Squat Challenge: 5 Killer Moves for Toned Thighs

Amy Marturana

There’s a reason squat challenges are so popular on Pinterest—this simple move really works. And who doesn’t want sculpted thighs and maybe even a Jen Selter butt? To add a little extra oomph to this basic-yet-effective workout and work some extra muscles on top of those quads, trainer Adam James Gallo of The Loft Collective NYC created a squat circuit that starts with the most basic (but necessary) squat and ends with one that’ll have you seriously feeling the burn.

Gallo suggests doing the whole workout in order, from one to five. As it progresses from easy to advanced, you’ll start to see why he chose these specific variations. From throwing in a little arm work to adding full-on cardio, there’s never a dull moment, and the more your muscles are kept guessing, the more they’re bound to transform. Depending on your fitness level, you should aim to complete the entire circuit up to three times.

Ready? Set. Squat.

1Horse Stance (Static Squat)

“This position engages all of the large movers: the glutes the quads, mobilizes the muscles in the hips and lengthens the hamstrings,” explains Gallo. This static variation on the basic squat will also be the starting stance for all of the other squats in this circuit.

Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, feet parallel to each other. (Note: True parallel is measured from the outside heel, so you may feel like you’re standing a little pigeon-toed, but that’s actually parallel when you follow the structure of your foot.) Bend your knees and sit back into a squat position, keeping feet screwed into the ground and knees above your feet. Pull arms into the side right at your ribs, palms up, chest open and elbows squeezed back so your upper back is engaged. Pull your chin in so you’re not bunching up the neck. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

“As long as your knee isn’t going past your toe, it’s OK,” Gallo notes. If you’re having a hard time maintaining form without toppling over, widen your stance a bit.

2Dynamic Deep Squat

Gallo shares a fun fact about the deep squat: “It’s one of the positions that we as humans used to be able to do that we just can’t do anymore in a sedentary life.” In our primordial days, this was our basic position when we were at rest. Now, our big mover muscles are shortened, our hips less mobile. Our ankles are too tight and our quads aren’t strong enough to hold us in that position. Which is why this move is so important for giving us that strength and mobility we are meant to have.

1. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward, feet parallel to each other, arms straight out in front of you (to help you balance as you move through the squat).

2. Keeping your spine straight, sit back into a standard squat. Remember to keep your knees above your ankles, putting the weight on your heels.

3. Keep knees open, above the feet, as you lower down into a deep squat. Hold for one second.

4. Stand back up straight and do a calf raise, exploring your full range of motion from top to bottom, arms still straight out in front of your body. Make sure the weight stays even on both balls of the feet as you raise up.

Do as many as you can in 30-60 seconds.

If you feel like you’re about to fall backward, it means one of your prime movers is a little bit tight, probably your hip flexors. Allow your hips a little more room for movement by opening up your stance a tad.

3Squat and Press

The important thing here is you want to try to get your arms as high above your head as possible at the very top of the movement. To make it happen, go with a lighter weight. Gallo recommends 1-3 pounds.

Start with legs shoulder-width apart, standing straight, with arms also shoulder-width apart, holding weights, directly in front of your face.

Sit back into a squat, while simultaneously pushing arms up straight above your head as high as you can, rotating your hands so that palms face out at the top, and squeezing elbows as close together as possible. “You should almost have the sensation that the weight in your hands isn’t going anywhere,” Gallo says, that’s how fluid the movement should be.

Go though these motions for 30-60 seconds.

Gallo stresses the benefits of elbow adduction in this exercise, which just means squeezing the elbows in as close to touching as possible. It adds another level of resistance and works a part of the arm you might not be used to working.

4American Kettle Bell Swing

In this exercise, you’ll be using the energy from the squat to swing the weight over and above your head. “The weight sets the pace,” Gallo says. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and spine straight the entire time.

1. Start in a squat position, with your arms in front of you holding the kettle bell hanging under your body.

2. Swing the weight back a bit to start it up, and then swing it all the way up over your head until your arms are beside your ears.

3. After the weight hits the very top, use the momentum to swing it back down as you lower back into a squat.

Continue for 30-60 seconds.

“You don’t want the weight to stop ever; it’s a pendulum,” Gallo says. And your spine should be upright the entire time, so if you ever feel like you’re bending over, you’ve swung too far.

5Modified Deep Squat Burpee

Here’s your full body bonus. This squat has three main positions, and employs plyometrics to add an extra cardio kick.

1. Perform a deep squat, all the way down to the floor, arms out straight in front of you for balance.

2. Pop out into a plank position.

3. Lower yourself down like you’re doing a push up, but go completely down to the floor.

4. Push off with your arms and jump back into the deep squat.

5. Jump up straight into the air, toes pointed down, legs straight, as high as you can. Keep arms straight out in front of you.

Do as many as you can for 45-60 seconds.

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