When it comes to squats, there are lots of variations… in fact, far more than you’d probably first realize.
From wide stances, to jumping, to the use of all sorts of equipment, all these variations help to add progression or regression to the traditional squat and help you create more dynamic and engaging workouts (and ultimately help you hit your fitness goals!)
One of our favourite types of squats for all levels is the lateral squat (or also referred to as the side squat). The lateral squat boasts all sorts of benefits, whether you’re a beginner or a longstanding gym goer.
In this handy guide, we outline everthing you need to know about squatting from side to side, and tips for making the most out of it.
How To Do Lateral Side Squats
- Stand with your feet pointing slightly outwards, in a wide stance.
- Keep your back straight, chest up and knees slightly bent.
- Lean to the right by pushing down on your left foot and bending your right knee. Shift your weight across to the right as you do so.
- Keep your hips back and keep your left leg straight.
- Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor (or as low as feels comfortable).
- Push down on your right foot and straighten your right leg to return to the starting position. Really squeeze your glutes as you rise back up.
- Repeat on the other side.
Muscles Worked During Lateral Side Squats
Lateral squats primarily target the glutes, quads and hamstrings.
They also engage the core to help add stability as you move your weight from side to side.
Lateral Squat Benefits
Lateral squats will really require you to squeeze those glutes as you lift your body up from the squatting position. Depending on whether you opt for a high repetition workout or using weights to add progressive overload to the movement, you can train the glutes and legs in different ways by still following the same side squat movement.
Adding additional weight will help develop more power in the glutes, as well as muscle mass.
Opting for high repetition workouts will focus more on toning and sculpting.
Strong glutes are vital for healthy ageing and functional movement. They support better lower body movement and can help combat aches and pains due to muscular imbalances.
Tone Your Inner Thigh
The sideways movement will put more emphasis on the inner thigh than regular squats do.
This might be something you want to achieve for aesthetic reasons, but it can also help improve functional movement too. This can be particularly useful in all sorts of sports, whereby you might want to movement with force and power from side to side. Tennis, for example, would benefit from this sort of strength.
Stretch Those Hips
The wide stance of lateral squats naturally helps to stretch out the hips. If you find the wide stance in itself is a bit of a challenge, it might suggest your hips aren’t as flexible and supple as they should be.
Doing these sorts of movements will help to stretch out the hip muscles and improve hip flexibility.
Moving from side to side will test your balance and require your stablizing muscles to kick in and ensure you don’t fall flat on your face.
Your core will be a key driver of this and help to create that stability needed to remain balanced.
By improving your balance, you reduce the risk of falls and associated injuries, as well as improving your performance for other exercises and activities.
Practice Lateral Movements
Lateral side squats are a functional movement, replicating a type of movement you could do in everyday life.
As previously mentioned, there are sports like tennis whereby players often do a side squat to return the ball, but this is just one of many examples. As you go about your day you may find you squat to the side more than you realized.
Most workouts, especially leg workouts, focus predominantly on movements that go up and down… so it’s good to test the muscles in their ability to move with purpose and power from side to side too.
Lateral Squat Variations
There are ways to add progress to lateral squats, usually by adding additonal weight/resistance.
Holding dumbbells is a simple way to instantly make the movement more challenging.
By selecting heavier dumbbells, you can create an infinitely scalable workout that continues to challenge your muscles and strength.
You may quickly realize that holding the dumbbells by your side isn’t very convenient when moving from side to side. If this does bother you, an alternative is to rest the dumbbells on your shoulders. Try and keep your elbows pointing forward and lats engaged to keep the dumbbells stable.
You could also opt for holding a single dumbbell in a goblet position.
Similarly, you could load up a barbell too.
With both dumbbells and a barbell, remember to keep things light on your first few sets so you can get a feel for how much you can lift. You most likely won’t be able to lift as much as with a regular squat, so bear that in mind before attempting anything too heavy.
Using a kettlebell may feel more natural for you, as you can hold it in front of your chest (like you would a goblet squat).
Side Squat Vs Side Lunge
A side (or lateral) squat may sound similar to a side (or lateral) lunge. Although the movements are similar, there are differences to be aware of. It may seem pedantic but these small details would impact the nature of a workout so it’s worth being aware of them.
Both movements involve shifting your weight from side to side, bending at the knees.
However, the movements differentiate when it comes to feet placement and movement.
A side squat is a static movement, whereby the feet stay in the same position. A side lunge, is a dynamic movement, whereby the feet will move back and forth with the side movement.
With a side lunge, you “lunge” to the side which involves moving your feet as your lunge back and forth. From starting with your feet shoulder width apart, you would lift and place your right foot in a wider stance as you lunge to the right. As you return to the upright position, you would bring this right foot back in.
As you complete reps during a workout, this creates two very different movements.
Side lunges are probably better suited to HIIT workouts due to the additional movement.
Lateral Squat Vs Cossack Squat
So, now you’re fully qualified to talk about the difference between a lateral squat and lunge, it’s time to introduce you to another term… the cossack squat.
It’s worth noting down what a cossack squat is as it’s very similar to a side squat and you may just prefer it.
A cossack squat involves squatting to the side, but lifting your toe off the floor on the leg that is straight. You also squat deeper. Due to the deeper squat, you’ll probably find it harder than a lateral squat.
The benefits are largely similar… although the cossack squat will test your mobility and flexibility more, so it might be better suited to using as a warm-up or as part of your mobility/stretching routine. It’s slower pace means that it is probably less suited to including a HIIT workout, in comparison to a side squat.
But try both and see what works best for you.
Coach’s Tip – If the cossack squat is too challenging, try Asian Squats as a way to test your hip mobility and flexibility.
Not many of us include lateral movements in our workouts, yet they can help target and train the muscles from a different angle.
Lateral squats are a great variation to the traditional squat, that leverage a side to side movement to build strength in the glutes, quads and hamstrings, as well as improving balance and stability.