How to Do a Cossack Squat, Plus Variations, Benefits, and More

With its combo of strength-building and hip-opening benefits, the low-impact cossack squat should be a staple in your fitness routine.

Traditional lower-body exercises such as goblet squats and back squats are excellent choices for your workout regimen. However, over time, you might find these routines becoming monotonous or find your progress stalling. To keep your workouts exciting and boost your flexibility, try incorporating the Cossack squat into your exercise protocol. This guide will show you exactly how to perform a Cossack squat and provide tips on how to adapt and enhance the move. Additionally, it will discuss the numerous benefits this low-impact, strength-building workout can offer.

How to Do the Cossack Squat

The Cossack squat is a lateral exercise which, similar to the side lunge, requires you to squat on one leg while the other is extended straight out. However, unlike the side lunge, your feet remain firmly grounded throughout the exercise. Bianca Vesco, an NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor from Nashville describes it as a deep single-leg squat combined with half of a split. The squatting leg experiences a thorough workout through achieving full hip, knee, and ankle flexion, while the extended leg’s hamstrings and adductors stretch extensively. To understand how to execute the Cossack squat, follow this step-by-step guide provided by Vesco: A. Position yourself in a wide stance, about one to three steps wider than your shoulders. Your toes should be slightly turned outwards and your arms stretched fully in front of your chest, with your palms facing each other. B. Inhale, shift your weight onto your right side, bend your right knee and sit back into a squat until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your left leg extended out to the side, your chest lifted, and your right heel flat on the ground. Be careful not to round your back. C. As you exhale, press down into your right foot to straighten your right leg and return to standing. Pause briefly, then repeat on the left side.

The Key Cossack Squat Benefits

Although the cossack squat involves just your body weight, it shouldn't be underestimated. Here, Vesco breaks down some of the major benefits that come with performing the exercise regularly.

Challenges Your Body In the Frontal Plane of Motion

Most lower-body workouts, such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts, typically train your body to move powerfully and efficiently in the sagittal plane of motion, or forward and backward movements. However, in real-world situations, your body isn't limited to these movements, notes Vesco. That's where the cossack squat comes in—it involves lateral movement and trains your body in the frontal plane of motion.

The cossack squat incorporates side-to-side movement, providing your lower body with training in directions that you may not usually explore. This helps prevent muscle imbalances and enhance multi-planar performance, says Vesco. As a result, the cossack squat can help you avoid compensatory movement patterns that could potentially lead to injury, a statement backed by the American Council on Exercise.

Supports Hip Mobility

The Cossack squat's ability to mitigate muscle imbalances is not its only benefit; it also enhances and stabilizes your entire hip joint, according to Vesco. The action of moving into and out of the squat allows for flexion and extension of the hip joint on the leg that's doing the work. At the same time, your inner-thigh muscles or hip adductors on the extended leg experience a satisfying stretch. These two actions collectively contribute to the overall improvement of hip mobility over time, explains Vesco. As you gain familiarity with this exercise and your strength increases, you'll be able to lower yourself even closer to the ground, thereby challenging your hip to move through an even broader range of motion.

Keeps Joints Safe

The Cossack squat, a lower-body exercise, ensures your feet are securely grounded throughout the movement, making it entirely free from impact. This characteristic proves especially beneficial for those dealing with issues in the knees or ankles, according to Vesco.

The absence of a stepping motion significantly reduces injury potential - there is no possibility of causing harm to your ankle or knee due to an excessively hard step. Moreover, the lateral motion, which might seem somewhat daunting initially, becomes less so owing to this. Ensure not to include any headings or subheadings and return only new content without any notes.

Cossack Squat Muscles Worked

The cossack squat is an all-encompassing lower-body exercise. It puts to work several muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip adductors, and particularly the gluteus medius which is part of your hip abductors. This set of muscles aids in keeping your pelvis stable while on a single leg, internal rotation of your legs, and moving your legs away from your body's central line, as stated by the National Library of Medicine. Interestingly, this squat variation also focuses on your obliques or the abdominal muscles located on the sides of your body. These muscles are pivotal for maintaining the squat position without twisting your torso, says Vesco.

Cossack Squat Variations

While the cossack squat may appear simple, it's not advised for total fitness beginners, according to Vesco. First, you should become proficient in basic exercises like lunges and squats, which are generally safe even if your lower-body joint mobility is limited. Following that, engage in exercises such as curtsy lunges, sumo squats, and single-leg deadlifts to strengthen the gluteus medius muscle. When you have achieved mastery in these movements, give cossack squats a try, adjusting and advancing the exercise as required with the suggestions below.

Modification: Cossack Squat with Ankle Support

If your ankle flexibility hasn't been sufficiently developed to keep the entire foot of your squatting side flat on the floor throughout the movement, a towel, weight plate, book, or yoga mat under your heel could be a helpful modification, according to Vesco. This approach increases the degree of your ankle's bend and can enhance the comfort level during the exercise, she explains. The exercise can also be made slightly easier by holding TRX straps in front of your chest, alleviating some of the burden if you lack the strength to stand up unaided.

Progression: Cossack Squat with Full Range of Motion

The cossack squat is generally performed using one's own body weight. However, the exercise can be made more challenging by holding a weight at your chest or front-racking it on one side. This will significantly increase the engagement of your core muscles. "Maintaining an active core and upright chest is critical, especially when front-racking weights, as your body may instinctively lean into a rounded, hunched posture," explains Vesco. Enhancing the range of motion in the cossack squat – meaning how deep you can descend in the squat–is another way to advance this exercise. A helpful guideline to follow is to lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground at least, Vesco advises. "For those who possess sufficient hip and ankle mobility, reaching all the way down to the floor represents the most intense form of this exercise," she adds.

Common Cossack Squat Mistakes

When executing the cossack squat, it's crucial to maintain a neutral spine and prevent your ribs from dropping towards your thigh, according to Vesco. She points out that most people tend to lean forward excessively during the squat. While a mild hip hinge is necessary, you wouldn't hunch over when sitting down at the dinner table, and the same upright posture should be adopted during a cossack squat. It's equally important to ensure that your heel remains firmly planted on the ground. If it starts to lift, it indicates that you've squatted too deep and should focus on enhancing your ankle flexibility before trying to lower your squat further, advises Vesco. Moreover, performing the cossack squat barefoot is preferable, provided you have sufficient foot strength. Vesco explains that shoes with thick, soft soles can disrupt your equilibrium. Also, if your goal is to lower your buttocks all the way to the ground, footwear can hinder this progression. This is because "your outer foot needs to shift slightly to accommodate your buttocks on the floor," and shoes can restrict this minor adjustment, says Vesco.

How to Add Cossack Squats to Your Routine

Before integrating cossack squats into your leg-focused workouts, it's important to consult your doctor if you've undergone any reconstructive procedures on your hips, knees, or ankles. Cossack squats, being lateral and single-leg exercises, can place significant stress on these joints, as per Vesco's insights. Eager to try out the cossack squat? Incorporate a few reps as a part of your warm-up routine to open up your hips before diving into an intense strength-building session. Alternatively, use it as a staple move in your lower-body strength training program. Generally, aiming for one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps is beneficial for enhancing muscular endurance (which aids in long-duration performance). On the other hand, eight to 12 reps are ideal if you're targeting hypertrophy (i.e., muscle development), alluding to the National Strength and Conditioning Association's recommendations. However, your cossack squat regimen doesn't have to follow a strict pattern. Even just doing a few reps as part of exercise snacking could prove beneficial, according to Vesco. "Particularly for individuals working from home and sitting throughout the day [causing hip tightness], if you have a spare two minutes and can only choose one exercise, this would be the one," she advises.

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