You are unlikely to nail any exercise the very first time you try it. Your first unweighted air squat was probably like ours: a little shallow, a little tentative. Over time you get better at squatting, of course, and you start looking at progressions like the goblet squat and Bulgarian split squat.
The Cossack squat is a particularly tough squat variation that is certainly tricky to nail first time. It’s a combination of the squat and the side lunge, and as you might expect, mixing two of the best glute exercises into one move leads to great results.
We first did the Cossack squat during a class at Barry’s Bootcamp St Paul’s in London. Once the class was over, we checked in with Barry’s to find out more about the move.
“The Cossack squat is a squat variation used for mobility and strength,” says Barry’s Bootcamp master trainer Tee von Zitzewitz.
“Perform it using just your bodyweight first and then once the move is mastered, you can add weight. Doing the full Cossack squat might seem unachievable for those who lack flexibility at first, but over time, with patience and determination, you will get there and you’ll see great results.”
Cossack Squat Benefits
The Cossack squat uses the same muscles as the unweighted squat, which is pretty much every muscle group in the lower body with a focus on the quads and glutes, but by changing the angle of the exercise you challenge the body in a different way to develop functional strength in your lower body.
It’s also a great move for testing and improving your flexibility and mobility, which are areas that are often sidelined in favour of trying to lift heavier weights with a barbell squat. The improvements you make in these areas will translate to better performance across your other squats, and easier movement in your regular life.
How To Do The Cossack Squat
“Start with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and take a big step to the side, like with a side lunge,” says Von Zitzewitz. “Shift your bottom back and tilt slightly forwards from the hips. You should feel your glutes activate immediately. Keep your weight through the heels at all times, and imagine spreading the floor outward with your feet.
“If this feels comfortable, start to take your feet wider and move your weight further back into the heels and bottom. Your bodyweight should always be on one side with the opposite leg extended. If comfortable, start to lift the toes up on the foot of your extended leg, keeping the heel firmly on the floor. As with all exercises, progression takes time, and you should only add weight once the basics are mastered and form is correct.”
As Von Zitzewitz suggests, the Cossack squat is similar to the side lunge, but differs in that you don’t come up to standing between reps: rather, you maintain a wide stance, and you drop deeper with the exercise than you do with a side lunge. In the Cossack squat, the foot of your extended leg is also only grounded by the heel, rather than planted on the floor as in the side lunge.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.