3 Squat Variations That Will Tone Your Legs

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Build strength, balance, and coordination with these bodyweight moves.

squats variations

There’s a reason why fitness experts who work with older adults recommend the simple yet mighty squat: It works.

In fact, the squat is a perfect example of a functional exercise, meaning it trains your muscles in a way that is similar to ordinary movements. Including the squat in your workouts makes it easier to stand up from the couch, pick things up from the floor, and get in and out of cars.

Even better, you can make the squat easier or harder for your needs. You can start from a seated position and push up to standing, like in a chair stand. As you get stronger, you can work up to a bodyweight squat.

If you’ve nailed the basic version, doing different types of squats can increase your range of motion and strengthen muscles you may not engage often, like your inner and outer thighs. Add a balance challenge or a little arm movement, and you’ll gain even more benefits.

Ready to switch up your squat? Try one or more of these squat variations that will fire up your legs, hips, and glutes—and build balance and coordination.

How to Use These Exercises

Before you try these variations, make sure you’ve mastered a basic bodyweight squat first. Need a refresher? Check out our beginner’s guide to the squat.

The main things to remember about proper form are:

  • Point both feet forward. Don’t let one foot point out slightly.
  • Push your hips back as if you’re sitting down on a chair.
  • Keep your chest up. Don’t let it collapse forward.
  • Think about pushing your knees out. Don’t them cave inward.
  • Push through your heels to return to standing.

If you’re confident with your form, try the first squat variation. Gradually work up to three sets of five reps per side. If that feels good, try the next variation, and so on. Add any you like to your regular rotation.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Connect
Eligibility
Locations
Subscribe to our newsletter
It's quick and easy. You could be one of the 13 million people who are eligible.
Already a member? Click to discover our 17,000 participating locations.

Follow Us

Variation #1: Side Squat

The basic bodyweight squat involves moving up and down. With this variation, you step out to the side and then squat, giving your inner and outer thighs a challenge. You’ll also work on your balance and coordination.

Do 5 reps per side

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet together and arms at your sides. Brace your core as if you’re about to be punched in the gut. This is your starting position.

Step out to the side with your right foot, making sure to land with your toes pointing forward. When both feet feel secure, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower into a squat. At the same time, bring your hands together in front of your chest.

Pause, then push through your heels and step in to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do five reps, or as many as you can with good form. Repeat on the opposite side.

Make it easier: Use a wall or sturdy chair for support. Focus on good form, even if it means doing a smaller squat.

Variation #2: Side Squat with Knee Lift

Got the side squat down? This variation builds on it by adding a knee lift at the end for a balance challenge.

Do 5 reps per side

How to do it: Begin in the starting position for side squat. Step out with your right foot, lower into a squat, and bring your hands together in front of your chest.

As you return to the starting position, make sure your left foot is firmly on the floor, and lift your right knee. At the same time, lower your arms. The movement should be smooth and controlled. To balance, imagine a string through the crown of your head is pulling your spine toward the ceiling.

Pause, then step back out to a side squat, and bring your hands to your chest. That’s one rep. Do five reps, or as many as you can with good form. Repeat on the opposite side.

Make it easier: Instead of lifting your knee, tap your foot back to center. As you get more comfortable, try lifting your knee just a little bit.

Still too tricky? Stick to the side squat, and practice the single-leg stand separately. See how in our guide to the best balance exercises.

Variation #3: Side Squat with Knee Lift and Arm Reach

Feeling good about your side squat with knee lift? This variation builds on it by adding arm movement to challenge your balance and coordination even more.

Do 5 reps per side

How to do it: Perform a side squat with knee lift. As you lift your right knee, reach both arms overhead. The movement should be smooth and controlled. To balance, imagine a string through the crown of your head is pulling your spine toward the ceiling.

Pause, then step back out to a side squat, and bring your hands to your chest. That’s one rep. Do five reps, or as many as you can with good form. Repeat on the opposite side.

Make it easier: If it’s uncomfortable to raise your arms overhead, extend them straight out in front of you or to the sides.

Check Your SilverSneakers Eligibility Instantly

SilverSneakers members can go to thousands of gyms and fitness locations across the nation, plus take exercise classes designed for seniors and led by supportive instructors. If you have a Medicare Plan, it may include SilverSneakers—at no additional cost. Check your eligibility instantly here.

Already a member? Get your SilverSneakers member ID and exclusive fitness content by logging in to or creating your online account here.

Find out if your health plan already includes the SilverSneakers benefit. CHECK YOUR ELIGIBILITY