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The Cossack Squat is used as a single-leg exercise to build strength in the glute medius (upper side part of the glute) and quad muscles. It is also an effective exercise when used as a warm-up for squats or to build flexibility in your hips and ankles.
However, there are several reasons why you might need an alternative to the Cossack squat, including you want to isolate one part of your lower body more than another, you find the movement awkward (a common complaint), it causes pain, or you’re simply looking to add more variation to your workout.
The 9 best Cossack squat alternatives are:
These Cossack squat alternatives include barbell, dumbbell, machine, banded, and bodyweight variations. In this article, I’ll expand on each of these alternatives and provide you with reasons why you should do one over another based on your preferences and goals.
Interested in learning more about the difference between the Cossack Squat and Lateral Lunge? Read my article on the Cossack Squat vs Lateral Lunge: Pros, Cons, Differences.
What Makes An Effective Cossack Squat Alternative?
An effective Cossack squat substitute needs to (1) target similar muscle groups to the Cossack squat and (2) involve some single-leg aspect.
Muscles Used In The Cossack Squat
The muscles used in the Cossack squat are:
• Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
• Obliques (side abs)
The glute medius (upper side part of the glute) and quad muscles are the prime movers in the Cossack squat, which assist in taking your leg laterally to the body and bending your knee into a deep squat position.
The other muscle groups listed are used as stabilizers in order to prevent your torso from twisting, to maintain an upright posture, and to keep your balance.
Takeaway: An effective Cossack squat alternative needs to primarily target the glute medius and quad muscles.
If you can't feel your glutes while lunging, then check out my article on Can't Feel Your Glutes In The Lunge? Try These 6 Tips.
Cossack Squat: Single-Leg Variation
The Cossack squat is a unilateral exercise, which means that it targets your right and left leg independently.
This is a benefit because you can build muscle and strength evenly without compensating with your stronger side. Unilateral exercises help you become more resistant to injury, improve balance, and increase your overall technique and movement pattern.
Takeaway: Most effective Cossack squat alternatives should be a single leg variation in order to target the same level of motor control, balance, and stability.
9 Cossack Squat Alternatives
The following list will detail the best Cossack squat alternatives.
1. TRX-Assisted Cossack Squat
The TRX-assisted Cossack squat is a slight variation on the body weight or dumbbell Cossack squat that uses a TRX strap.
If you struggle with your balance during the Cossack squat then the TRX-Assisted Cossack Squat would be a good alternative because you can use your arms to help you stabilize the movement.
The TRX-assisted Cossack squat uses the exact same movement pattern as the Cossack squat, so the same muscle groups would be targetted. However, if you lack the mobility or get pain hip/knee pain during the Cossack squat, then you would likely still experience these issues in this variation.
As well, some people may not have access to a TRX strap.
How To Do It
• Hold onto the TRX handles with your arms extended straight in front of you
• Take a wider than shoulder-width stance and move your body to one side
• Squat to the side, like a Cossack squat, using your arms to help you balance
• When pushing to stand up, you can pull the handles to help assist with strength
• Complete equal reps on both the right and left side
If you don't have access to a TRX strap, then check out my Top 5 TRX Alternatives.
I would use the TRX-assisted Cossack squat as a way to progress lifters to the full Cossack squat. Once you gain confidence and strength using the TRX, you can try the Cossack squat unassisted with only your bodyweight.
2. Lateral Side Lunge
The lateral side lunge is a Cossack squat alternative that targets the glute medius (upper side part of glute) in an almost identical way to the Cossack squat.
In a Cossack squat, you would assume a wider than shoulder-width stance and move your body laterally without moving your feet as you cycle through reps. However, in a lateral side lunge, you would step your feet out to the side and then back together in between each rep.
Another main difference is that you typically don’t go as low in the lateral side lunge as you would in the Cossack squat. The hips generally don’t drop below parallel. Therefore, if you struggle with mobility, then the lateral side lunge would be an excellent alternative to the Cossack squat.
How To Do It
• Stand with your feet together
• Take one foot and move it out to the side while simultaneous squatting down
• Bend into the knees and hips until the thighs are parallel to the floor
• The torso can assume a slight forward lean so long as the back remains neutral
• Drive into your foot to stand back up and return your feet together
• Perform equal reps on your right and left side
For more advanced variations of the lateral side lunge, you can hold dumbbells in each hand or place a barbell on your back. I would also teach the lateral side lunge to lifters before progressing to the Cossack squat. If the lateral side lunge can be mastered, the Cossack squat is an easy transition.
3. Lateral Box Step Up
The lateral box step-up is a slight variation on the classic ‘step-up’, which will target similar muscles as the Cossack squat. Thus, making it a good replacement to the Cossack squat.
In the classic step up you stand in front of the box and drive your knee up and forward to initiate the movement.
However, in the lateral box step-up you will stand with the box to either your right or left side. This will force you to not only bring your knee up, but also to swing your leg laterally, which is similar to a Cossack squat.
The box height should be somewhere around mid-shin height, but not exceeding knee height.
How To Do It
• Stand next to a box so that it’s lateral to either your right or left side
• Pick up your foot driving your knee toward the roof
• Swing your leg to the side, externally rotating your hip to place the foot on the box
• Drive through your leg to stand fully onto the box
• Return to the floor and complete an equal number of reps on both sides
The box doesn’t need to be placed far away from the body to have a similar effect as the Cossack squat. In fact, the box should be right next to your calf/shin as you initiate the movement.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
If moving the leg lateral to the body feels uncomfortable, then the Bulgarian Split squat is an effective Cossack squat alternative as the legs are split forward and back vs side-to-side.
The Bulgarian split squat has one leg in front of the other, with the back foot elevated on a small box or bench. This position requires less external hip rotation compared with the Cossack squat.
Since the Bulgarian split squat lacks any lateral movement of the leg, you won’t get as much glute medius activation (upper side part of glute) as seen in the Cossack squat. However, you’ll get a lot more glute maximus activation (the muscles you sit on).
As well, the Bulgarian split squat fills the criteria of being a unilateral exercise, so you can get the same balance, stability, and motor control that you’d see in the Cossack squat.
How To Do It
• Take a split stance with the front leg on the ground, and the back leg raised on a bench
• Bend your front and back leg, keeping the shin of your front leg vertical
• The torso should remain upright as you squat into the bottom position
• Push through your front foot to stand back up
• Perform equal reps on both sides
If you are off-balance during this movement then use the squat cue of ‘clawing the ground with your feet’. Start by actively curling your toes into the ground, and then draw your attention to your big-toe, pinky toe, and heel. These points of contact will help you find your balance.
Check out this related article: 9 Best Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative
5. Single-Legged Leg Press
The leg press can be used as a substitute for the Cossack squat so long as you perform it as a single leg variation.
There are several types of leg press machines that you can choose from. For the sake of finding a Cossack squat alternative, it doesn’t really matter so much which leg press machine you pick. The important part is that you perform it as a unilateral exercise.
The single-legged leg press will be effective at training the muscles of the lower body; however, because it’s not a free-weight exercise, you won’t have the same level of stability, balance, and motor control requirements that you would get in the Cossack squat.
However, some people simply prefer machine-based exercises, and if that’s you, feel free to use the single-legged leg press as a Cossack squat alternative.
How To Do It
• Assume the seated position in the leg press machine
• Place one leg on the footpad with the other leg on the floor in a passive position
• Using one leg, take the leg press machine through a full range of motion
• Maintain constant tension on the muscle the entire time by using a controlled tempo
• Perform equal reps on both sides
I would use this exercise sparingly as a substitute for the Cossack squat, mostly because there are better alternatives that you can do. You could put it in your training program for 4-6 weeks, but afterward, I would replace it with an exercise that uses free weights vs machines (i.e. Bulgarian split squat, lateral box step-up, etc.)
6. Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift is a Cossack squat alternative that allows you to lift substantially more weight comparatively. As such, you can use the sumo deadlift to build max strength more effectively than the Cossack squat.
The sumo deadlift assumes a wider than shoulder-width stance, which would be a similar stance that you would do in the Cossack squat. Therefore, many of the same muscles are involved, including the glute medius and quads. You also get more low and mid-back activation in the sumo deadlift that you wouldn’t get in the Cossack squat.
The only drawback of the sumo deadlift if you’re using it as a Cossack squat alternative is that it’s not a unilateral exercise. Both legs are working at the same time rather than independently. As such, I would incorporate some single-leg movement following the sumo deadlift.
How To Do It
• Take a wider than shoulder-width stance
• Hinge forward at the hips and grab the barbell directly under your shoulders
• Bring your hips down so that your shoulders are directly in line with the barbell and the shins are vertical
• Initiate the movement by ‘pushing’ the floor with your legs
• Keep the barbell on your shins and thighs throughout the entire lift
• Lock your hips and knees simultaneously
• Return the barbell to the floor and repeat
The sumo deadlift is the only deadlift variation I would recommend as a Cossack squat alternative because it uses a wide stance.
Without this attribute, the deadlift would target the posterior chain to a greater extent compared with the Cossack squat and wouldn’t be effective at using similar muscle groups. That combined with the fact that it’s not a unilateral exercise makes it less comparable to the Cossack squat.
7. X-Band Walks
The X-band walk is the only banded alternative to the Cossack squat on this list. If you lack access to extensive gym equipment, then the x-band walk can be effective at targeting similar muscle groups to the Cossack squat.
The x-band walk is also called the “mummy walk” or “lateral band walk”. As you step to the side, you will engage your glute medius, which is a primary muscle group in the Cossack squat.
It’s important that when you do the x-band walk that you keep your feet pointed forward as you’re stepping sideways. If you start to rotate your foot outward, then you’ll use more of the front part of your hip vs glutes to bring your leg laterally to the body.
You can choose a resistance band suited to your desired tension. Thicker banks will provide more resistance. I like to use the bands from WOD Nation (click or today’s price on Amazon).
How To Do It
• Place a band underneath your feet and cross the band in front of you (making an X)
• Point your toes forward and assume a slight bent-knee position
• Step your feet laterally to the side, walking sideways
• Perform the prescribed number of reps in one direction, then switch
While the X-band squat does an effective job at targeting the glute medius, the quads are less activated, which is a primary muscle group in the Cossack squat.
As such, to make the X-band squat more specific to the Cossack squat, you can perform the lateral steps while assuming a half-squat position. So instead of just a slight bend in the knee, bend your knees further to try to bring the hips lower to the ground.
8. Side-Lying Dumbbell Clamshell
The side-lying dumbbell clamshell is one of the best exercises to target the glute medius, which is a primary muscle group in the Cossack squat. As such, you can use the side-lying dumbbell clamshell as a Cossack squat alternative.
The side-lying dumbbell clamshell is performed lying sideways on the floor with your knees bent at 90-degrees. The goal is to keep your feet stacked on top of each other throughout the movement while lifting your knees apart. A dumbbell can be placed on top of the top leg to add resistance.
The only downside to the side-lying dumbbell clamshell, when used as a Cossack squat alternative, is that there is virtually no quad activation. As such, you should pair the side-lying dumbbell clamshell with another quad-focused exercise, like goblet squats, front squats, or leg press.
How To Do It
• Lie on your side with the legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle
• Rest your head on your lower arm and use your top arm to support your frame
• Squeeze your core in order to stabilize your pelvis and spine
• Pressing into your feet, and using the glute of the top leg, lift your knees apart
• Perform equal reps on both sides
There are several variations of the clamshell, which include using a band (instead of a dumbbell) for resistance, performing the movement while holding a side plank position, and performing the movement with the legs straight vs legs bent.
Experiment with each of these variations to find the optimal level of difficulty and glute activation.
9. Cable Hip Abduction
The cable hip abduction is the only cable alternative to the Cossack squat on this list. It is another go-to exercise for targeting the glute medius, which is a primary muscle in the Cossack squat.
With an ankle strap attached to your ankle, you will face sideways to the cable machine and lift your leg laterally.
You want to keep your toe slightly internally rotated as you lift your leg sideways so that you get the maximum contraction with your glute medius.
Much like some of the other exercises, the cable hip abduction lacks the quad activation you’d see in the Cossack squat. Therefore, I would pair this exercise with another quad-focused exercise.
How To Do It
• Stand tall with one shoulder next to the cable machine
• Strap an ankle attachment around the ankle that’s farthest from the cables
• Raise the weighted leg out laterally as high as possible
• Pause and then reverse the range of motion back to the starting position
• Feel free to hold the cable machine for balance with your hand
Many people using the cable hip abduction as a Cossack squat alternative will laterally lift their leg away from the cable machine, and then place the foot on the floor and come into a squat before reversing the range of motion back to the starting position. This would be more similar to the Cossack squat as it will target the quad muscles to a greater extent.
A good Cossack squat alternative either mimics a similar movement pattern as the Cossack squat or engages similar muscle groups, such as the glute medius or quads. Many of the Cossack squat alternatives discussed in this article are exercises that you can also perform in conjunction with a solid lower body workout.
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