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3 Ways You Can Modify Squats, for Every Body Type

Got knee pain or balance issues? Don’t fear the squat … just make it easier for you.

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The squat is so much more than just a great butt workout. It actually may be the single most effective exercise ever invented.

“If I were to give you one exercise for life it would be the squat,” says Joan Pagano, an exercise physiologist in New York City. “It is the most functional move, the one that we need to get up from a seated position, and it serves us throughout life.”

Here’s why: The squat can be done anytime, anywhere, and it engages the entire body. Specifically, it targets the three major muscles of the lower body: the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. “You’re targeting three major muscle groups in one move. It’s a very efficient move,” says Pagano. If that’s not enough to convince you, the squat can also help improve balance and bone density, keeping your bones strong and healthy.

So if squats are a gift from the exercise gods, why isn’t everyone doing them on the regular? “If you’re just starting out, or if you have knee issues, a squat can be difficult,” says Pagano. Thankfully, there are many ways to do a squat, so if the classic move is difficult for you, you don’t need to be left without, well, squat.

Here are three squat modifications that are effective for every body: the wall squat, the sit-to-stand squat, and the stand-to-sit squat. 

The Wall Squat

This modification is a great option for people with bad knees. “Because you’re leaning weight against the wall and only going down part way, you can spare your knees,” says Pagano.

  1. Lean against a wall with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Your hands can be in front of you or by your sides.

  2. Step out about two and a half of your own feet from the wall, so that when you slide down by bending your knees, your knees stay behind your toes.

  3. Slide down slowly, keeping your back against the wall, until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.  

  4. Hold in the “seated” position if you like, then push your weight back up the wall.

  5. Repeat 10 times.

The Sit-to-Stand Squat

  1. Sit on the edge of your chair with your legs slightly wider than hip-width apart.

  2. Stand up keeping your knees behind your toes, using your arms for balance, not for support as you’re getting up (it may be helpful to cross your arms so you don’t use them).

  3. Bend your knees and sit back down onto the edge of the chair.

  4. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

The Stand-to-Sit Squat

  1. Stand in front of a chair, raise both arms up to shoulder height so they’re parallel to the floor, with your palms facing down.

  2. Bend your knees and reach back with your hips, until you tap the seat of the chair, and then stand back up again.

  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Happy squatting!