbbell to your reaching hand and increase the total reps, sets, or the weight of the dumbbell week over week to keep it challenging.
If you’re using the bowler squat as a warmup, you shouldn’t have to worry about progressing it week over week and instead just focus on doing the movement well.
3 Alternatives to the Bowler Squat
If you like the idea of single-leg squat variations or training for balance but want more variety, check out a few alternatives to the bowler squat:
- Pistol Squats
- Seated Pistol Squat
- Single-Leg Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlift
Pistol squats are another single-leg, unilateral squat variation you can use to train balance and coordination. But they are actually a squat variation rather than the hip hinge focus that is the bowler squat.
Pistol squats can be used to develop balance and can be progressed over time to get you stronger. It’s another of many squat variations that can help you focus on balance and coordination in your lower half.
If pistol squats are too challenging for you, try one of these pistol squat alternatives instead.
Seated Pistol Squats
Personally, I prefer seated pistol squats over the standard version just as a matter of personal taste. Instead of standing free on one foot and squatting all the way to the ground, you can lower yourself to a bench, box, or other seat and stand back up in the seated variation.
I like this version because I can perform them after heavy squats and leg work with fatigued quads and still do them with good form. With the seat below me, I don’t have to rely on my balance as much to target the muscles I need to.
That makes these a great option for folks wanting more of a true squat variation than the bowler squat, but who also aren’t quite balanced or coordinated enough (or have fresh enough quad muscles) to do a full pistol squat.
Use these as a stepping stone to being able to do a full pistol squat, if you need it.
Single-Leg Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlift
Since the bowler squat is more of a hip hinge than a squat, an alternative is the single-leg dumbbell stiff-leg deadlift.
These look just like normal stiff-leg deadlifts, but with a dumbbell in each hand and standing on one leg. You can let your free leg travel back extended, like in the bowler squat, or leave it tucked next to your standing leg a few inches above the ground.
Be sure to avoid bending your knee beyond your starting position so that you can put all the emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes and not on your quads.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Bowler Squats Effective?
Bowler squats are effective for training balance and coordination. Because they have a limited capacity to add load, they aren’t a great option for building muscle mass or strength. They are often used in physical therapy to identify patients’ imbalances and as a warm-up or accessory for other squatting exercises.
Other Squat Exercise Guides
- Lumberjack Squat: What Is It, How To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Frog Squat: What Is It, How-To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Steinborn Squat: Does This “Circus Like” Squat Have Benefits?
- Kneeling Squat: What Is It, How To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Anderson Squat: What Is It, How To Do It, Benefits, Drawbacks
- Tabata Squats: How-To, Common Mistakes, & Workout Sample
- Isometric Squat: How-To, Benefits, & Should You Do It?
- High Box Squat: 5 Reasons Why It Makes Sense
- Hatfield Squat: What Is It? Technique, Benefits, Muscles Used
- 1.5 Squats: How-to, Benefits, And Should You Do It?
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.