Cossack Squats

written by
Joel Runyon
last updated
October 18, 2021

You have probably heard of the air squat, the back squat, the front squat, the sumo squat, and even the overhead squat.The squat variations sometimes seem limitless! But do you know about the cossack squat? 

The cossack squat is a variation of the squat. It is an extremely challenging movement that tests both your hip mobility, flexibility, balance, and leg strength. Your glutes and inner thighs will be tested to the limit as well as activating your quads and hamstrings.

Although similar to the Side Lunge, the cossack squat requires your legs to start at a wider stance, and the toes of your non-bending leg will be raised up off the floor. It is considered a single leg squat variation that will require a certain amount of stability, coordination, balance, and mobility. 

If you are looking to mix up your squatting routine, you definitely want to include the cossack squat. Keep reading as we walk you through how to complete this challenging movement. We will also discuss the benefits of doing cossack squats as well as ways to modify the movement if needed. 

What is a Cossack Squat?

The cossack squat is similar to other types of squats because the setup is incredibly important. If you want to complete this movement safely and effectively, be sure that you have the fundamentals of an air squat down pat. Squats should build on top of each other. Do not try to attempt a more challenging type of squat if you first cannot squat your body weight with correct form. 

To set up for the cossack squat, start with as wide a foot stance as feels comfortable for your personal anatomy. This may take some time to determine. Play around with different foot positioning to find what feels best for you. Once you have found that position, point your toes outward at 45-degree angles.

To maintain balance, extend your arms out in front of you or in a ‘prayer’ like clasp at your chest. Shift your weight to your right leg and squat down as low as feels comfortable. Your left leg will remain extended out to the side with your toes pointing up to the ceiling and your heel planted firmly on the floor.

After squatting on your right as far as you can go, push through your right heel and raise yourself back up again to find a standing position with your original wide leg stance. It is important you try to keep your chest and torso as upright as possible when completing the cossack squat. Avoid collapsing in these areas and try to keep a nice, neutral spine as you move through the exercise. 

Now repeat the same movement for your left leg. We recommend using cossack squats as a warm up exercise in your usual routine or as part of a greater workout to build strength and flexibility in your legs. Complete the same number of repetitions on each leg for a balanced workout. 

Benefits of Cossack Squats

Cossack squats are similar to other types of squat variations because of the muscles the movement requires. When you do cossack squats, you work your quadricep muscles, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and hip adductors. It truly is a great move for the health and strength of your lower body muscles. 

Not only will your lower body get a workout though. This move requires quite a bit of strength from your core as well. Specifically, the cossack squat is beneficial for your obliques as you work to keep your chest tall and upright throughout the squatting pattern. They help you avoid collapse and any sort of unnecessary twisting as you squat from side-to-side. 

We love cossack squats for their simplicity as well. There is no extra equipment required. You do not even need a gym to do them. They are great if you are traveling or stuck at home. Cossack squats are also a fun way to mix up your regular squatting routine. 

Cossack Squat Modifications

Most beginners find this to be a very difficult exercise, but try to keep your chest and head upright (instead of leaning forward) as you perform this movement. Go as far as your flexibility allows. If you cannot perform this squat deep on one side without your planted foot coming up off of the ground, then try to squat to your own range of motion. Go as low as you can while still maintaining equal pressure throughout your foot. 

We also recommend incorporating other squatting variations to help you build up the strength, flexibility, and mobility to then perform the cossack squat to full depth. It may also be helpful to place your hands down on the ground in front of you until your leg strength and flexibility allows you to perform the movement unassisted.

If you need to challenge yourself, you can hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest as a way to add more weight to the movement. For an added challenge, take that weight up overhead in the opposite hand from the leg that is squatting.

cossack squat demo

Set your feet wide outside your shoulders. Squat down to one side and simultaneously extend your opposite leg and point that foot to the ceiling. Return to your original position and then squat down to the other side. Stay moving and dynamic throughout the exercise.

written by
Joel Runyon

Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.

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