If you’re glued to your desk chair for half the day, meet your new bestie: the cossack squat. This deep squat with a half-split def isn’t easy, but it *is* super rewarding for basically your entire body.
Here’s how to do a cossack squat:
- Stand and get super wide: Your legs should form a triangle with the floor. Point your toes straight ahead.
- Shift your weight to your right leg, bend right knee, and sit back as far as you can.
- Keep left leg extended as you rotate your left foot onto your heel, toes up. Keep right heel on the floor and torso upright.
- Pause, then push back to the wide-legged starting position.
- Shift your weight to your left leg and repeat on the opposite side.
Complete 3 sets of 10 reps (5 on each leg).
Fun fact: Cossack squats were named after a traditional folk dance done by the Cossacks of Eastern Europe (add that to your trivia knowledge). Basically, when you’re squatting from side to side, it kinda looks like you’re doing that ancient dance. 💃
But why do this side-to-side move in place of other exercises? Here are just a few benefits:
can help you move more easily in your day-to-day life, whether you’re working out or walking your dog.”
- Boost mobility and flexibility. The cossack squat will challenge your hip, knee, and ankle flexibility. Especially if you sit a lot, having those hips opened up feels good AF. Increased flexibility can help you move more easily in your day-to-day life, whether you’re working out or walking your dog.
- Build resilient joints. In this squat, your bent leg will go deep at the ankle, knee, and hip, and your straight leg should feel a solid stretch in the hams and abductors. Moving in and out of this pose can improve joint health and reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries.
- Increase strength. Cossack squats test your strength even more than regular squats because of the super deep flex in your knees, hips, and ankles. If you add weights, you’ll be looking at even bigger gains.
- Boost jump height. According to a small 2012 study, getting deep in those squats can increase your vertical jump height. So whether you’re a basketball player or you just want to show off at beach volleyball, this move just might take you to new heights.
Wait, why not just do a humble lunge?
Since the cossack squat starts out with such a wide stance, you can boost your range of motion and fit in a little extra mobility and balance work. Same goes for when you lower down: In a side lunge, you don’t need to dip any deeper than having your legs parallel with the floor.
Your torso also tends to lean forward more in the side lunge, while it should stay straight in the cossack squat. This can add a little extra work for your abs.
So, while both moves target the same muscle groups, the cossack squat presents some additional challenges with benefits, to boot.
Now that you know what to do, here’s what *not* to do:
Don’t arch your back
If you don’t have a ton of flexibility in your hips, your torso will want to creep forward and your lower back will try to arch as you get low. Resist this! Keep your spine straight by going down only as low as your flexibility allows. This will help your muscles get the most out of the movement and avoid strain.
You can also put your hands on the floor in front of you for stability as your flexibility gets better over time.
Don’t lift your heel off the floor
Here’s another issue that stems from flexibility constraints. If your ankle doesn’t have a big range of motion, you’ll feel tempted to lift your heel off the floor to squat deeper.
Avoid this, because it can cause strain. Instead, go down only as far as you can without lifting your heel.
Don’t forget to engage your core
If you don’t squeeze your core like you mean it, you risk leaning forward, causing your knees to go over your toes. This can potentially cause hip probs.
Your hips should lead as your abs squeeze. Sit back so your knees don’t fall over your toes.
Once you’ve mastered the basic cossack squat, mix it up with the following moves.
Front-loaded cossack squat
Add some counterbalance with help from a kettlebell. Hold the weight in front of your chest by the horns and lower down into a cossack squat as usual.
This will ramp up the strength challenge. It’s also super beneficial if you’re struggling to keep your torso upright in the regular cossack. The additional weight will prevent you from leaning too far forward.
DB cossack squat
Now let’s add a dumbbell to the mix. Hold it in front of your chest as you squat from side to side.
Basically a variation of the front-loaded cossack squat, this move will likewise help you stay vertical.
Goblet cossack squat
Hold the kettlebell in front of your chest, cradling it like you mean it as you do the move as usual.
One-arm overhead cossack squat
Hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell in the hand opposite the leg you’re squatting with.
Extend your arm overhead and start cossack squatting. Do your reps on one side, and then switch to the other side.