How to Make a Squat Harder—With Less Weight

Simba Squat
Simba SquatIan Maddox

Back squats are standard fare for those looking to build leg and glute strength. But it may be time for a rethink. That’s because unless you have a good reason to want to hoist hundreds of pounds on your shoulders, it probably isn’t worth doing. Not much good comes from compressing your spine under so much heft. Sure, it’s nifty to move a gigantic barbell—more than you could do in a front squat—but you also set yourself up for a herniated disk and back pain in the process.

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Instead, give the Simba squat a go. It’s versatile—you can do it with almost any tool, like a dumbbell, medicine ball, or kettlebell (as shown). And the way the load is positioned in front of and above you encourages good body mechanics. It forces the shoulders back and chest up, while your body weight naturally shifts back into the heels to counteract the force of the kettlebell, netting a more efficient squat, explains Matt Pudvah, head strength coach of the Sports Performance Institute at the Manchester Athletic Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.


Simply keeping that weight hoisted in the air for the duration is a workout and test of mobility for the shoulders, core, and arms, making it a total-body move. In the end, you have a lift that’s arguably just as challenging as a back squat, without all the risks.

How to do it

Choose a light weight, less than what you’d use for something like a goblet squat, around a 16-kg kettlebell or 35-lb dumbbell or medi- cine ball. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, placing your hands beneath the weight and holding it at a 45-degree angle, just above your eyeline—like you’re lifting Simba in The Lion King. Brace your core and squat until the bottom of your thighs breaks parallel with the floor. Explode back up for one rep. Perform 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Simba Squat
Simba Squat Ian Maddox

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