Jefferson Squat: How-To, Benefits, Should You Do It?

The Jefferson squat is one of the most odd-looking lower body exercises that you can do in the gym.  It requires you to straddle the barbell in a split stance, and then lift it up between your legs while you try to prevent your torso from twisting.  

So what is the Jefferson squat?  The Jefferson squat requires you to squat the barbell on a multiplanar surface, which increases the stability and core strength demands compared with movements like the back squat or front squat. The Jefferson squat also challenges your coordination and can be used to build lower body hypertrophy.

While there are some significant benefits to the Jefferson squat, which I’ll explain later, my general recommendation is that most people should not perform the Jefferson squat.  This is because you can get some of the same benefits with other exercises without those movements being awkward to set up or having a high learning curve. More on this later.  

What Is The Jefferson Squat? 

Jefferson squat is one of the most odd-looking lower body exercises that which increases the stability and core strength demands
Jefferson Squat: Exercise Guide

Unlike a traditional squat where the bar is on your back, the Jefferson squat starts with the barbell on the floor with your knees bent into a squat position.  

The Jefferson squat was invented by an old-school Strongman athlete named Charles Jefferson (1863-1911).  

This is an important context to understand when determining whether or not you should do the Jefferson squat.  

While the Jefferson squat is now used in many strength training programs, from powerlifting to sport performance, the original usage was to get Strongman athletes stronger for their competitions.  

In a Strongman competition, athletes are required to do several ‘odd lifts’ that are unique to its sports, such as: lifting atlas stones, tire flipping, axle pressing, and keg tossing.  

These events are hard to train for using traditional lifting techniques and exercises, and so if you’ve ever walked into a Strongman gym, you’ll notice these athletes always moving implements and weights in various non-traditional ranges of motions.  

You can consider the Jefferson squat one of these ‘non traditional’ ranges of motion, where it will likely have a high transfer effect to one of the Strongman events I mentioned earlier.  

However, if you’re going to use the Jefferson squat outside of Strongman training, then I would be very intentional on the reasons why you are choosing that exercise over another.  It is my belief that any exercise you pick for strength training needs to directly relate to the outcome you’re trying to achieve. 

I will explain the benefits and reasons why you might want to do the Jefferson squat in just a moment, but let’s first get a quick overview of the muscles worked. 

Another Strongman movement is called the Zercher Squat. Check out my complete guide to see the benefits.

Jefferson Squat: Muscles Worked

The muscles used in the Jefferson squat are the: 

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Obliques
  • Multifidus
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Lats 

The Jefferson squat uses much of the same musculature that you would see in the deadlift

However, there is a larger focus on the quads and core, specifically the obliques and multifidus.  

The obliques are the side part of your abs, which are responsible for rotating the trunk (twisting) or helping to flex laterally (like bending to the side).  

The multifidus is a deep spinal muscle that runs along the vertebrae and plays an important role in stabilizing the joints within the spine.

At this point, there is no scientific study comparing the muscular activation of the Jefferson squat with other exercises.  

But, the reason why the obliques and multifidus are presumed to work harder in the Jefferson squat is that it is an anti-rotational movement.  

An anti-rotational movement is an exercise where the load in relation to the body will create a tendency for the body to rotate, but the lifter’s job is to prevent the twisting from occurring.  

In other anti-rotational exercises such as the Pallof Press and Anti-Rotational Cable Chop, the deep core muscles of the obliques and multifidus are highly activated.  

7 Benefits Of The Jefferson Squat

7 main reasons why you would perform the Jefferson squat

Let’s now discuss the main reasons why you would perform the Jefferson squat.  

Keep in mind, while there are significant benefits, I will still argue that most people should not perform the Jefferson squat, which I’ll explain later.  

The benefits of the Jefferson squat are:  

  • It’s a low-back friendly exercise
  • It will build adductor strength
  • It is a multi-planar movement 
  • It is an anti-rotational exercise
  • It will require a high degree of core stability
  • If can build leg hypertrophy
  • It can add variation to your exercise program

1.  Jefferson Squat Is A Low Back-Friendly Exercise

jefferson squat is a low back-friendly exercise

The Jefferson squat does not place a barbell on the back.  Therefore, there is no spinal compression that occurs through the axial loading of the spine. 

This can be beneficial for those lifters who need to decrease spinal loading either because of a prior training injury or the need to increase recovery for the back.  

As well, any time an exercise keeps the load in line with the center of mass there is going to be less stress on the back.  

The centre of mass is directly under the body, which is where the barbell will travel throughout the Jefferson deadlift.  

This is in contrast to an exercise like the sumo or conventional deadlift, which places the load in front of the centre of mass.  

Also, if you get elbow pain while low bar squatting, the Jefferson squat may be a good alternative that allows you to continue to train your lower body without giving you arm pain.

2.  Jefferson Squat Will Build Adductor Strength

The Jefferson squat can build hip adductor strength, which are the muscles located on the inner thigh.  

This is important for lifters who constantly get groin tweaks or tears due to their sport requirements, such as running or dynamically changing directions.  

As well, muscles like the adductor magnus, a muscle of the inner thigh that is located closer to the hamstring, has an important role in hip extension. Hip extension is when you drive the hips up and forward, which is the necessary movement for skills like jumping. 

3.  Jefferson Squat Is A Multi-Planar Movement Pattern

The Jefferson squat requires you to lift the barbell on an uneven plane.  In other words, you are in a split stance, which limits your ability to compensate with one leg that may be stronger. 

The term ‘multi-planar’ simply refers to your stance not being on one plane, i.e. not having your feet side by side as you would see in a squat, deadlift, or leg press.  

The benefits of multi-planar exercises include becoming more resistant to injury, improving balance, and training slightly different muscles for each leg.  

4.  Jefferson Squat Is An Anti-Rotational Exercise

The Jefferson squat is an anti-rotational exercise that requires you to stabilize your core so that you prevent any twisting of your torso while lifting.  

As mentioned earlier, anti-rotational exercises allow you to target deep core muscle, such as the obliques and multifidus, which help protect the spine. 

Other benefits of anti-rotational exercises include making other exercises more effective.  

This is because as you perform anti-rotational exercises, your brain becomes more efficient at connecting with your core muscles.  Your core muscles will increase your ability to transfer force to an external load. 

In addition, anti-rotational exercises can greatly improve the ability for athletes to accelerate, decelerate, or change directions quickly.  

5.  Jefferson Squat Requires A High Degree of Core Stability

jefferson squat requires a high degree of core stability

The Jefferson squat works an important core muscle: the spinal erectors.  The spinal erectors are responsible for preventing the spine from rounding, which is an important function to improve posture.  

Most people view the ‘core muscles’ as the traditional six-pack, which are the muscles on the front part of the stomach. 

However, it’s core muscles like the spinal erectors that run along the spine, that help you stay upright in exercises like the squat and deadlift.  If you don’t have strong spinal erectors, you will fail to extend your back in certain positions.  

You may be interested in reading my article on Do Squats Work The Core? (Research From 5 Studies)

6.  Jefferson Squat Can Build Leg Hypertrophy

The Jefferson squat can increase total lower body hypertrophy, as it is a compound exercise targeting multiple muscle groups at once. 

Gaining muscle mass in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, will allow you to generate greater levels of force when lifting heavier loads in the gym.  

Studies have shown that there are no significant differences in isolation vs compound exercises in building muscle.  

However, if you were short on time in the gym and could only perform a few exercises, you would want to stick to compound exercises like the Jefferson squat that work more than one muscle group at the same time. 

7.  Jefferson Squat Can Add Variation To Your Program

The Jefferson squat is an exercise that takes elements of the squat, deadlift, and lunge, and puts it together in a single movement.  

Adding exercise variation into your training program can provide a new stimulus for the body to adapt.  

If you train the same exercises week-in, and week-out, for a long time, you will begin to stall on your strength progressions.  

At this point, switching up your exercises will create a new set of progressions for you to work through.  

Notwithstanding, training new exercises helps keep you motivated as you will continue to see your numbers go up over the course of the training cycle.  

How To Do The Jefferson Squat

Now that you know the reasons why people do the Jefferson squat, let’s discuss the proper technique.  

To start, I advise you to use a load that is light in order to master the technique.  

This is an exercise that won’t feel natural at first, so you may need several weeks to get used to the movement pattern before you increase the load significantly.  

Each person may look slightly different in how far their feet are spaced apart and the angle of their feet.  This will be based on someone’s individual mobility and limb lengths.  

Jefferson Squat Set-Up:

  • Take a split stance over the barbell
  • The front foot should point forward, the back foot should be angled around 90-degrees based on your personal preference
  • At this point, you will feel like your torso is turning slightly to the side
  • Resist the temptation to twist your torso by rotating it back to centre so that your shoulders are squarely forward
  • Grip the barbell at about shoulder-width distance
  • Ensure as you bend over to grab the barbell that your feet don’t move or lift from the floor
  • Take a breath, brace your core, stand up with the weight by pushing through the mid-foot, and avoid any twisting of the torso
  • Reverse the movement to the start position
  • Complete the prescribed number of reps on one side, then switch your foot position and perform the same number of reps on the opposite side

3 Common Mistakes When Doing Jefferson Squats

There are a few mistakes that you should watch for when setting up the Jefferson Squat. 

1.  Back Foot Doesn’t Stay Flat

back foot doesn’t stay flat

When you bend over to pick up the barbell, if you lack hip and ankle mobility, your back heel will want to raise from the floor.  

If it does, this will cause an unsteady surface to lift the barbell, placing more stress on the front leg versus back leg.  

In addition to improving your hip and ankle mobility, you can try taking a longer stride with your legs and turning your back feet more sideways.  

2.  Torso Doesn’t Stay Square 

as fatigue while doing the jefferson squat there may be a tendency for body to start twisting sideways

As you fatigue while doing the Jefferson squat there may be a tendency for your body to start twisting sideways.  

As much as you can, you’ll want to avoid the torso from twisting by keeping your shoulders squarely forward. 

However, if you can’t prevent this from happening then you’ll want to drop the weight and focus on the proper technique. 

3.  Back Rounding

back rounding

Like any squat or deadlift variation, you’ll want to maintain a neutral spine while you lift. 

Even though the Jefferson squat is a fairly low-stress activity on the spine, any rounding of the low and mid-back will increase the risk of injury.

Cue yourself to drive your chest up in the start position and ensure you’re bracing your core prior to lifting the barbell.  If you can’t prevent your back from rounding, then you’ll need to drop the weight.   

Should You Do The Jefferson Squat? 

As I’ve been suggesting throughout the article, while the Jefferson squat has some clear benefits, my general recommendation is that most people should not do the Jefferson squat. 

Why You Shouldn’t Do The Jefferson SquatWhy You Should Do The Jefferson Squat
1. The Jefferson Squat Is Awkward to Set Up 1,  Looking For Exercise Variation (Something Fun)
2.  You Can Get The Same Benefit Doing Other Exercises   2.  Training For Strongman 
3.  Needing To Work Around An Injury  

Why You Shouldn’t Do The Jefferson Squat

1. The Jefferson Squat Is Awkward to Set Up 

The Jefferson squat is a combination of three different exercises: squat, deadlift, and lunge.  When you put these three exercises together in a single movement, it will feel awkward to set up and execute.  

Most people need to spend several months getting used to the technique before they are able to load the movement with a significant weight where they will see any sort of adaptation.  

There are other movements that you can do in the gym that have less of a learning curve where you can start progressing right away versus having to wait several months to gain any benefit.  

At the end of the day, it’s probably always going to feel a bit awkward.  It’s the nature of the exercise.  It’s a Strongman movement that is meant to place different torques on the body in order to replicate the ‘odd lifts’ that are seen in competition.  

Athletes not competing in Strongman would be better off learning how to squat, deadlift, snatch, and clean & jerk, which would have more application to their sport demands and won’t feel as awkward. 

2.  You Can Get The Same Benefit Doing Other Exercises   

For all of the benefits listed above, there are other exercises that can yield the same results.  The Jefferson squat is not unique in its benefits.  

For example: 

  • Other exercises that build adductor strength include the sumo deadlift, sumo kettlebell squat, and side lunge
  • Other multi-planar movements include the lunge, Bulgarian split squat, and step-up. 
  • Other anti-rotational exercises include the pallof press, cable woodchopper, and side plank.  
  • Other exercises that have a high degree of core activation include the back squat, conventional deadlift, and front squat.   
  • Other exercises that can build leg hypertrophy include any squatting or deadlifting variation or machine-based exercise that involves knee or hip flexion.

All of these Jefferson squat alternatives are easier to set-up, less awkward, and likely have a greater transfer to an athlete’s sporting demands.

Why You Should Do The Jefferson Squat

There are three reasons why you should consider doing the Jefferson squat: 

1,  Looking For Exercise Variation (Something Fun)

If you’re bored with training and looking for a new exercise to make things more interesting, then the Jefferson squat can be a solid variation.  

2.  Training For Strongman 

If you’re training for Strongman, the Jefferson deadlift will allow you to get stronger at the competitive events you’ll see in competition.  

3.  Needing To Work Around An Injury  

If you are currently injured and the Jefferson squat allows you to train your legs without feeling any pain, then you’ll be able to continue to build strength and muscle.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions that I get around the Jefferson squat: 

Is The Jefferson Squat The Same As The Jefferson Deadlift? 

The Jefferson squat and Jefferson deadlift are used interchangeably.  However, there are some small distinctions between these two exercises.  The Jefferson squat focuses on bending from the knee.  As such, the torso is slightly more upright and the quads are working harder.  The Jefferson deadlift focuses on bending from the hip.  As such, the torso is slightly more bent over and the mid-back and glutes are working harder. 

Is The Jefferson Squat A Good Alternative To Squat? 

The Jefferson squat can be used as an alternative to the squat.  However, it wouldn’t be my first choice to work the same muscles as the squat.  Better alternatives would be the front squat, split squat, or leg press.  

Final Thoughts

The Jefferson squat is a multi-planar, anti-rotational exercise that can be used to build leg and core strength.  While there are several benefits, I would opt for squats, deadlifts, and lunges as more effective movements for building lower body strength and power.