If you’re looking to combat the effects of sitting all day, hip-specific exercises and stretches will be your best friend.
Enter the cossack squat. It tests not only your strength but also your hip, knee, and ankle mobility.
The cossack squat targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip adductors while also working your core, including your abdominals and lower back.
Your hip, knee, and ankle joints and connective tissues will also be targeted.
This move can be challenging for beginners, but it’s definitely worth integrating into your routine.
Cossack squats have numerous benefits.
The first is its plane of movement. In a cossack squat, you’re working in the frontal plane, which is a fancy way of saying side to side.
Most leg exercises — like squats, lunges, and deadlifts — are performed in the sagittal plane, or front to back.
This means lateral movements, like cossack squats, are often a welcome addition because they work your muscles and joints from a different angle.
Cossack squats are also especially beneficial from a mobility and stability standpoint.
While this exercise does offer strengthening benefits, you’ll really improve the range of motion in your hips, knees, and ankles if you perform cossack squats consistently (and correctly!).
The side lunge and cossack squat are very similar.
Although both focus on the same muscles, the form of a cossak squat differs slightly from that of a side lunge.
In a cossack squat, your starting position is a very wide stance. In a side lunge, you start with your feet together.
Also, while completing a cossack squat, you’re breaking the parallel plane of your thigh with the floor, dropping down as deeply as you can from side to side.
In a side lunge, you’ll stay parallel with your thigh.
A cossack squat will challenge your body in a different way than many other lower body exercises.
It’s best to start with just your bodyweight and progress once you have mastered the movement.
To get moving:
- Assume the starting position by widening your stance so your legs form a triangle with the ground. Your toes should be pointed straight ahead.
- Inhale, and move your weight to your right leg, bending your right knee and sitting back as far as you can.
- Your left leg should remain extended while your left foot rotates on your heel, toe up.
- Your right heel should remain on the ground and your torso should be upright.
- Pause here, then exhale and push back up to the starting position.
- Inhale again, and lower your weight into your left leg, repeating the above steps.
Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps — 5 on each leg — to start incorporating the cossack squat into your routine.
Adding a cossack squat to a warmup routine, especially before a leg workout, is a great integration of this exercise.
You could also add this as an accessory movement on your leg day, working these in between weighted squats or lunges.
There are two common mistakes that occur during a cossack squat:
You’re not arching your back
If you lack flexibility in your hips, your torso will want to come forward and your lower back will want to arch as you drop down into the cossack squat movement.
Resist this by only lowering down as far as your flexibility allows.
You can also place your hands on the ground in front of you to act as a stabilization mechanism until your flexibility improves.
You’re keeping your heel on the ground
Again, this comes down to flexibility. Without the proper range of motion in your ankle, you’ll be tempted to lift your heel off the ground to squat deeper into the movement.
Only lower as far as you can without your heel lifting. Work on some ankle mobility drills in the meantime.
Try these variations on a cossack squat if you need assistance or more of a challenge.
TRX cossack squat
If you can’t quite complete a cossack squat with your current strength or mobility level, start with a TRX-assisted version.
Adjusting the TRX straps to medium length, hold the handles, extend your arms, and complete the cossack squat movement.
The TRX straps will help you reach the full depth.
Front-loaded cossack squat
If you’re having trouble keeping your torso upright, try adding some counterbalance in the form of one or two kettlebells.
Hold them with both hands in front of your chest and lower down. You should find it easier to stay vertical.
One-arm overhead cossack squat
There are a few options for an overhead cossack squat, including one-arm and two-arm variations.
For a one-arm variation — the easier of the two — hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell in the hand opposite of the leg you’re squatting on.
Extend your arm overhead and complete the cossack squat movement.
Finish your reps on this side, then switch the weight to the other hand and complete the reps on the other side.
A cossack squat tests your mobility and strength in a unique way. By integrating them into your leg day as a warmup or an accessory to weighted leg movements, your body will reap the benefits of a new range of motion.
Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife and more.