Steinborn Squat: Does This “Circus Like” Squat Have Benefits?

Steinborn squat Does this “circus like” squat have benefits

The Steinborn squat may look like a circus-type lift at first, but, this squat is no laughing matter. With high transferability to daily life and capable of testing the body’s strength and functionality to the max, the Steinborn squat is not for the faint of heart.

So, what is the Steinborn squat? The Steinborn squat is a squat variation that sees the lifter begin and finish the movement with the barbell on the floor, rather than a squat rack.  

The lift is challenging and unorthodox, leading many to look at it as an injury waiting to happen. Yet, when performed properly, I’m certain the Steinborn squat can be an example of the resilience and potential of the human body.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the mechanics of the Steinborn squat, its purpose, benefits, and how to perform it correctly. 

Steinborn Squat: Overview

In a Steinborn squat, lifters will lift the barbell off the floor to the point that the bar is perpendicular to the ground, roll it onto their back to perform a full squat, then slowly unload the bar back to the floor in the same manner it was picked up.

The Steinborn squat is a highly advanced lift designed for experienced lifters. If you’re a beginner then try kettlebell, dumbbell, and bodyweight exercises to master body control and build up some strength before moving on to the progression exercises described later in this article.

Check out my other article on the 11 Squat Progressions From Beginner To Advanced

Being such an unorthodox movement, the Steinborn squat is rarely used in high volumes and is often employed for either movement and strength development, or to add variation to a lifting program.

Steinborn Squat: Muscles Used

The muscles used in the Steinborn squat are:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Hamstrings
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Obliques
  • Posterior Shoulder

Overall, the Steinborn squat is a total body and highly functional exercise that challenges a range of muscles. 

The deep squat element works your quads, glutes, and adductors to the extreme. The upper body components should not be ignored, however. The barbell lifting and lowering phases can work the lower back, the obliques, and delts along with the lower body muscles. 

If you want to learn more about the anatomy of the squat and different variations, then check out my other article on Muscles Used In The Squat

Steinborn Squat: An Injury Waiting To Happen?

A quick glance at someone performing the Steinborn squat and it does look like a recipe for back injuries and broken spines, hence why so many tend to avoid trying it.

The reality is that your body can move and contort in more ways than we can count, including the spine. Problems usually occur when one of two things happen:

  1. You don’t move the body in a way it can move
  2. You move the body beyond its movement limits

Based on this, it would be silly to go straight from standard squats into a 220lb Steinborn squat without the proper progressions (see problem 1). 

Once the movement is gradually introduced though, you’d be amazed at what the body can achieve. You’ll find the spine is more versatile than you can imagine, being able to twist and bend in a number of ways. 

Takeaway: the key here is to go through the proper progressions first (which I will outline later in the article) before attempting a Steinborn squat. The exercise is not beyond the limits of most people’s spinal movements, you just need to gradually introduce the movement to your body.

7 Benefits Of The Steinborn Squat

7 benefits of the steinborn squat

Now we’ve discussed what it is, let’s look at the main benefits of the Steinborn squat.

The 7 benefits of the Steinborn squat are:

  • Transferable movements to the real-world
  • Increase in concentric strength
  • Additional plane of motion
  • Challenge stability and muscular control
  • Multi-planar movement pattern
  • Strengthen mind-body links
  • Offers a unique challenge

1. Transferable Movements To Real World

Taking a loaded barbell from the ground, squatting it, then placing it back where it came from replicates real-world, functional actions. The movements in the Steinborn squat are directly applicable to tradesmen, for example, who perform heavy lifting of awkwardly shaped objects day-to-day.

When it comes to functional movements that replicate everyday life, the Steinborn squat is almost unbeatable. Traditional squats are fantastic exercises because of the high muscular recruitment throughout the body, but a functionality issue lies with how the weight got there.

The ability to pick abnormal objects up, lift them overhead or onto the body regardless of shape, size or environment is one of the most beneficial movements that athletes can learn. 

Strongman competitions often involve the addition of stressors and loads from various angles so the Steinborn squat is incredibly suited to enhance functionality in athletes looking to train for this.

2. Increase Concentric Strength

The Steinborn squat has a heavy hip extension movement once you begin the squat component. As you catch the load at the bottom, you must stabilize the body and bar, then drive upwards from a deep position.

Hip extension, also known as concentric strength, is a key component of the Steinborn squat, hence why one of my prerequisite exercises is the Anderson squat, which focuses solely on this aspect. Lack the concentric strength on this movement and you won’t complete the Steinborn squat. 

Increasing static strength (in this case the extension with no momentum) can enhance performance at end ranges on classic movements such as squats, leg press, and deadlifts. It can enhance overall performance on these lifts as well with the lifter able to generate more power out of the bottom, thus pushing more weight.

3. Additional Plane Of Motion

The Steinborn squat builds coordination integrating the frontal and transverse planes of motion without neglecting lifters’ favored sagittal plane.  Here’s what these terms mean: 

In exercises, we are always moving our body across at least one of three planes of motion:

  • Sagittal – up and down movements
  • Frontal – sideways movements
  • Transverse – rotational movements

Too often lifters use purely sagittal, singular plane movements in their workout program. Look at squats, deadlifts, lunges, or even upper body exercises like bench presses. This places them at a disadvantage when it comes to adapting to the ever-changing and inconsistent environment we find in the real world.

For some lifters, sagittal planes may be all they need. For more dynamic athletes, the ability to interact with, confront, and control heavy loads at varying angles will enhance functionality, mobility and greatly reduce injury risk.

4. Challenge Stability And Muscular Control

Being performed outside of a squat rack means the Steinborn squat tests a lifter’s ability to stay balanced and maintain control of the weight in difficult circumstances. 

Starting with the squat aspect already at the bottom requires core strength and stability to steady the barbell and then drive up to a standing position. 

This can both enhance core strength and train muscular control whilst under heavy loads. These benefits can translate into improved squat performance (lifting heavier loads, squatting deeper) and increased core strength.

5. Multi-planar Movement Pattern

The Steinborn squat requires you to lift and lower the barbell on an uneven plane, notably as you load and unload onto your back. This limits your ability to compensate with one leg that may be stronger.

Multi-planar refers to the stance not being on a singular plane. In the case of the Steinborn squat, your feet do not start or finish side-by-side as with a traditional squat, deadlift, or leg press. Instead, they will adjust slightly as you steady after loading and as you unload, with one leg taking the bulk of the weight.

The benefits of multi-planar training include increased injury resistance, balance and stability, and training slightly different muscles for each leg.

6. Strengthen Mind-Body Links

Stressing the body with new and unusual movements can be one of the most effective things you can do to build maximal strength, muscular, and neurological links. 

Introducing new stressors from various angles can enhance your ability to elicit total body adaptations that can then be transferred back into your regular routine. 

By performing novel and challenging movements effectively, you can stimulate new motor units and create new synapses between the brain, nerves, and muscles units. All this adds to your assembly of strength and performance potential.

7. Offers A Unique Challenge

The Steinborn squat is often used by experienced lifters to change up their training programs by incorporating an unconventional lift. 

Throwing a novel exercise into your workouts, particularly one as challenging as the Steinborn squat, can re-motivate you if you’ve hit a bit of a slump and keep things interesting by adding variation to your lifting program.

Steinborn squats test the physical limits of any lifter. By adding it to your program you can adjust and create new workout goals. Once you can properly perform this lift, your confidence will increase ten-fold giving you more assurance and belief in other lifts.

Prerequisite Exercises For The Steinborn Squat

The Steinborn squat is not an exercise you want to jump into without learning the proper progressions and developing fundamental strength. 

At a minimum, you also need to be able to squat your bodyweight, full ass-to-grass squats, which will demonstrate you have the necessary strength to perform the core of the exercise.

For me, the key progression exercises are:

  • Steinborn Bends
  • Cossack Squats
  • Anderson Squats

Steinborn Bends

This exercise allows you to gain control of the weight whilst arching the spine in different directions. Steinborn bends work the spine under load increasing its range of motion and teaching the squat lean and bend that is the primary movement in the Steinborn squat.

You should start with an unloaded barbell and move the weight up as you get more comfortable with the movement and range of motion.

To do Steinborn bends: 

  • Place the barbell across your back and drop into a deep squat position
  • Slowly tip the bar to the side, touching the end of the bar to the floor if possible
  • Return to the center and then repeat on the other side

Cossack Squats

A personal favorite, Cossack squats allow lifters to practice working across unfamiliar planes of motion without overloading. This can greatly enhance muscular control, core strength, and mobility which will support better performance in the Steinborn squat.

It’s not a loaded exercise so even if you nail this exercise, first ensure you’re comfortable working the Steinborn bends and Anderson squats which involve managing a heavy load before taking on the Steinborn squat.

To do Cossack squats:

  • Stand with feet greater than shoulder-width apart
  • Shift your weight to one side bending the hips and knees downwards. Draw the toes of the opposite leg up to the ceiling
  • Go as far as your mobility allows before returning to your starting position. Repeat on the other side

Anderson Squats

Anderson Squats

The Anderson squat is a squat variation that sees the barbell start on the pins of a power rack. You set up in the bottom position and drive upwards with the bar from there. 

Much like the box squat, there is no stretch and no eccentric component of lowering with the weight before reversing the direction of the bar. 

Producing the force from a “cold” start will support the hip extension (concentric) component of the Steinborn squat. Being able to perform this is crucial as you will need to be able to drive upwards from a deep squat position after loading the barbell onto your back.

To do Anderson squats:

  • Set a power rack to a height where the bar will sit in the range of the bottom of your squat position.
  • Place yourself underneath the bar in the squat position
  • Drive the weight upwards till standing
  • Return to starting position, rest for a second or two, then repeat

How To Do The Steinborn Squat

Now that we know the benefits of the Steinborn squat and the prerequisite exercises we need to be able to perform before attempting it, let’s look at the proper technique for the perfect Steinborn squat.

Set up the Steinborn squat by placing the barbell on the ground next to you. This works best with a rubber floor and a barbell that isn’t knurled in the center as you’ll be moving it across your back.

Step 1: Grab The Bar

Standing at one end of the barbell, squat down and grab the end of the bar with both hands. Set your back as you would for a deadlift and grip the bar whilst keeping your body engaged so that it’s prepared to take on a heavy load.

Step 2: Lift The End Up

Steinborn squat step 2: Lift The End Up

Continue to raise the bar, replicating the movement you would do in a deadlift. Upend the bar so that one end is on the ground and the other is nearly vertical, supported by you.

Step 3: Set Your Grip

Steinborn squat step 3: Set your grip

This is probably the most difficult part of the movement so take your time. The set-up here is key for balance and the safety of the load. 

Using your bottom hand, grab the spot that you would usually take in a traditional back squat. then place your top hand in its usual back squat position too. 

Bend to the side and fit yourself roughly in the center of the bar. Tilt the bar at a slight angle to vertical and have it running across your back as it would in a back squat.

Step 4: Sit Into The Squat

Steinborn squat step 4: Sit into the squat

Securing your feet and hands, drop your hips lowering the bar towards you, and sit into a deep squat position. This step happens quickly so brace yourself to take the load.

Throughout this phase keep the bar always secured and attached to you. You should move with the bar and stay fluid in your movement. 

Once the bar is straight across your back and parallel to the ground, steady yourself and the bar in the deep squat position. The squat should be strong, low, and stable.

Step 5: Stand Up And Perform Squat

Once stabilized, prepare to drive upwards into a standing position and perform one or two squat repetitions.

Step 6: Reverse Steps 1-4 And Replace The Barbell

After completing squat reps, you should reverse the movements to pick up the barbell. Slowly and securely place it back on the floor, always maintaining control and grip of the barbell.

As a progression, you may want to go straight from the squat reps and walk the barbell back onto a power rack. At this point, your muscles will already be tired from the lift and squats.

Then repeat on the other side.

Should You Do The Steinborn Squat?

For strength and fitness athletes looking to improve their general functional strength, few movements can match the Steinborn squat. It must be remembered though that this movement can be more injury prone than other lifts so athletes must:

  • Ensure they’ve completed the prerequisite exercises
  • Learn the correct technique and have developed foundational strength movements (e.g. squat bodyweight)

Strength/Power Athletes 

If you’re a strength athlete, the Steinborn squat can be used to develop your raw strength and add variety to your training program.

For strongman athletes, the Steinborn can be hugely beneficial. It involves lifting and moving weights at unusual angles thus developing raw strength and functional movements necessary for strongman competitions.

Powerlifters on the other hand won’t benefit so much from the functionality of Steinborn squats but can use it to improve overall movement or to add variation and other planes of motion to their workouts.

General Fitness and Functional Athletes

The complexity, difficulty, and advanced nature of the Steinborn squat means it is not usually recommended for general fitness goers. It can however certainly help you build extra strength and functionality but remember there are other, less risky, exercises that can provide similar benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions that I get around the Steinborn squat.

Is the Steinborn Squat a Spinal Injury Waiting To Happen?

It’s important to remember that the body is capable of more than we often think. As long as you do the right progressions and don’t overload your spine when first trying it out, your spine will not suffer any more than it would on a standard back squat (i.e. not at all).

What Is the Steinborn Squat Good For?

Steinborn squats are great for developing functional lifting movements that translate into everyday lifting as well as competitive lifting such as Strongman competitions.

 Other Squat Exercise Guides