Cossack Squat: How to do, Variations, and Safety Tips

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The female athlete is performing cossack squat in correct form

How to do | Muscles worked | Who Should/Should Not | Add to routine | Safety Tips | Benefits | Variations

Derived from the traditional folk dance form Cossack/Hopak dance- the Cossack squat is a unilateral, lower body exercise that requires just your body weight. It is a challenging combination of a deep squat and a side lunge.

Commonly misunderstood as an incorrect or a cheat squat, the cossack squat is loaded with benefits. This accessory exercise works perfectly to enhance mobility for individuals with a sedentary lifestyle.

How to do a cossack squat with proper form?

To reap the full benefits of the exercise, perform the move by following each step with attention and intention. Follow the steps mentioned below to perform correctly:

  1. Start by standing with your feet wider than your shoulder width. This wide stance should be ideally 3-4 ft apart. Keep your toes pointed slightly outwards.
  2. Keep your torso upright, your core engaged, and your hands in front of you with your fingers interlaced.
  3. Keep your heels firmly planted on the floor and shift your weight onto your right leg.
  4. Now, squat on the right side in a slow and controlled motion. Squat deeper than you do for a traditional squat.
  5. Ensure the knee of your bent leg/your squatting leg is in line with the toes. Your hip should go below the knee.
  6. Meanwhile, fully extend your left leg and rotate your left foot to balance it on the heel with your toes pointing upwards (towards the ceiling). Ensure you feel a good stretch in the calf muscles and hamstrings of this straight leg.
  7. Hold the pose for a moment and push back through your right heel back to the starting position.
  8. Shift your weight to the other side and repeat the same with the left leg.

Muscles worked

The Cossack squat is a compound exercise that works multiple groups of muscles simultaneously. Here is a list:

Primary muscles

Quadriceps musclesrectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius
Hamstringssemitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris muscles
Glutesgluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus
Calvesgastrocnemius and the soleus

Secondary muscles

Core musclestransversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, external oblique muscles, internal oblique muscles
Hip adductorspectineus, adductor longus, gracilis, adductor brevis, and adductor magnus

Who should and should not do cossack squats?

Despite the Cossack squat being only a moderately challenging single-leg squat, it has the ability to strengthen the lower body while simultaneously making it agile.

Nonetheless, this squat can be performed by people at any fitness level. However, certain sets of people should include or should refrain from the exercise.

Who should

  1. Strength and sports athletes must include this squat in their routine. The cossack squat helps strengthen the glutes and adductors, eventually improving lower body mobility. Moreover, performing such single-leg squats reduces the chances of injury. It is also a common exercise for the prevention of groin pulls [1]PubMed: Eccentric strengthening effect of hip-adductor training with elastic bands in soccer players: a randomised controlled trial in athletes.
  2. Anyone interested in improving their muscle imbalance, flexibility, and mobility must include the Cossack squat in their fitness routine.

Who should not

  1. Anyone with a preexisting medical condition or injury must perform this exercise only under the care and supervision of their healthcare provider and a personal fitness instructor.
  2. Individuals with poor balancing skills should steadily program this exercise into their routine. They should perform it in a properly equipped facility that can provide medical assistance if needed.

Adding it to your routine

The Cossack squat works eccentrically [2]National Library of Medicine: Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits, which means it forcefully lengthens the leg muscles while giving a good stretch. This improves your hamstring flexibility [3]National Library of Medicine: A Comparison of the Immediate Effects of Eccentric Training vs Static Stretch on Hamstring Flexibility in High School and College Athletes when performed with a full range of motion.

Moreover, it is an accessory exercise. In other words, it is a secondary move that usually follows the primary exercise.

Here is a sample circuit for beginners:

Beginner levelReps/time
Warm-up (cycling and spot jogging)For 10 mins
Air squats10-12 reps
Jumping jacks15-20 reps
Walking lunges15-20 on each side
Cossack squats 10-15 on each side

Note: As a stand-alone exercise for beginners to build mobility, perform 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 reps on each side.

Intermediate/advanced level individuals working on their body conditioning can include cossack squats in their workout. This would allow them to keep working out without feeling fatigued. For body conditioning, it is best to add cossack squats in an HIIT routine with a conditioning exercise, an explosive move, and an upper-body exercise.

Intermediate/advanced levelReps/time
Warm-up (cycling, jumping jacks, spot jogging)For 10 mins
Bulgarian split squat (with weights)10-12 on each side
Squat jumps15-20 
Cossack squats8-10 on each side
Bench dips5-10 

Note: Although Cossack squats are not very productive/effective as a stand-alone exercise for intermediate/advanced level individuals, performing 5-7 sets of 8-10 reps on each side with weights can be effective.

Safety tips

It is imperative to consider the safety tips before performing the cossack squat, as it is a challenging move. Below is a list of safety measures to keep in mind:

1. Sequencing of the cossack squat

Many may perform the Cossack squat as a warm-up exercise as it works as a dynamic stretch for the lower body. However, the exercise needs a little warmup of its own. Hence, it is best to perform the Cossack squat in the latter part of the warm-up.

2. Keep your chest and back upright

Leaning forward while performing the Cossack squat is a common mistake. This is commonly noticed in people with stiff hamstrings and adductors. To avoid improper posture and prevent unnecessary lower back strain, keep your chest upright, and spine erect throughout the move. Holding a lightweight (kettlebell) for counterbalance is also recommended.

3. Heel position

The heel of the bent leg should be firmly planted on the floor. Not doing so may cause you to lose balance and trip forward. This is commonly noticed in people with ankle mobility issues. Incorporate ankle mobility exercises to ensure better flexibility and strength in your ankle joints

4. Move steadily

To gain the full benefit of the exercise, it is essential to perform it slowly. If you move too fast, you may not achieve the full range of motion, making the exercise redundant.

Cossack squat benefits

Performing the cossack squat may seem challenging at the beginning. However, they are worth the effort. Here are the unique benefits and reasons to include them in your routine:

1. works your frontal plane

Unlike most exercises that work along your sagittal plane, the cossack squat is a side-to-side movement (lateral movement) that develops the frontal plane of your lower body muscles. By doing this, the body develops more overall mobility and flexibility. Neglecting movements that work your frontal plane may lead to muscular imbalances and joint stiffness over time.

2. helps correct muscle imbalances

Unilateral exercises like the cossack squat are known to fix muscle imbalances [4]American Council on Exercise: The Benefits of Unilateral Training. As exercise isolates the muscles and works them individually.

3. helps improve performance

The cossack squat trains your body to perform two exercises in a compound manner, i.e., the side lunge and deep squat. This helps the body develop the flexibility to perform advanced squats while achieving the full depth of that particular exercise. Moreover, it builds overall agility and strength.

4. Builds resilient joints and soft tissues

If you perform the full depth and range of motion of the exercise, you engage your knees, ankles, and hip joints at the same time. You also get a good stretch on the hamstrings of the straight leg. Regularly performing the exercise with control may promote joint health and strengthen the soft tissues in the hamstrings.

Cossack squat variations

The Cossack squat is a bodyweight squat that can be modified easily. Here are some squat variations and cossack squat alternatives you can try:

1. TRX Cossack squat

This squat variation requires you to hold on to the TRX strap as you perform the cossack squat. This allows you to garner some support to achieve the maximum squat depth.

2. Front-loaded cossack squat

This variation of the squat needs you to hold a free weight in front of you for counterbalance. This prevents you from leaning forward, which may cause back strain.

3. Lateral lunges

Lateral lunges work well as a great squat variation as well as an alternative. The lateral lunge doesn’t require you to squat as deep as the Cossack squat. However, it does need you to bring your feet back together after lunging on each side. This move is known to improve mobility.


The cossack squat is one of the most challenging lower-body exercises. It must be performed with the proper technique for the best results. This dance-like exercise is an excellent lateral movement to help improve flexibility and mobility. Keep in mind the safety instructions to gain full benefit from this exercise.

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