To start, a squat is a basic lower-body exercise performed by bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympians and regular gym goers alike on a regular basis. Due to the activation of more than one joint and muscle, this exercise is classified as a compound exercise. When factored into a weight training program, squats give you fast gains in size and strength. When incorporating them into your training routine, there are a number of squat variations to consider based on your individualized goals—front and back squats, overhead squat, jump squat, single-leg squat, goblet squat and sumo squat (just to name a few). A sumo squat, also known as a plie squat is a variation on a standard squat and differs in two main ways—foot positioning and muscle emphasis.
The main difference between the two exercises is the placement of your feet. During a regular squat, the feet are placed hip-width apart, and the toes face forward or slightly out. When doing a sumo squat, the feet are in a wide stance with the toes turned out at an even greater angle.
Because of the foot positioning, the muscles emphasized in each of these variations differs, too. Both work the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves. However, the sumo squat places more emphasis on the inner thigh adductors, which move your legs in toward your body, and glutes. Depending on your core strength, you may also find sumo squats an additional challenge to your balance, as you're putting your body into a new alignment and need stability to keep from rocking forward or back on your heels.
If you've never done a sumo squat before, it's important to master the proper form for a standard squat before moving on to any variations. To perform a regular squat, stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and your hands by your sides. Hinge at your knees and hips as if you were sitting back into a chair and raise your arms to be parallel to the floor to help with your balance. At the bottom of the squat, your thighs should be parallel to the floor (or lower if hip flexibility allows) and your knees should be over your toes, not flaring out to the side or caving in toward the midline of your body. Keep your back straight the entire time and all four corners of your feet anchored firmly to the ground. Press through your heels and stand up straight. That's one rep. Depending on your fitness level, try starting out with three sets of 10 reps and building from there to match your goals.
Once you've mastered proper form for a standard squat, you can move on to other variations like the sumo squat. To perform a sumo squat, stand with your feet significantly wider than hip-distance apart (about three to four feet), turn your toes out 45 degrees and hold your hands by your sides. Lower yourself down by bending your knees and hips, raising your hands to meet under your chin. Keep your abs tight, back straight and do not let your knees move past your toes when lowering. Once your thighs parallel the floor, root through your heels and rise back up steadily for one rep. Again, depending on your fitness level and goals, start out with three sets of eight reps and building from there once you get more comfortable with them.
Although your own body weight is sufficient resistance to do both squats, especially for a beginner or during your warm-up, you have the option of using added resistance to increase the challenge. However, you should only add resistance if your form is perfected first. Adding resistance to improper form is a recipe for injury.
One basic way to increase the resistance for squats is by holding a barbell behind your head and across your upper back and shoulders (back squat). Hold the barbell at the same height, but resting on your chest and the front of your shoulders for a front squat. If you hold the barbell overhead, you're performing an overhead squat (pictured at the top of this article).
If you only have access to dumbbells, you can add weight by holding one in each hand and keep your arms along the sides of your body as you move through the range of motion. For sumo squats, use both hands to hold one dumbbell in front of you so that it hangs just below your pelvis. Alternatively, you can hold a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate in the center of your chest with both hands to perform a goblet squat.
You might even try adding a resistance band to your squat variations. With one of the long bands, stand in the middle of the band and hold both handles at shoulder height as you do your squats, focusing more of your effort on the raising than the lowering.