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HOW TO: COSSACK SQUATS
A MUST-HAVE IN YOUR STRENGTH & MOBILITY ROUTINE.
By adopting this exercise into our workout, we add a new dimension to our physical wellbeing. Here’s a guide on how to cossack squat, allowing you to take back full control of your body.
Although both front squats & back squats are great for improving lower body and core strength, the widely overlooked cossack squat adds a third dimension to the movement, and therefore an added benefit-improving lower body strength, flexibility and increased mobility.
We spend so much of our day in a sedentary position, behind our desks or the wheel of our cars, that daily life itself reduces our hip strength and mobility. But by adding the cossack squat to our exercise routine, we’re taking one step towards regaining the ability to move freely in our bodies, just like we did when we were kids.
HOW TO PERFORM A COSSACK SQUAT
Watch our video tutorial below for a great visual example, but make sure to follow these steps, to be certain that you’re not missing any important technique details.
Stand with your back straight and feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Point the toes of both feet to the outside at a 30-45° angle.
Don’t worry too much about the width between your feet-it varies for everyone, and you’ll be able to adjust your stance at the bottom of the squat.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, a small dumbbell can make the cossack squat much easier to complete, as it helps keep your back straight and is a great counterbalance for your hips.
3. Squat to one side
Flex one knee to the outside, bringing it down over the 2nd and 3rd toes. Manoeuvre the knee slightly to the outside and try to squeeze your hamstring into the back of your calf.
Keep your other leg straight, rotating the knee and toes up towards the ceiling. Keep both of your heels on the floor.
You can adjust your footing here if necessary, but remember to maintain a straight back posture even as your hips lower into the squat.
4. Return to centre
Maintaining control over your posture, push off the foot of the bent leg to return to centre. You don’t have to stand up fully but it can help stabilize you if necessary.
5. Complete the rep on the other side, and repeat.
Repeat the cossack squat on the other side. Remember not to rush, or collapse your leg into the movement-it’s all about keeping mindful, active control over your body.
AT A GLANCE: THE BENEFITS OF THE COSSACK SQUAT
Increased mobility and joint health
By practising the cossack squat, we’re boosting the range of motion in our hips, knees and ankles all in one exercise. How do we keep our joints healthy? Simple-by using them across every plane they’re designed to work in, without overstraining them. This variation of the squat doesn’t overload the joints but allows them to experience pressure from multiple angles. In time, and with repeated practice, you’ll see a profound improvement in your comfortable range of motion.
How many knees and ankles have been damaged when taken out of their every day, limited planes of movement? You might be able to squat impressive amounts of weight up and down at the gym, but what if you have to get quickly down to one side to fetch a low mark or return a serve? Even in everyday life, you want your body to be able to deal with a sudden loss inbalance, say a slip or a nudge.
The cossack squat helps lower the risk of these kinds of injuries. By training our joints and ligaments to deal with varying forces, again, from all three dimensions, we’re helping to regain full control, taking one step away from avoidable injuries.
Increased flexibility in the hips & hamstrings
Flexibility is not the same as mobility. This is something that not a lot of people fully understand, but think of it like this: Flexibility is passive, whereas mobility is active.
Here’s a simple explanation: Flexibility involves a muscle, or group of muscles’ability to stretch, or lengthen, in a passive way, for example, being able to touch your toes with a straightened leg. Mobility though involves being able to actively move a part of your body through a range of motion while maintaining muscular control over it. This takes some strength as well as flexibility. We’ve already detailed how the cossack squat leads to increased mobility, but it also stretches and therefore helps improve the flexibility of the glutes, groins, and hamstrings.
Increases basic strength of key lower body muscles
While the cossack squat is primarily used to improve mobility and flexibility, it’s also a brilliant way to begin to build basic strength or to use a more appropriate term; control over muscles which we need to engage if we want to move with more freedom. The adductors and quads of the thighs, glutes, back muscles and hip flexors are all worked during this exercise.
HOW MANY REPS SHOULD I DO?
If you want to work on increasing your mobility, try to do 2 or 3 sets of 5-10 slow, controlled cossack squats. Focus on technique over volume! Over time and with practice, the volume will increase naturally, but proper form and technique is money in the bank for future progress.
If your mobility and control are already pretty good, you can use the cossack squat as more of a warm-up to get your muscles firing, and as a strength exercise. Do 3 or 4sets of 5-10 reps, but remember to maintain your focus on control. Even for experienced exercisers, this isn’t meant to be done at high speed.
By all means, avoid overburdening yourself with heavyweights. You can increase the weight resistance slightly for a more challenging squat, but don’t prioritize how much you can liftover how well you can move. With too much-added weight, the cossack squat can result in injury, rather than helping you prevent it.
WHAT IF I CAN’T COMPLETE THE COSSACK SQUAT?
Make sure to keep your heel on the floor no matter what: This is key. Raising your heel on the side of the squat makes getting to the bottom easier but doesn’t help to increase your ankle mobility. In essence, it defeats the purpose of the exercise.
You’re far better off getting only halfway down into the squat with the correct form and control, and then a little bit further in the future, than getting all the way down with compromised form. Here’s why:
Your goal in attempting this isn’t just to complete the movement, it’s to have better mobility than you did beforehand. When you do complete the squat, it’ll be proof of how your mobility has increased.
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