11 Squat Progressions From Beginner To Advanced

squat progressions from beginner to advanced

Mastering the squat can increase your strength in the gym, and lead to success in powerlifting and weightlifting competitions. But how do you progress from a beginner to an advanced squatter?

Here are my top 11 squat progressions:

There are a number of movement patterns that we can learn to go from a beginner level to an advanced squatter. In this article I’ll discuss exactly how to perform each squat progression and how to know when to progress to a harder variation, to take your squats to the next level.

Check out my complete list of 20 Exercises That Improve Squat Strength.

Squat Progressions: 11 Exercises

The following progressions are listed in order from beginner to more advanced variations of the squat:

1. Stability Ball Wall Squat

The ultimate starting point for learning the squat is the stability ball wall squat because our bodyweight is supported by the ball.

  • Place the stability ball on the wall at chest height
  • Turn to position the stability between the shoulder blades
  • Have the feet placed at hip width or slightly wider
  • Keep the back pressed into the stability ball, and bend at the knees to squat down
  • The knees should remain in line with the toes throughout the movement (avoid knees caving inward)
  • Aim to get the thighs parallel with the ground at the bottom of the squat
  • Push through the legs out of the bottom of the squat to return to standing

Wondering how to get your body ready to squat? Check out our guide on How To Warm Up For Squats

2. Bodyweight Box Squat

Bodyweight box squats allow the lifter to begin supporting themselves while giving them a target depth to allow for additional support and to provide feedback for how low to squat.

  • Stand in front of a box or bench with feet hip width apart or wider
  • Maintain proximity to the box
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes while allowing the hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards
  • Lightly touch the bench without completely relaxing onto it
  • After contact with the bench, push through the legs to come to standing
  • At the top of each squat ensure the hips return to a stacked position under the shoulders

This movement can be progressed by reducing the height of the box or bench that we are using.

3. Bodyweight Squat

Similar to the Bodyweight Box Squat, but eliminating the surface to which we will squat. This allows us to maintain tightness in the bottom position of the squat, which is important for initiating the push through the legs, to stand up without assistance.

  • Standing with feet hip width apart or wider
  • Initiate the squat by allowing hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards
  • Maintain a neutral spine by resisting back arching or rounding
  • Aim to squat to parallel or slightly lower without compromising the neutral spine position
  • Once adequate depth is attained, push through the floor with the legs to initiate the ascent
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes (do not let the knees cave inward)
  • Finish the squat by returning the hips and knees to a stacked position under the shoulders

Interested in mastering the squat to compete in Powerlifting? Check out our guide on How Low You Should Go For A Powerlifting Squat.

4. Goblet Squat 

The initial step to loading the squat pattern is the goblet squat, which loads the lifter anteriorly (which is typically easier for most beginners) without having to worry about the front rack position that comes with more advanced exercises like the front squat.

  • Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell against the chest with wrists in a neutral position 
  • Standing with feet hip width apart or wider
  • Initiate the squat by allowing hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards
  • Maintain a neutral spine by resisting back arching or rounding
  • Aim to squat to parallel or slightly lower without compromising the neutral spine position
  • Once adequate depth is attained, push through the floor with the legs to initiate the ascent
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes (do not let the knees cave inward) and ensure the hips and shoulders are rising at the same rate
  • Finish the squat by returning the hips and knees to a stacked position under the shoulders

5. Barbell Back Squat To Box

The barbell back squat increases in difficulty by challenging core positioning because we are loading posteriorly, which can cause the back to arch in beginner lifters. To assist in mastery of this technique, we can start by limiting the range of motion by squatting to a box or bench.

  • Using a rack, set the pins at a level that allows the barbell to rest at shoulder height
  • Have the box or bench close enough to the rack that it is possible to unrack the bar and take a step backward (to adjust the feet) before contacting the box
  • Place hands at equal distance on the bar, and walk underneath the bar to place it on the upper traps
  • Unrack the bar by stacking the hips under the shoulders and standing up
  • Step back until the feet are almost touching the box or bench and set the feet at hip width or slightly wider
  • Initiate the squat by allowing hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards
  • Maintain a neutral spine by resisting back arching or rounding
  • Once light contact with the box occurs, maintain tension in the legs and push through the floor to initiate the ascent
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes (do not let the knees cave inward) and ensure the hips and shoulders are rising at the same rate
  • Finish the squat by returning the hips and knees to a stacked position under the shoulders

To learn more about the differences between the Box Squat and the Back Squat progressions, check out our article on Box Squat vs Back Squat.

6. Barbell Back Squat

The barbell back squat is the most important progression for those who want to compete in powerlifting, as it is one of the 3 major disciplines. This squat variation is posteriorly loaded (the bar sits on the lifters back), which requires additional attention to core positioning.

  • Using a rack, set the pins at a level that allows the barbell to rest at shoulder height
  • Place hands at equal distance on the bar, and walk underneath the bar to place it on the upper traps or slightly lower if low bar is the preferred positioning
  • Unrack the bar by stacking the hips under the shoulders and standing up
  • Step back and set the feet at hip width or slightly wider
  • Initiate the squat by allowing hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards
  • Maintain a neutral spine by resisting back arching or rounding
  • Once adequate depth is reached, maintain tension in the legs and push through the floor to initiate the ascent
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes (do not let the knees cave inward) and ensure the hips and shoulders are rising at the same rate
  • Finish the squat by returning the hips and knees to a stacked position under the shoulders

Wondering whether you should put the bar in a high bar or low bar position? Check out our article on Where You Should Put The Bar When Squatting

7. Split Squat

The split squat is an intermediate level unilateral squat variation that we can use in our programming to build unilateral strength, and to challenge the stabilizing muscles.

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart
  • Step one foot directly forward and the other foot directly backward – this is the start position
  • Bend both legs at the knee until the back knee lightly touches the ground, or hovers just above it
  • The knees should be around 90 degrees in the bottom of the split squat; if not, adjust the feet accordingly
  • Once proper depth has been achieved, push through the front leg to return to the start position 
  • An equal number of sets and reps should be performed with both the left and right leg in front

We can increase the intensity of this movement by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell with your preferred grip (arms extended with weight in one hand, both hands, or a goblet style grip).

This movement intensity could also be increased by elevating the back foot onto a bench  which increases the range of motion and challenges our stability.

8. Front Squat

The front squat is a more advanced progression because it requires mobility at the ankles, hips, thoracic spine, lats, and wrists to attain the proper positions. It is also a foundation movement for the clean in weightlifting.

  • Using a rack, set the pins at a level that allows the barbell to rest at shoulder height
  • Place fingertips of each hand at equal distance on the bar and rotate elbows under the bar. The bar should rest in the fingertips and the triceps should be parallel with the ground
  • The bar should sit between the front delt and the neck, and be actively pressed up off the collarbone by keeping elbows high 
  • Unrack the bar by stacking the hips under the shoulders and standing up
  • Step back and set the feet at hip width or slightly wider
  • Initiate the squat by allowing hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards
  • Strive for a vertical (or near-vertical) torso position, and maintain neutral spine by resisting back arching or rounding
  • Once adequate depth is reached, maintain tension in the legs and push through the floor to initiate the ascent
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes (do not let the knees cave inward) and ensure the hips and shoulders are rising at the same rate
  • Finish the squat by returning the hips and knees to a stacked position under the shoulders

If you want to learn everything you need to know about the front squat, check out our Ultimate Front Squat Guide.

9. Overhead Squat

The overhead squat is the most advanced squat progression because it requires impressive amounts of mobility at the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and lats; in addition to, stability at the hips and shoulder girdle in order to maintain proper positioning.

  • Using a rack, set the pins at a level that allows the barbell to rest at shoulder height
  • Place hands at equal distance on the bar approximately two to three hand-widths outside the shoulders (this is highly individual and can be adjusted for comfort)
  • Walk underneath the bar to place it on the upper traps
  • Unrack the bar by stacking the hips under the shoulders and standing up
  • Step back and set the feet at hip width or slightly wider
  • Use assistance from the legs to push to bar into an overhead position with the arms locked out at the elbows, shoulder blades retracted, and the bar positioned in a stacked position over the base of the neck and shoulders
  • Initiate the squat by allowing hips to travel backwards as the knees track forwards, and maintain even pressure through the feet (not allowing heels or toes to lift)
  • Strive for a vertical (or near-vertical) torso position, and maintain neutral spine by resisting excessive arching or rounding of the lower back
  • Once adequate depth is reached, maintain tension in the legs and push through the floor to initiate the ascent
  • Keep the knees in line with the toes (do not let the knees cave inward) and ensure the bar and the hips are rising at the same rate
  • Finish the squat by returning the hips and knees to a stacked position under the shoulders

Interested in mastering the overhead squat and transitioning to Weightlifting? Check our guide on How To Switch From Powerlifting To Weightlifting 

10. Skater Squat

The skater squat takes the unilateral squat to the next level as it requires increased amounts of control at the hips and knees to achieve the desired positioning.

  • Set up for the movement in front of a rack or having a dowel stick handy for support if assistance is needed
  • While standing tall, transition to one foot and have the other leg bent at the knee
  • Break at the hip and knee of the loaded leg as if to perform a lunge while maintaining the bent leg position of the unloaded leg 
  • Continue approaching the floor by loading into the front leg and allowing the bent back leg to hover just above the ground without touching
  • Once depth is attained, push through the loaded leg while keeping the knee in line with toe and return to a stacked position with the hips, knees and shoulder in-line
  • Perform an equal amount of sets and reps on both the left and right side

11. Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is the most advanced progression because it is a unilateral movement that requires adequate mobility and stability of the lower body. In addition to this, a pistol squat is more challenging because we must hold one leg up in front of us, as we squat loading the opposing leg.

  • In a standing position, transition weight onto one leg
  • Break at the hip and knee to initiate a squatting motion with the loaded leg
  • With the unloaded leg, lift the leg anteriorly and keep it elevated to avoid contact with the floor during the descent
  • With the loaded leg, maintain the knee in line with the toe and ensure the heel stays firmly planted on the ground during the squat
  • Once adequate depth is achieved (parallel or below) push through the loaded leg, keep the unloaded leg elevated, and return to a stacked position at the top of the movement
  • Perform an equal amount of sets and reps on both the left and right side

To learn how to master the pistol squat, check out our article about Pistol Squat Progression: From Beginner To Advanced

Differences Between Beginners And Advanced Squatters

differences between beginners and advanced squatters

Beginners and Advanced squatters are determined by their capabilities  in the following categories:

  • Movement Capacities
  • Movement Patterns
  • Maintenance Of Technique With Increased Demands

Movement Capacities

The movement capacities of beginners are usually limited compared to advanced lifters. The reason for this is that beginners have usually spent less time in positions that require adequate ankle and hip mobility; therefore they may not possess a sufficient amount of mobility in these joints.

The same principle applies for stability; because a beginner lifter may not have spent time in the positions required for a squat, they are likely less stable in these positions than advanced lifters.

Movement Patterns

The movement patterns of beginner lifters will be less efficient than those of an advanced lifter. Beginner lifters may be limited by limited movement capacities, an inability to take advantage of the movement capacities they do possess, and inconsistencies of movement due to neuromuscular deficits.

A more advanced lifter will have a better understanding of how their body should be positioned to achieve the squatting position that works best for them. Advanced lifters will have the movement capacities to achieve the desired position, and are consistent in doing so. 

Maintenance Of Technique With Increased Demands

A beginner lifter will struggle to maintain technique when additional demands are presented, such as presenting a harder variation of a squat or adding a weight. The reason for this is that they are still refining their movement patterns and they may lack the strength to resist unwanted movements when an additional load or challenge is presented.

An advanced lifter will be able to maintain their technique as the load increases or a harder squat variation is presented. These lifters are able to maintain a neutral spine, avoid knee valgus, and keep the hips rising at the same rate as the shoulders –  despite increased demands.

How To Know When To Progress To A Harder Squat Variation

how to know when to progress to a harder squat variation

It may be time to progress to a harder squat variation if we have a sufficient amount of mobility to perform the movement correctly, we are able to achieve the proper movement patterns, and we can successfully maintain our squat technique for multiple sets and reps.

If we are not able to perform these tasks, it is worth spending additional time at our current progression and mastering these components before moving on. If we move on too soon, we increase the risk of injury and develop “bad habits” that may be harder to fix later on.

We should also ask ourselves if the next progression of squat is something we need to do. For example: if our goal is to be the strongest squatter and we have mastered the back squat, there is little benefit to progressing to an overhead squat as it will not be the strongest way to squat and will do little to increase your back squat strength further.

Interested in competing in Powerlifting but wondering if you’re strong enough? Check out our article on How Strong You Need To Be At Your First Powerlifting Meet.

Benefits To More Advanced Squat Progressions

benefits to more advanced squat progressions

Progression of bilateral squats to back squats and front squats are desirable because of the increased ability to load these movements; therefore, these movements are desirable for building strength. They are also important movements in the strength world as they are foundational movements for powerlifting and weightlifting. 

Further progression to the overhead squat, is not necessary for the “average gym go-er” as it cannot be loaded as heavy as the back and front squat and less carryover to these lifts everyday activities. It is considered more advanced because of the increased mobility and stability requirements at multiple joints in order to be performed correctly. 

The benefit of progressing to unilateral movements is the added stability required of these movements. It is my opinion that all lifters should include unilateral movements in their training to help to correct side to side differences in strength (which occur naturally from everyday activities) and to strengthen the stabilizing muscles.

Unilateral squats will help to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the feet, ankle, knee, and hip as they must be active to maintain the positioning when only one side is loaded, to prevent the knee from caving and to maintain balance.

Other Powerlifting Progressions

Final Thoughts

Taking the time to master each progression of the squat will assist us in becoming more advanced squatters, set us up for foundational success in both powerlifting and weightlifting, and decrease our risk of injury.