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Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed straight ahead. Drop your glutes back, as if you were sitting in a chair. Keep your chest lifted, your abs tight, your weight toward your heels and your knees behind your toes throughout the exercise. Avoid rounding your back; instead, maintain a natural, slightly inward curve. Descend until your thighs are parallel with the floor. (Escamilla’s research shows that dropping much below parallel can increase your risk of injury without adding much benefit.) Then push upward from your heels to return to the starting position.
As You Improve: Hold a barbell across your upper back, just below your neck. Stick your chest out slightly so that your shoulder blades come toward each other. Follow this form for all squat variations unless otherwise specified.
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and with a slim block or wedge under your heels. Place your hands in front of you in a ready, balanced position, as if you were holding ski poles. Roll your ankles to the left and drop into a half squat, keeping your knees behind your toes. Rise to a quarter-squat position, and roll your ankles to the right. Drop again into a half-squat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand as you improve.
Why It’s Great: The better you can mimic ski position during your workout, the bigger the payoff you’ll receive on the mountain. That’s because you’re training not only your muscles but also your nervous system and muscle memory. Also, the narrow stance and the heel lift both make your quads work harder. Because the squat is a multi-joint, free-weight exercise, your body moves much as it would on the mountain, not in rigid planes of motion as with, say, a leg press.
Perform a barbell squat, but place your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, point your toes out slightly and hold the bar just below your deltoids. Your torso will lean slightly more forward (aim for a 45-degree angle to the floor), but think about keeping your weight back and make sure you’re bending forward from your hips, not your waist.
Why It’s Great: As your torso shifts forward and your stance widens, your abs, hamstrings and glutes do more of the work. Mix the power-lift squat into your midseason workouts, when your quads are putting in overtime on the hill.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball. Drop into a squat, bringing the ball down to the outside of your left knee. Your chest should remain lifted and your torso should twist slightly. Stand up, and as your rise, bring the ball up and to the right until your arms are fully extended diagonally above you and your torso is twisted to the right. (Be careful not to arch your back.) Follow the ball with your eyes throughout the exercise. After one set, reverse direction.
Why It’s Great: The twisting and lifting motion focuses the workout on your core, especially the obliques. The combo of a strong midsection and a rock-solid lower body will help keep you upright when it counts.
Stand with your heels about six inches wider than shoulder-width and your toes pointed outward about 30 degrees. Keep your chest lifted and squat until your glutes are slightly below your knees. Return to the starting position.
Why It’s Great: The wider stance engages more of your inner-thigh muscles. It also enables you to descend farther, which increases muscle activity in your quads, hamstrings and glutes.
Stand on your right leg on a sturdy bench or box. Keeping your right hip, knee and ankle aligned, slowly squat until your right thigh is as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Your left foot should drop straight down the side of the bench. Slowly return to the starting position. Do up to 10 reps on each side, but stop if your form falters.
Why It’s Great: Shifting all your weight to one leg accomplishes three things: It boosts your balance and coordination, challenges your smaller stabilizing muscles and diminishes muscle imbalances between your left and right leg.