Training > Exercise Guides > The Jefferson Squat: An Ultimate How-To Guide 

The Jefferson Squat: An Ultimate How-To Guide 

The Jefferson squat is a more unusual exercise that you may not have come across before. It involves holding a barbell between your legs, either parallel to the direction that you are facing or perpendicular to your legs.

You then perform the squatting motion with the barbell in this position. It is an exercise that requires strong core strength. Also, it requires a great amount of stability in order to prevent any unnecessary rotation in the body. It also presents a tough challenge for your coordination and flexibility. 

The Jefferson squat was invented by a Strongman athlete – Charles Jefferson. It is an exercise that is specifically more useful for strongman athletes who are required to perform a number of strange and unique lifts.

In Strongman competitions, the athletes are required to do certain odd lifts. For example, axle pressing, keg tossing, tire flipping, or lifting atlas stones. It is very difficult to use more traditional exercises to train for these kinds of performances.

As a result, you will find that strongman athletes tend to innovate and use slightly different exercises in order to properly train. The Jefferson squat is one of these different exercises.

Despite the Jefferson squat being a fairly unusual and specific exercise, some decide to integrate it into their regular exercise regimes. It has some benefits and exercises a number of different joints.

However, it is important to make sure that you have the correct technique and method to avoid risking injury. Or, putting unnecessary strain on different areas of the body. 

Learn about Squatting with long Legs

The History of the Squat

The squat has become known to be the “king of exercise.” It is used by almost everyone in their exercise routine and can have amazing benefits. It is also a motion that we use in our everyday lives, whether we are picking something up from the floor or – in many cultures – it is even a default resting position. 

Its roots as an exercise lie in the exercise regimes of strongmen and bodybuilders dating back to the Victorian era. Iconic figures such as the strongman Eugene Sandow and “the Beast” Paul Anderson used squats to achieve incredible strength in their lower body and core. Figures such as these cemented one of the cardinal rules of strength training. If you want size and strength, do squats. 

How to Perform a Jefferson Squat

As previously mentioned, a Jefferson squat is a very unique exercise. It may take some time to get used to when you first start to use it.

There are two different methods that you can use to perform the squat. The most common method is outlined below:

How to perform a Jefferson squat:

  1. Place your loaded barbell on the floor and straddle the center of the barbell with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. You should point your feet slightly out to the side. 
  2. Make sure that you are not twisting your torso to one side – your shoulders should be squarely forward. 
  3. Squat down, grasping the barbell with one hand in front of you and the other hand behind. 
  4. Raise to a standing position with your back straight and your chest up, pushing through your heels and midfoot. The barbell should remain between your legs, and your torso should remain straight without any twisting. 
  5. Squat down until your knees are at least at a 90-degree angle. Inhale as you squat down. 
  6. Exhaling, drive back up to the starting position through your heels and midfoot. 
  7. Repeat the movement for your number of reps. Make sure to swap the front and back placements that your hands are in after a certain number of reps.  

There is also an alternative stance that can be adopted for the Jefferson squat. This alternative position involves holding the barbell perpendicular to the body with your front foot pointing forward and the back foot facing out to the side.

You would then squat until your knees are at least at a 90-degree angle just as you would with the other position, before driving upwards through the heels. Again, it is a good idea to swap the front and back placements of your hands. This is after a certain number of reps. 

When doing the Jefferson squat for the first time, use a light load to give yourself the opportunity to master the necessary technique. The exercise is not a particularly natural movement, so may take longer than usual to adjust to. 

Tips for Performing the Jefferson Squat

If you are struggling with the technique and form required for the Jefferson squat, here are some tips that may help you:

  • If you are struggling, go back to the basics of the posture and stance required for the Jefferson squat and make sure that these are correct. Keep your feet flat on the ground, your chest up, your back straight, and your shoulders back. This position will keep the correct muscles engaged and give you stability throughout the movement. 
  • Make sure that your feet are approximately shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards. The positions of your feet and your lower leg provide the foundations for your posture and balance during the Jefferson squat. If these foundations of the exercise are flawed, there is far more potential for the rest of your posture to falter. 
  • Ensure that your weight is distributed evenly across your legs. You may find this difficult due to the unnatural stance that you need to adopt for the Jefferson squat. However, this is important for maintaining stability while you are doing the squatting motion. It also makes sure that you are exercising both sides of your body equally rather than putting more pressure on certain areas. 
  • Keep your breathing regular – this helps you to better control your movement and prevent any unnecessary rotation. 

Read about the 11 best Front Squat Alternatives

Muscles Used in the Jefferson Squat

The Jefferson squat engages a range of different muscles, giving it some potential for being a valuable exercise. It uses many of the same muscles that are activated during the deadlift. However, there is a much larger focus on both the quads and the core muscles. 

The main muscles that are worked when doing the Jefferson squat are:

  • Quads
  • Glutes 
  • Hamstrings 
  • Adductor Magnus 
  • Obliques 
  • Multifidus 
  • Spinal Erectors 
  • Lats 

It is generally believed that the obliques and multifidus work harder during the Jefferson squat. This is in order to prevent rotation in the body during the movement. Therefore, building the muscles down the sides of your abs and along the vertebrae. 

When to Use the Jefferson Squat

The Jefferson squat’s unique style is useful for a number of different sports and competitions. The first main use of the Jefferson squat is for Strongman training. In Strongman competitions, competitors have to display a number of unique lifts which are not common to most people’s exercise routines.

These lifts (such as lifting atlas stones) require different movements of muscles that are not as commonly used in standard exercise routines. The Jefferson squat has traditionally been used as a way to use standard training equipment to train for non-standard movements. 

The Jefferson squat is also an anti-rotational exercise. So, it is useful for building the muscles involved in fast acceleration, deceleration, or rapid changes in direction. 

Benefits of the Jefferson Squat

1. It can be better for the lower back

The Jefferson squat does not put large amounts of strain on the lower back. When performing a standard squat with the barbell resting on the back, you can suffer from back pain. This is particularly if you are having issues holding the barbell in the correct place.

The Jefferson squat does not require you to hold the barbell and weights on your back. So, as long as you keep the correct posture, you should not suffer from any pain. 

2. It is an anti-rotational exercise 

Anti-rotational exercises require a greater stabilization of your core muscles to complete. The Jefferson squat is a great example of an anti-rotational exercise. You must keep your core muscles engaged and tense at all times to ensure that the barbell and weights do not swing to either side, destabilizing your posture and stance. Anti-rotational exercises are particularly useful for certain sports that require fast acceleration, deceleration, or quick changes of direction. 

3. It helps to strengthen your posture 

The Jefferson squat works your spinal erectors – the muscles that are responsible for maintaining a good posture around the spine, preventing any rounding of the spinal cord. Many forget that your core muscles are not only your traditional abdominal area at the front of the stomach. The core also includes these muscles around the spine that are used to stay upright and in the correct form during exercises such as squats and deadlifts. 

4. It is a multiplanar movement 

The Jefferson squat is a multiplanar movement, as opposed to the standard squat and deadlift, which are bilateral movements. This means that the Jefferson squat can exercise a wider range of muscles to different degrees. Strength outside of a more typical bilateral position is useful in a range of different athletic performances. Multiplanar movements are also known for helping the body to become more resistant to injury, helping to improve your balance, and for training slightly different muscles in each leg (training more areas simultaneously). 

5. It helps to build adductor strength 

The adductors are the muscles in the inner thigh. These muscles are important for hip extension (which is necessary for movements such as jumping), or dynamic changes in direction that are required in many different sports. Working these muscles can help to prevent tears and other types of damage around the groin and inner thigh. 

6. The Jefferson squat can add variety to your exercise routines 

The Jefferson squat is a potentially great addition to your exercise regime. It combines different elements of the squat, lunge, and deadlift to make a great new stimulus for the body. Its unique style can also provide more variety and excitement to your exercise. Switching up the exercises that you use can also present you with new progressions to work through and new targets to hit. 


7. The Jefferson squat exercises a lot in a short space of time 

If you are short on time in your time in the gym and are limited in how much you can do, the Jefferson squat is a great way to exercise a number of different areas of the body at the same time.

It is a compound exercise, targeting a number of muscles simultaneously, particularly in the legs (building muscle in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings) as well as your core and the muscles surrounding your spine.

Although there is no proven benefit to exercising muscles in isolation as opposed to compound exercises in terms of gaining muscle mass, if you are in a hurry, the Jefferson squat can help you achieve more in the time that you have. 

Drawbacks to the Jefferson Squat 

As with any exercise out there, the Jefferson squat has its drawbacks. It is important to consider these before adopting the Jefferson squat into your regular exercise routine. 

1. Can Be Awkward

The Jefferson squat targets a large range of muscles at the same time, effectively combining the squat, the lunge, and the deadlift.

This can make it awkward to both setup and execute, particularly when you are first starting to use the exercise. You need to be aware that it may take several months of work practicing the technique with small loads before you can increase the weight you lift. There are other exercises that take much less practice that you can use to work the same muscles used in the Jefferson squat. 

If you are not looking for the specific benefits of the Jefferson squat, you may feel more comfortable and make faster progress with other exercises. For example, sticking to using the squat, lunge, and deadlift may be easier. However, if you feel as though you will benefit from the Jefferson squat, take the time to get used to the movement and technique. 

2. Not a Unique Movement

There are other exercises that hold the same benefits as the Jefferson squat – for example, there are versions of the squat that do not put too much strain on the lower back such as the front squat or the leg press.

There are also other exercises that can effectively work your adductor muscles such as the side lunge or the sumo kettlebell squat. The side plank is an effective anti-rotational exercise that requires minimal practice. Additionally, the conventional deadlift or other squat variations also work out multiple muscle groups. 

3. Potential for Mistakes

Due to the complexity and awkwardness of the Jefferson squat, there are many opportunities to make easy mistakes.

For example, it is easy for your weight to shift towards the front of your feet, causing your heels to rise from the floor and your posture to falter. It is also often difficult to keep your torso from rotating, especially as you fatigue as you reach the end of your reps.

You may also face issues keeping your back from rounding. All of these will have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the exercise. If these mistakes regularly occur, you may find it better for you personally to use other exercises. 

Common Mistakes Made When Doing the Jefferson Squat

As it is a more unnatural exercise, the Jefferson squat has a number of common mistakes that people make. These mistakes impact how effective the exercise is. If you want to receive the full benefit of this exercise, make sure to be aware of these potential mistakes and how to avoid them. 

1. You do not keep your heels flat on the floor 

If you have some issues with your hip and ankle mobility, when picking up the barbell from the floor you may find that your back heel will start to rise from the floor. If this does occur, your stance will become unsteady while you are lifting the barbell. This in turn places more stress and strain on one leg over the other. 

2. You start to twist your body 

When doing the Jefferson squat there is a risk that your body will start to twist when you become more fatigued. Twisting your torso will put your whole movement off balance, creating instability. In order to correct this, you may want to lower the number of reps that you are doing in each set, or lessen the weight that you are using. Lowering the intensity of the exercise allows you to return some of your focus to your form and technique. Once you feel confident again in your form, you can slowly increase the reps or weight. 

3. You do not keep a neutral spine while lifting 

When performing the Jefferson squat it is important that you do not round your spine. Any rounding of the spine increases the risk of injury to the back. The Jefferson squat may not put as much stress on the spine as other squats or lifts but it is still just as important to drive your chest upwards and keep your spine neutral. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Jefferson squat a dangerous exercise?

The Jefferson squat is no more or less dangerous than any other squat exercise – it is usually harmless as long as you are doing the exercise correctly. Make sure that you take the necessary time to adjust to the technique and style of the Jefferson squat before adding too much weight or too many reps to avoid any of the common mistakes. 

Is the Jefferson squat suitable for me?

The Jefferson squat has the potential to be beneficial for anyone – whether you should use it or not depends mainly on whether you are willing to put the time and effort into practicing the form and technique required (which is likely to take longer than usual due to the unnatural nature of the position). The Jefferson squat will be particularly useful for those training for more unconventional lifts such as those in Strongman competitions. It can also be used as an alternative to the standard weighted squat, as it does not place as much strain on the back. 

Is the Jefferson squat the same as the Jefferson deadlift?

The terms Jefferson squat and Jefferson deadlift are used interchangeably, but there are some small distinctions to be made between the two. The Jefferson squat has a more upright torso, with the motion bending through the knee. This motion works the quads harder. The Jefferson deadlift bends through the hips, causing the mid-back and glutes to work harder.

Final Thoughts 

The Jefferson squat may be a strange and unnatural exercise, but it can provide a range of benefits for many different athletes – not only the Strongman athletes that it is traditionally associated with.

Although adapting to the technique of the Jefferson squat may take longer than training for other exercises, if you dedicate the time and patience to mastering the necessary form and posture, it can bring you many benefits. 

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Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've been lifting for more than 10 years and hope to eventually become a Certified Personal Trainer. My goal is to compete in weightlifting and train to be the strongest version of myself.

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