If you’re looking to build functional lower body strength, develop explosive power, improve stability and burn calories… it’s time to talk about deck squats.
The deck squat is a variation of the traditional bodyweight squat, that involves transitioning from a deep squat position onto your back, and returning to a squat position.
As far as deep squatting goes, this is as deep as it gets, as your glutes will literally be on the floor… and the added movement of rolling onto your back will further activate your core.
Deck squats can also be used as a way to measure hip mobility and identify potential weaknesses in your overall movement.
Over the years, we’ve been leveraging rolling deck squats in workouts to help enhance all sorts of fitness programs, so we thought it was about time we provided some tips and insights about the exercise, including how to perform it properly, the benefits, variations and potential alternatives.
How to do Deck Squats Properly
To do deck squats:
- Stand in an upright position, with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Lower yourself into a deep squat by bending at the knees.
- As your glutes touch the floor, roll backwards, lifting your feet off the ground. Roll to just below your shoulders so your lower back is raised off the floor.
- Use the momentum to roll back forwards and plant your feet on the floor again. Explosively push down through your legs to lift your glutes and upper body off the floor.
- Continue to push through the squat to end in the upright starting position.
- Repeat for repetitions and sets.
As you roll back to launch yourself up into the squat, plant your feet as close to your glutes as possible. This makes it easier to balance. If you try and transition into a squat with your feet further away, it’s going to be a lot more difficult, and you may lose your balance.
Benefits of Deck Squats
Deck squats are a great way to measure hip mobility, strength and flexibility.
Discovering you have poor hip mobility is incredibly useful, as this can often be the root cause for other MSK problems, such as lower back ache.
Ultimately, you need attributes like hip mobility and flexibility to successfully do a deck squat, so if you’re struggling with the movement, it suggests there may be limitations in your hip movement.
By practising the individual components of the movement, especially rolling back into a squat will help improve mobility and strength in this part of your body.
Although the deck squat primarily targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves, it also requires a strong core to support the movement.
Your abdominals and obliques are needed to help propel you from a laying position back into a squatting position.
A weak core will mean you struggle to maintain the stability needed.
If you include deck squats as the main exercise in your workout, you’ll definitely feel it in your core the following day… so if you’re bored of just doing planks to strengthen your core, this could be a great exercise to try.
Lower Body Strength
The deck squat is a variation of the traditional bodyweight squat, and consequently, the primary muscles activated are the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
The movement requires a deep squat so you can transition smoothly from the squat to the floor, which brings with it lots of benefits, namely around engaging the lower body muscles more effectively.
You simply can’t get away with a half squat… by its very nature, the exercise requires the deepest of squats possible.
Lower Body Explosive Power
An exercise like the plank, for example, is a great test of muscular endurance and strength… but it doesn’t require an initial burst of explosive power and strength.
In contrast, the deck squat is all about explosive power.
As you roll onto your feet, you’ve only got a split second to powerfully push yourself up, otherwise you’ll simply roll backwards and lose your balance.
This forces your body to develop more explosive strength, which is useful for sports but also everyday activities. When you stand up from a chair, for example, having that explosive strength to lift you up will unquestionably make a difference.
This is often an area of fitness, and strength training, that doesn’t get enough attention.
At your first attempt at a deck squat, you may find you lose balance… this is because it really does require a high level of body control. Your body can’t rely solely on strength alone, and instead, must leverage stabilizing muscles, co-ordination and balance, to support the movement.
If you can easily squat 300 lbs using a barbell, but struggle to do deck squats, it demonstrates a lack of these other key attributes to physical fitness (and suggests that regardless of how strong you are, your functional strength has room for improvement).
Our recent guide on how to combine yoga and strength training highlights the benefits of improving all these areas of fitness, and the power outcome when you are both strong and flexible.
Like burpees, deck squats can deliver a powerful cardio workout.
If you’re short on time and just want an effective workout, doing 50-100 deck squats is really not a bad approach at all. It will engage a lot of muscles in your body, develop balance as well as strength, and also burn calories.
You can adjust the tempo of the movement to boost its cardio credentials. A faster tempo will activate your cardiovascular system more.
The deck squat is a very functional movement, with a lot of real-world benefits. It’s one of those exercises that makes you feel more empowered in your body.
Particularly as we age, having the strength and balance to feel in control during functional movements is vital for overall mobility.
Kettlebell Deck Squats
One of the most popular variations of the deck squat is the kettlebell deck squat. The kettlebell provides extra resistance during the movement, and helps challenge the muscles further.
This would be a progression from the regular deck squat, so only attempt this once you feel confident with the fundamental movement.
For kettlebell deck squats, hold a kettlebell in front of your chest, like you would for a goblet squat. As you lay on the floor, you could also extend the kettlebell over your head, almost like a kettlebell pullover. This will further activate your core, but also engage your lats, chest, shoulders and arms more too.
More Strength, More Stability
Something to bear in mind with the kettlebell deck squat is that as well as holding additional weight, your arms can’t be used to help balance as you stand up out from the squat. This means using a kettlebell not only requires more strength and power, but it also requires better core stability and balance.
We’ve also tried deck squats with a weighted vest, but that’s not very comfortable to roll back on… which is why using a kettlebell is usually the easiest way to add resistance to the movement.
Equally, a medicine ball would work well too… but these don’t tend to available in heavier weights.
Single Leg (Pistol) Deck Squats
If you want to stick to bodyweight movements, the single leg pistol deck squat is a very challenging variation, that requires more leg strength and better balance.
To do a single leg pistol deck squat, stand on one leg, with the other raised out in front of you. Squat down on the one leg and roll back like you would a normal deck squat. Roll back forwards and plant the same leg back on the ground to perform a single leg pistol squat. Repeat for repetitions and on your other leg.
As far as bodyweight movements go, this really is up there, and a great exercise to challenge your friends with.
Deck Squat Burpees
By adding a burpee to the deck squat, you can really create an effective full body workout with just these two exercises.
Deck squat burpees involve doing a burpee after you’ve completed a single repetition of a deck squat.
Asian squats involve holding a very deep squat. Holding this sort of position will help improve hip flexibility.
If you want to improve your hip flexibility without the gruelling cardio requirements of decks squats, holding a deep squat instead, might be worth considering.
The cossack squat is a deep side lunge that helps to improve flexibility and strength in the adductors.
This is another great alternative for those looking to stretch out tight hips, that doesn’t work up such a sweat.
Frog squats involve a pulsing motion, once you get into a squat position.
This creates a challenging exercise for your lower body, particularly your quads (as you’re holding a squat the whole time).
It provides the benefits of an isometric squat hold, as well as the benefits of the raising and lowering of the glutes.
Although deck squats don’t require any equipment or additional weight, they are unquestionably a very challenging exercise… but one that offers those brave enough to give it a try, a lot of benefits.
The high tempo nature of deck squats means that we think it’s best suited to those who enjoy HIIT/circuit workouts.
If you prefer lifting weights, there are all sorts of squat variations, such as zombie squats, that you may find more suitable.
Deck squats aren’t easy, so if you’re a beginner, you’ll need to get comfortable with basic air squats first, as well as developing a good base level of core strength and overall balance.