10 Best Cossack Squat Alternatives and Variations (Tips and Videos)

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It may not bring about the visible gains and easy to perfect form of barbell squats and deadlifts, but there are benefits to the Cossack squat.

Cossack squats can help beginners and intermediates alike.

The benefits they can provide make me certain that everyone should be incorporating the Cossack Squat into their leg day routine. 

Increased flexibility, mobility, and glute activation are just a few of the benefits of adding the Cossack Squat to your routine.

There are however several reasons you may need an alternative to the Cossack Squat.

The 10 best Cossack squat alternatives and variations are:

You may want to isolate another part of the lower body or you may struggle with the movement of a Cossack Squat. You may want to try these alternatives if you feel pain when performing a Cossack Squat, or just want more variations to improve mobility and flexibility.

Whatever your reasoning, you’re in the right place to add more variation to your leg day and make big strides in your mobility. Let's get to the detailed guide of the alternatives and what a Cossack squat is.

What Is A Cossack Squat

A Cossack squat is a single-leg squat variation that involves lowering yourself to the ground with your weight being held on one leg. It requires a mix of balance, mobility, and strength whilst using an alternative plane of motion.

A good way to think of the Cossack is as a single-leg goblet squat. You start with a similar wide stance but shift your weight laterally rather than straight down.

This movement works the frontal plane of motion rather than the sagittal plane seen in your typical leg exercises (squats, deadlifts, lunges). It is therefore often compared to a side lunge, however, the wider starting stance and lower finishing position mean a Cossack offers more mobility, balance, and stability.

Muscles Used In A Cossack Squat

Like with a typical squat, a Cossack squat works the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and adductors. However, the levels of activation differ and with a lighter load, there is less potential for muscle growth.

Cossack squats primarily target:

  • Glutes (in particular the glute medius)
  • Quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius)
  • Obliques (internal and external)

The increased glute activation can benefit lifters and athletes by improving leg strength and generating more power.

Secondary muscles used include:

  • Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)
  • Hamstrings 
  • Hip Adductors  (gracilis, obturator externus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus)
  • Abdominals (rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis) 

What Makes A Good Cossack Squat Alternative

So how do we go about choosing a Cossack squat alternative? A look at the advantages of a Cossack squat gives us an idea of what outcomes we would be looking for in an alternative exercise.

A perfect alternative would activate similar muscle groups as a Cossack. This means we would be looking for increased glutes and quads activation. We may also want some activation in the hamstrings, adductors, and calves.

The mobility and flexibility benefits provided by a Cossack squat are key to it being such a beneficial addition to our workout programs. Therefore, we would want an alternative to test our range of motion, possibly taking us through the frontal plane of motion.

Finally, an alternative would ideally involve some single leg aspect. The Cossack squat isolates one leg at a time, overloading the muscles encouraging tear and rebuild of the muscle fibers.

An exercise that involves one or all of these aspects can be considered a viable alternative to Cossack squats.

10 Cossack Squat Alternatives and Variations

Let’s get into it then. Here are 10 exercises that I believe are a good alternative to the Cossack squat.

1. Lateral Side Lunge

They are often mentioned alongside a Cossack squat because of the similar movements, single-leg effects, and frontal plane of motion. Whilst the movement is similar there are key differences that change the exercise outcomes.

It doesn’t use the same wider than shoulder-width starting stance of a Cossack squat. Instead, you will step your feet out to the side as you perform the lunge, before bringing them back in together.

Another key difference is that you don’t break the parallel plane as you lower to the ground. This makes the side lunge a great alternative if you struggle with mobility.

Once mastered you can consider progressing to the Cossack squat.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Take up starting position, standing with your feet together.
  • Move one foot out to the side. As you do this, squat down hinging at the hips.
  • Keep lowering towards the ground until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Return to the starting position driving through your foot as you do. Repeat on the other side.

Coach's Tips

Avoid arching the back

Engage the core to avoid arching your back. You can lean forward slightly but try to keep the back straight to maintain form and improve balance.

Add weight

Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell to work your muscles that little bit harder. Like with the Cossack, a small weight can work as a counterbalance as well.

2. Bulgarian Split Squat

Sounds as painful as it is. The Bulgarian split squat is a brutal single-leg squat variation that works a different area of the glutes. Because it’s a unilateral exercise you get the same balance, stability, and motor control that a Cossack squat offers.

The leg-strength and power it can build makes these squats a big favorite of sprinters and long/triple jump athletes.

The movement in a Bulgarian split squat is forwards rather than sideways (hence working a different part of the glutes). This makes it a great alternative for those who struggle with the external hip rotation on the Cossack or are uncomfortable moving laterally.

Note, you will need a platform to elevate the back foot when performing Bulgarian split squats. I tend to use a stool when working out from home, or a bench if at the gym. A box or table will do the job too as long as it’s a stable platform.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Stand approximately 2 feet in front of a knee-level platform. The feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift one leg and place top of the foot on the bench. Keep feet shoulder-width apart. You may need to hop around a bit to find the correct position to allow a comfortable lunge.
  • While engaging your core, lean forward slightly as you lower down on your standing leg. As you drop bend the knee.
  • Push through your front foot to stand back up. Repeat for the recommended number of reps on each side.

Coach's Tips

Place focus on different muscle groups

By varying the depth of your squat you can place focus on the quads or glutes. For a quad-dominant split squat stop just before your knee falls over your toes. For glute-dominant squat stop when your resting thigh is parallel to the ground.

Variation to build extra strength

There are plenty of split squat variations you can do to increase the difficulty and build extra leg strength. Using dumbbells or a kettlebell is a good way to work your quads and glutes a bit harder. If you’re nicely balanced then try a barbell split squat.

Adding an unstable surface such as a gym ball can increase the challenge too. This forces you to work harder to stabilize and maintain your balance.

3. Sumo Deadlift

As it uses a similar wide stance to the Cossack squat, the sumo deadlift is a good alternative to build maximum strength in the glute medius and quads. It also includes more low and mid-back activation than you would achieve in a Cossack squat.

I would advise this if you’re looking to build more strength in the glutes as it allows you to lift much more weight than the Cossack. The downside is it doesn’t build mobility quite as well, nor is it a single-leg exercise.

An effective alternative if used in conjunction with mobility exercises.

What's the difference between a sumo deadlift and a conventional deadlift? Check out our comparison article, Sumo Deadlift vs. Conventional Deadlifts.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Place the barbell in front of your shins and start with a wider than shoulder-width stance.
  • Hinging at the hips, lower yourself to grab the barbell directly under your shoulders, keeping your shins vertical.
  • Drive through your legs as you bring the barbell up. Throughout the movement, the barbell should touch your shins and thighs.
  • Once you reach the top, lock your knees and hips simultaneously, before lowering back to the starting position, hinging at the hips once again.

Coach's Tips

Brace your core

By keeping the core braced and knees pushed out wide as you prepare for the upwards drive, you can maintain the correct form and target the correct muscles. This aids injury prevention as well.

MindPumps’ Jordan Syatt brilliantly explains the key to a perfect sumo deadlift in the video above.

4. Pistol Squat

A highly advanced exercise that is great for building single-leg strength, increased balance, and showing off at parties.

The pistol squat will train the same muscles as a Cossack, whilst working on your unilateral balance and mobility and supporting your stability on your typical leg exercises.

If you struggle with the lateral movements in the Cossack but want to increase glute medius activation and increase balance, try out the pistol squat.

It can also be used to build extra strength in your glutes using just your body weight.

To really improve glute medius strength, try out Wall Sits and reap the benefits.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Set yourself by standing on one leg, toes pointed forwards. Fully extend the other leg out in front of you.
  • Brace your back and core, then slowly lower yourself to the ground hinging at the hips. Keep going as low as your mobility allows.
  • Once set in the single-leg squat position, drive upwards through your leg pressing against the floor and engaging your abs.
  • Return to a standing position and repeat for the recommended number of reps on each leg.

Coach's Tips

Use progression exercises

The pistol squat is an advanced exercise, so for beginners, I’d advise using pistol squat progression exercises to build that single-leg strength. 

Exercises might include pistol box squats where you pistol squat onto a chair (or box). Assisted pistol squats can help develop single-leg strength too.

The pause pistol squat can be used to build balance at the bottom of the squat. Just hold the position as you reach the bottom, then reset.

Curl your toes

Curling toes provide that extra grip on the way down and up. This can help with balance, engaging the quads and glutes on the upwards drive. If you're balanced you'll find the pistol squat much easier.

5. 90/90 Hip Mobility

This is another advanced routine but one which is fantastic for the health and mobility of your hips. Much like the Cossack squats it has lower body mobility benefits that can extend to other gym exercises as well as day-to-day tasks.

Like the Cossack squat, it also targets the lateral glutes and involves the frontal plane of motion.

It’s a good alternative if you can’t quite master the balance in a Cossack but still want to increase your hip mobility.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Sit on the ground with both knees bent in the same direction at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keeping your heels in contact with the floor, swivel both hips simultaneously so that they are at a 90-degree angle, facing the opposite direction.
  • Transition from side-to-side for the recommended number of repetitions.

Coach's Tips

Warm Up 

This is a great exercise for hip mobility. But, make sure you warm up before starting this exercise because you can injury yourself easily.

6. Landmine Cossack Squat

Doing the Cossack squat with a landmine setup can force you to maintain good posture and keep your balance too. This works with a dedicated landmine setup, or you can place the barbell where the floor and wall meet.

If you struggle with the posture on a standard Cossack, or just fancy varying it a bit then this is the alternative for you.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Hold the barbell in the landmine top position, hands interlinked. Feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Shift your weight to one side, replicating the movement on a standard Cossack squat. As you drop keep the landmine in line with the center of your chest.
  • Return to starting position. Repeat on either side for the recommended number of reps.

Coach's Tips

Hold the landmine at different heights

Holding the barbell at chest height will help with posture as your back remains straight as you lower to the ground. For extra balance work, hold the landmine at pelvic height.

Add weight to the barbell

Adding weight to the landmine can help build glute and quad strength. Remember that it is still a single-leg exercise so don't overload the weight.

7. Goblet Squat

The Cossack is basically a single-leg variation of the goblet squat, so it makes sense to use the goblet as an alternative if necessary. Using a wide stance and working the glutes and quads, the goblet squat can build muscle and mobility as you focus on going as low to the ground as possible.

With a goblet squat, you move through a full range of motion whilst preventing common beginner mistakes. Like with a Cossack squat, you are encouraged to break the parallel plane, building extra mobility and flexibility.

Use the goblet squat if you struggle with getting low on the Cossack squat, or just to build extra glute strength.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes angled outwards.
  • Holding a weight (kettlebell or dumbbell is fine) at your chest, engage your core and look straight ahead. Hinging at the hips, begin to lower yourself into a squat position
  • Once you are as low as your mobility will allow, return to the standing position by driving through your heels and pressing your feet forward. Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Coach's Tips

Lift your toes

For extra glute and quad activation, lift your toes on the drive upwards. This forces your quads and glutes into action promoting extra growth and development.

Keep the weight close to your chest

By keeping the kettlebell (or dumbbell) racked to your chest, you prevent the arms and biceps from working as you squat.

This not only places all the focus on the leg muscles but also allows for greater weight to be lifted as the legs can deal with significantly more weight than the arms.

8. Cossack Squat With Hamstring Focus

This is a very slight variation on the Cossack squat that places extra focus on the hamstrings. It’s a good alternative if you want to activate the hamstrings more or you’re just a bit bored of the standard Cossack.

By rotating your torso as you lower yourself, you can achieve a deep stretch in the hamstring, feeling it contract as you push through the heel to rise back up.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower yourself to one side as you would for the standard Cossack squat. As you lower into the squat rotate your torso to the corresponding side.
  • nce you go as low as your mobility allows, return to the starting position, rotating your torso back to center as you rise.
  • Repeat on the other side and alternate for the recommended number of reps.

Coach's Tips

Drive through heels

As you rise, drive through the heels for maximum hamstring activation. You should feel the muscle contract on your way up.

9. Side-Lying Dumbbell Clamshell

Another advanced exercise, but one of the few exercises along with the Cossack squat that can primarily target the glute medius. For this reason, it makes a good alternative to the Cossack.

It’s an isolation exercise therefore there is no quad activation, so if using the side-lying clam you should pair it with another quad exercise. Goblet squats or leg presses are suitable pairs.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Lie on your side with legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Place and hold a dumbbell at the top of your hips. Rest your head on your lower arm.
  • Engage your abs and keeping your feet together, lift your top knee as high as you can using your glutes, without shifting your hips or pelvis. Keep your bottom leg on the floor.
  • Pause at the top of the movement then return to starting position. Repeat for the recommended number of reps before changing sides.

Coach's Tips

Variations

There are plenty of variations you can do with this exercise that can produce different outcomes. Using just bodyweight or resistance bands can increase hip mobility and activate the glutes ahead of a hard leg workout. 

Increasing the weight on the dumbbell can build more leg strength and bigger glutes.

Isolate the glutes

Be sure to rotate from the hips and not the lower back, thus isolating and engaging the glutes.

10. Lateral Box Step-Up

A variation of a typical step-up exercise, the lateral box step-up targets similar muscles to the Cossack and uses the frontal plane of motion making it a good alternative.

Because the box is to your side you are forced to bring your knee up and swing your leg laterally mimicking the movements found in a Cossack squat.

A good alternative to build glute strength if you struggle with the required mobility in a Cossack.

Step By Step Instructions

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with a box or stable platform next to you.
  • Driving the knee upwards then across, step onto the box with a lateral movement. Externally rotate your hip as you swing your leg to the side.
  • Drive through your leg to stand fully on the box.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of reps before swapping sides.

Coach's Tips

Box height

The height of the box should be no higher than knee height. It doesn't have to be a box either, just make sure it is a stable platform that you can stand on.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s The Difference Between Lateral Lunges And Cossack Squats?

Whilst both work the same muscles, lateral lunges involve stepping the leg in and out. Cossacks on the other hand use a wider starting stance and gliding movements across the frontal plane.

You will also aim to go much lower on a Cossack to improve mobility. The lateral lunge is a strength movement so you will use more weight and not drop below the parallel plane.

Which Is The Best Pistol Squat Alternative?

There are plenty of progressions you can do to build up to a pistol squat such as pistol box squats and assisted pistol squats.

Alternatively, an exercise that incorporates a comparable amount of balance, motor control, and stability would be suitable. Cossack squats may fit this description along with step-ups and skater squats.

What Are Cossack Squats Good For?

The Cossack squat targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. It’s one of few exercises to primarily focus on the glute medius and can greatly improve mobility, flexibility, and balance.

Final Thoughts

A suitable Cossack squat alternative will either mimic the muscle activation, mobility benefits, or plane of motion. When performing these alternatives remember to incorporate them alongside other lower-body exercises for balanced leg development.

When choosing an alternative to the Cossack squat it’s important to consider exactly why you need an alternative. This will help you choose the best one.

References

Lockie, R., Orjalo, A., & Moreno, M. (2018). A pilot analysis: can the Bulgarian split-squat potentiate sprint acceleration in strength-trained men?. Facta Universitatis, Series: Physical Education And Sport, 15(3), 453. doi: 10.22190/fupes1703453l

Parr, M., Price, P., & Cleather, D. (2017). Effect of a gluteal activation warm-up on explosive exercise performance. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 3(1), e000245. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000245

DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.

About The Author

Jules Silvera

Jules Silvera is a Sport and Exercise Psychology MSc graduate and qualified squash coach. His work in sport psychology has involved working with elite & Olympic athletes in swimming, taekwondo, and Rugby League, developing psychological resilience and dealing with issues surrounding sport entrapment. He believes in enhancing athlete functionality, with special expertise in strength training, HIIT, and psychological skills training and is currently researching for a PhD centered on developing youth athletes in elite sport. He currently works as a Head Squash Coach in the UK, developing and training England-ranked and county-level juniors, as well as working with grassroots players.

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