6 Beginner Squat Variations To Build Foundational Strength

Squatting is important for anyone using resistance training for health benefits. For beginners it’s crucial to start the journey to a strong squat with both safe and appropriate exercise selection, allowing you to build a foundation of strength. Here we will help guide you in your exercise selection for squats as a beginner.

6 min read
Sean Klein
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
Last updated

Get weekly roundups of the best training tools in your inbox, every Monday.

No spam – just thoughtful training advice

In This Resource
  • Reasons Why Beginners Should Squat
  • Foundational Strength
  • Mobility
  • Why Building A Base of Good Movement Is Important
  • Beginners Vary In Ability
  • Bi-Lateral and Uni-Lateral Squats
  • 6 Beginner Squat Variations To Build Foundational Strength
  • Reach Out
  • References

Reasons Why Beginners Should Squat

Foundational Strength

The squat is one of the fundamental movement patterns within resistance training, and anyone who is using resistance training for health should be doing squats in order to improve strength in the legs, back and core. Squats are simply one of the most important exercises we perform in resistance training and are a key component if all the benefits of resistance training are to be realised.


Squatting can also drastically improve the range of motion in the hips and the lower back. The vast majority of beginners will need to improve the mobility in their hips especially those coming from sedentary back grounds. This makes squatting particularly important for beginners, as they will need to see often dramatic improvements in mobility before they can consider adding a great deal of load.

Why Building A Base of Good Movement Is Important

Building great technique in the fundamental movement patterns is crucial. It allows us to create the technique required to progress slowly over time, without this technique, we will eventually arrive at a bottleneck when the quality of the movement is not good enough to deal with the load placed on it. This is often the cause of repetitive use injuries in beginners with poor foundational technique.

Beginners Vary In Ability

Beginners come in all varieties, some are ex-athletes who need one session to learn the squat, some are severely obese and will struggle taking their bodyweight and will need extra guidance, others may have been sedentary for 20+ years and struggle walking up a flight of stairs. This article is aimed at those who need extra guidance before moving towards the more complex exercises like front squats and back squats . If you are a very athletically gifted person you may not need to move through all of these variations, however if you need some extra guidance on how to start your journey to a strong squat, these exercises will be extremely beneficial. Resistance training is like many endeavours, brick by brick we build ourselves up over a long period of time, these squat variations help lay the foundation for future heavy back squats.

Bi-Lateral and Uni-Lateral Squats

In this list I will provide only bi-lateral squatting variation, because I approach programming for beginners by using bi-lateral and uni-lateral exercises in conjunction with each other. This means I would pair every exercise selected as a bi-lateral squat with a uni-lateral squat at the same time, to be working the squat movement pattern multiple times a week in slightly different ways.

6 Beginner Squat Variations To Build Foundational Strength

The squat with TRX support or assisted squat is one of the easiest variations in our movement library, it allows an individual to use their upper body strength to reduce the load placed on the lower body and therefore makes the exercise far more approachable than an air squat.

The high box counterbalance squat is another very easy variation which should be used by those who find any sort of knee flexion challenging. This is especially useful for those who are rehabilitating an injury. The counterbalance weight should be very light and is there to make it easier to maintain an upright torso throughout the movement.

The counterbalance squat to box is simply a continuation of the high box counterbalance squat with a lower box, allowing for a more challenging range of motion. This will make the exercise ever so slightly more difficult and encourage mobility adaptations. The step between these two is an excellent example of progressive overload through exercise selection.

The bodyweight box squat takes away the counterbalance and therefore requires more proprioception and control of the movement. This can be progressed by lowering the weight all the way to very close to the floor through using plates, literally allowing us to take a step by step process to where the squat reaches a full range of motion.

Eventually we have built enough strength and mobility to perform an air squat, which means we can add more range of motion to the movement and get rid of all external ques that have been guiding either yourself or the client.

Finally, we arrive a point where we can add load to the position, the goblet squat is the easiest load bearing variation as it is essentially an Air Squat with a kettlebell at the chest. This will mean it just seems like a natural progression from the air squat. It also allows us to use very light weights, whereas with barbells we would have to start heavier and introduce more technical movement.

Reach Out

If you need guidance with your squat exercise selection, do not hesitate to ask specific questions about your programming. Reach out to sean@programme.app.


  • Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8. PMID: 22777332.
  • If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.

    This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

    Sean Klein


    Programme is a workout app that plans every workout for you

    Programme learns from your past workouts, training experience and available equipment to create your optimal workout plan that adapts to your progress.