Cossack Squat Variations for Improved Strength and Mobility
The Cossack squat is a name for a squat that has you descend with most of your weight on one leg while the other leg is kept out straight and to the side. Thus, the other foot will typically have the heel on the ground but the rest of the foot up in the air. The arms are held somewhere out in front as a counterbalance.
The Cossack squat could be used as a variation of a regular bodyweight squat, done for reps to build strength and endurance, but that’s not its best application. Instead, consider it a great drill for flexibility and mobility, awesome to dynamically warm-up with for any lower body activity. The flexibility and mobility demands can be increased even further by working several variations and options outlined below.
Getting Full Depth on the Cossack Squat
Most people will not be able to go all the way down in a Cossack the first time they try. I know I couldn’t. Just start where you’re at and work your way down. Go from one side to the other trying to get down just a little further with each rep.
Boxes can also be used as a way to measure and track your progress, just as they would be with regular box squats to build range of motion. Another assistance tool could be a doorknob or bands that could help you descend and get up by giving you something to grab onto.
Should You Raise the Heel or Plant the Foot?
Raising the heel of the bent leg is a “cheat” many people do in order to be able to get all the way down. This modification requires less flexibility in the leg and hip. In doing this, the knee will extend over the foot. This is not bad version; it’s just not the full Cossack squat. By keeping the foot planted, you’ll require - and thus build - more flexibility.
Left: raised heel; Right: foot planted.
Keep the Back Straight
It’s natural to round the low back at the bottom of the Cossack squat, just as you would in a full squat. While this won’t hurt you, as it is a natural human position, to make the flexibility challenge even harder, keep your entire back as straight as possible throughout the exercise. This increases the challenge of the movement significantly.
Even with your back straight, you’ll still be leaning forward. It’s not about an upright back. That can only be maintained while on the ball of the foot, not the flat foot. Depending on your limb and body lengths you may need to lean more or less than other people.
Lower Your Straight Leg to the Ground
How close to touching the floor can that straight leg get? Try to sink even deeper into the stretch, coming closer to sitting on the ground.
As you work to get further down you may notice your body alignment isn’t necessarily perfect. For example, your knee may not track your toes. I feel this is okay to do in an unweighted exercise such as this. It’s a simple fact that your body doesn’t always want to move in straight lines. As you improve, you can work more towards that ideal form if you choose.
Sitting Down in the Cossack Squat
I found this to be the ultimate challenge with this exercise and I had to work for some time to get this variation. From the bottom of the Cossack squat, sit back so that your butt is on the ground. Now rock back into the bottom of the Cossack from sitting.
In the beginning, you can use one of your hands to assist, but try to work toward doing this movement without your hands. Then, if you can, work toward using no momentum. By the time you get to this point, you’ll have some great flexibility.
This video goes into more detail on how to do this, including how working in a straight line isn’t the best option:
You can do even more with the Cossack squat, like flow into other stretches and positions, but that‘s a topic for another time. Working with the steps and variations outlined above will help you build a stronger Cossack squat and become more flexible.
Give this a try now or at the start of your next workout. Post your experience or questions to the comments below.