Adding in variations of the squat, bench press and deadlift can be useful for targeting specific weaknesses, training around injuries and keeping training interesting. The front squat, safety squat bar squat and pause squat are three squat variations we use a lot in our gym.
We mostly use a variation squat of the squat as the first assistance exercise after squatting with a straight bar for 2-4 sets of 3-8 reps depending on where we are during the training cycle. During the off-season we may use a squat variation as the main exercise for 6-8 weeks and try to peak it for a rep max at the end of the cycle.
The front squat is one of the most despised squat variations out there and most people are reluctant to train it. However it offers many benefits over the back squat.
It is a great exercise for building the quads and core, does not put as much pressure on the lower back as back squats which can be vital when training around injuries and is great for improving your ability to pick up heavy implements such as stones and sandbags. A front squat is performed by placing a bar on your shoulders and chest and holding the bar with a clean grip or by crossing your arms across from each other and touching the opposite shoulder. Keeping your arms high is integral to preventing you from falling forward, try to drive your elbows up during the ascent.
The safety squat bar squat involves using a special bar called the Safety Squat Bar which has handles that allow you to grab the bar in front of your body. It is great for people with shoulder issues. The bend in the bar places the weight in front of you more than a normal bar which makes it great for developing back/ posterior chain strength.
The pause squat can be used to improve staying tight and building strength from the bottom of the squat. We usually pause at the bottom of the lift for 1-3 seconds. If you are working on improving your technique, adding a slow eccentric can be beneficial. If a lifter has a major technical issue at a specific point in the descent or ascent of the squat, usually just above parallel, then we add a pause at that point to help them improve strength and technique at that point.