This squat is NOT for everyone.
Even modified it is a challenging movement.
But it is also an amazing unilaterally focused exercise and lateral movement that can improve your ankle and hip mobility and stability while helping you improve your leg strength.
It is a great accessory move to help you really improve your single leg squats!
This amazing and often underutilized exercise is the Cossacks Squats!
In this video I’m going to break down how to do it as well as ways to modify it.
But just remember to regress to progress if you haven’t done this before.
And just because this is an amazing move, it doesn’t mean every version of it will be right for you!
How To Do The Cossack Squat:
To do the Cossack Squat, stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width.
Then shift your weight to one side, bending that knee as you keep the other leg straight and rotate that toe up toward the ceiling.
You’re pivoting on that one heel as you transfer your weight more to the side you’re squatting down on.
Sit your butt down toward your heel, still driving down into the ground through your other leg out straight.
Sink as low to that side as you can.
You aren’t sitting back like a hip hinge or traditional side lunge but sinking into a squat which means your knee will travel forward over your toe. Just make sure that heel doesn’t come up.
Then drive back up, pushing through that full foot down and the heel of your other leg. Come back center with both legs straight then repeat, sinking to the other side.
To progress the basic bodyweight, you can hold a weight up at your chest. This, while making the move more challenging, can also help you better brace your core!
This move is HARD.
It is an advanced move that requires a good deal of mobility and strength.
And if you’re just starting out with it, you want to be conscious of those mobility and stability demands.
So I wanted to share some different ways to modify this movement to match your needs!
The first way to modify is to – Limit The Range Of Motion
We always only want to work through the range of motion we can control.
Be conscious though as you limit how deep you sink into a squat that you don’t end up turning this into a hip hinge.
To even help give you a target, consider sitting to a bench, chair or box!
The second way to modify is to – Hold On For Assistance.
Sometimes part of what limits our ability to sink lower isn’t just the strength of our legs or the mobility of our hips and ankles.
It’s even our core stability.
Holding on to a suspension trainer, doorway or pole, can help us brace that core better and reduce the resistance on our legs just a bit.
This can help us work through a bigger range of motion at times than we would be able to otherwise.
As you progress, hold on with even just one hand or a lighter touch before progressing to the third modification option.
The third way I like to modify is to – Use A Weight To Counterbalance.
Often we think that holding a weight just makes the move harder.
But there is a difference between pressing the weight out as we sink to help stabilize our core and counterbalance ourselves and holding the weight in at our chest to load the move down.
By pressing a weight out as you sink, you can help yourself stay more stable and engage your core better.
This is a great final progression if you are able to work through a full range of motion but can’t yet fully do it with just your own bodyweight.
Now I just wanted to share a few key reminders so you can get the most out of this movement.
First…The Cossack squat is a SQUAT not a side lunge.
This means you want to focus on squatting down not hinging over like we often do to load our glutes with the traditional side lunge.
You also want to make sure you do drive off that heel of the foot that is turned up to push back center.
And you are pivoting that foot up unlike a traditional side lunge.
Second…If you can’t keep your heel down, include some ankle mobility work in your warm up and only go as low as you can control.
While our hip mobility may be a limiting factor at times, too often we ignore the importance of our ankle mobility to sink deep and even avoid our knees from becoming overloaded.
Doing a calf foam rolling move,stretch like the single leg foot and ankle stretch and even an activation move like the plate weight calf raise, could all be great exercises to include in your warm up to help!
The final note I wanted to make is for those with knee pain.
This move may NOT be right for you although we do always want to build back to as many movements as possible.
If you do have knee pain and struggle with controlling active knee flexion currently, consider a side lunge with a hip hinge instead to still work on lateral movements and still strengthen your body in different plans of motion!
If you’re looking for an advanced bodyweight exercise to challenge yourself at home or simply want to improve your mobility and strengthen through a full range of motion to even build up your pistol squats, try including the Cossack Squat in your workout routine!