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:
- 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.
- Keep your torso upright, your core engaged, and your hands in front of you with your fingers interlaced.
- Keep your heels firmly planted on the floor and shift your weight onto your right leg.
- Now, squat on the right side in a slow and controlled motion. Squat deeper than you do for a traditional squat.
- Ensure the knee of your bent leg/your squatting leg is in line with the toes. Your hip should go below the knee.
- 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.
- Hold the pose for a moment and push back through your right heel back to the starting position.
- Shift your weight to the other side and repeat the same with the left leg.
The Cossack squat is a compound exercise that works multiple groups of muscles simultaneously. Here is a list:
|Quadriceps muscles||rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius|
|Hamstrings||semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris muscles|
|Glutes||gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus|
|Calves||gastrocnemius and the soleus|
|Core muscles||transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, external oblique muscles, internal oblique muscles|
|Hip adductors||pectineus, 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.
- 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 PubMed: Eccentric strengthening effect of hip-adductor training with elastic bands in soccer players: a randomised controlled trial in athletes.
- Anyone interested in improving their muscle imbalance, flexibility, and mobility must include the Cossack squat in their fitness routine.
Who should not
- 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.
- 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 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 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:
|Warm-up (cycling and spot jogging)||For 10 mins|
|Air squats||10-12 reps|
|Jumping jacks||15-20 reps|
|Walking lunges||15-20 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.
|Warm-up (cycling, jumping jacks, spot jogging)||For 10 mins|
|Bulgarian split squat (with weights)||10-12 on each side|
|Cossack squats||8-10 on each side|
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.
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:
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 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.
|↑1||PubMed: Eccentric strengthening effect of hip-adductor training with elastic bands in soccer players: a randomised controlled trial|
|↑2||National Library of Medicine: Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits|
|↑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|
|↑4||American Council on Exercise: The Benefits of Unilateral Training|