The Cossack squat—a deeper variation of the lateral or side squat—is a quad-burning lower-body exercise. Strengthens your quads, external gluteus (gluteus medius), hamstrings, adductors (inner thighs), core and back muscles.
Exercise is also part of mobility training and CrossFit routines to help improve lower body flexibility and mobility in the ankles, knees and hips. In yoga, the move is better known as Skandasana — the half squat pose — and offers deep hip-opening benefits while stretching the inner legs and groins of yogis everywhere.
Whether used for strength training programs or to develop better movement patterns in the lower body, this squat variation offers many benefits and is a killer on the quads.
I decided to crack on and try 90 reps every day for a week. This is what happened to my hips and legs.
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How to do Cossack squats
A Cossack squat requires some existing mobility in the joints of the lower body to perform well, but is still accessible for beginners and advanced exercisers. Technique and flexibility improve with practice.
- Stand with legs wide and toes pointed forward
- Engage your heart. Extend your arms in front of you or bring your hands to your sides
- Bend your left knee and shift your weight to the left, lowering into a side squat and fully straightening your right leg.
- Raise your right toes for external rotation at the hip
- Keep your chest up and your back flat
- Try to keep your left heel planted and lowered as much as possible, placing your weight in your bum and heel
- Pause, then push explosively through your left heel and straight to your right side.
Here’s how to do a lunge with side variations to try as a way to get started. And our fitness writer tried 30 side lunges every day, but you need to lower your hips and lower bum to get a full Cossack squat. You can check the proper form with the video above for a better idea. To advance the exercise, hold a weight in front of your chest with a goblet squat grip.
I Did 90 Cossack Squats Every Day For A Week – Here’s What Happened To My Hips And Legs
Here’s what happened to my hips and legs when I tried 90 Cossack squats every day for a week.
1. My quads were spent
Although Cossack squats are an effective body weight exercise that strengthens muscles and improves flexibility, I decided to add a dumbbell to spice things up.
I used a 15kg (33lbs) weight held in a goblet grip to add extra resistance for the leg muscles to push off, which provided the perfect amount of fire through my quad muscles and added some balance. Like a front rack squat, holding a dumbbell front-loads the quads to work harder and could help find length in the spine to improve posture.
I started with new sets of 10 reps with a 30 second rest, but this became stagnant by the third day, so I changed my approach.
I faced an EMOM format (every minute on the minute) for the remaining days using a lighter dumbbell of 12.5 kg (27.5 lbs). I aim for 15 reps in each minute, finishing around 33-36 seconds, then perform max push-ups for up to 50 seconds. I took 10 seconds to rest before starting the next round for six times.
Bingo, I was cooked – and my legs and brain were much more engaged.
2. My hamstrings and hip flexors felt more open
Cossack Squat requires you to sit as low as possible while keeping your chest forward and balanced on one leg – the heel of your bent leg firmly planted on the ground. In yoga, the heel can lift to transfer the weight to the ball of your foot, but under an additional load, this could put stress on your knee joint.
To give myself the best chance to work my legs and hip muscles hard, I add these mobility exercises for hip flexor pain to relieve tension before each EMOM.
The exercise opened up my hips and muscles and helped me get a lot more depth. By increasing the range of motion at the bottom of the Cossack squat, I was able to fully engage the leg muscles and drive explosively, maximizing the contraction each time.
By practicing this regularly, you can find an increased range of motion in your hamstrings and hips (helping to improve depth during exercises like squats) and build power in the lower body.
3. He tested my balance
Unilateral (unilateral) training tests your body’s balance, neuromuscular coordination and strength. Although holding a weight can provide a counterbalance, the Cossack squat is still a test of balance in your frontal plane (side-to-side movement). It’s also a brilliant way to address any muscle imbalances on your weaker side. Research (opens in a new tab) showed that this style of training encourages cross-training – a process where other muscles stimulate the opposite side of the body.
The explosive power of pushing in one leg could improve strength for other compound movements like a deadlift. But weight-bearing activity also contributes to bone loading or “osteogenic loading,” he said American Bone Health (opens in a new tab)also building strength in your bones.
4. My ankles felt tight
In yoga, my ankles and wrists are always a work in progress. During the Cossack, your hip, knee, and ankle are fully flexed while stretching the hamstrings and groin muscles of the other leg. I noticed that my ankles were quite tight, and my heels immediately wanted to rise.
For most people, this is common, and side lunges or squats are the best way to ease into Cossack squats if you are new to the exercise.
During the week, I found that I could achieve more depth, but those with ongoing ankle mobility issues may find that the process takes longer.
If this sounds familiar, try popping this $10 accessory under your hands to lift your chest and hold the Cossack squat for 15-30 seconds per side as a stretch instead. Alternatively, roll a towel or yoga mat for support under your heel until your ankles adjust to the movement, and practice these 3 assisted stretches to target your hamstrings.
I found this exercise challenging against the clock, but it did wonders for my lower body mobility and I will be adding it to warm-ups from now on. Also, my quads felt torched for days afterwards. Even more than when I train squats!