Why Cossack Squats Are Great For Weightlifters and Other Strength Athletes

While many lifters today squat, front squat, lunge, and deadlift, we often find our training plans focusing on one singular plane of movement, often neglecting the other Cardinal planes and join actions. In doing so, we can create muscular imbalances, neglect joint integrity, and find ourselves with nagging joint pain, stiffness, and injury.

Weightlifting, powerlifting, and most competitive fitness activities occur within the sagittal plane, such as squatting, deadlifting, and most locomotion means like running, rowing, and biking. The lack of movement in the coronal and transverse planes in training can leave athletes susceptible to overuse injury and muscular and joint imbalances/weakness.

human-movement-planesImage: BlenRig 4.01 – NickZ file, Credit Juan Pablo Bouza under the terms of cc-by-3.0

Why Cossack Squat?

The ability to restore and recover, both from acute and chronic stressors of increased training volume, intensity, and frequency is critical to long-term success of an athlete. The Cossack squat offers us a unique solution and preventative approach to joint pain, stiffness, and injury prevention.

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Many of us have seen this squat variation, and often deemed it as a “flexibility or bodyweight” movement, somehow understating its difficulty and effectiveness for athletes. Additionally, when we then choose to perform them, we quickly are about the end result of competing reps, instead of focusing on joint integrity, neuromuscular control, and restoring/exploring new ranges of motion.

1. Restore ROM

Dr. Andreo Spina of Functional Range Conditioning suggests that the ROM needs to be trained in 10-20 degree increments, in order to maximize and restore joint health and articulation. The Cossack squat provides us with a multi-planar means to improving ankle, knee, and hip health, at the same time.

2. Improve Joints and Connective Tissues

The hips, knees, and ankles all work together in most lifts, as well as all human locomotion/sporting movements. Improving the joint and connective tissues of each depend upon the structural stressors that are placed upon them, such as force application. The Cossack squat allows us to apply those forces from various angles, creating a stronger structural “web” and awareness.

3. Prepare for the Worst

When squatting, pulling, and pressing large loads, we may find ourselves in situations that, if not prepared for, could result in injury. Maybe the knee collapses at the sticking points, or our footing is slightly different in the catch of a clean. The better our bodies are able to deal with the various stimuli on the fly, the less injury prone we may be. By training the Cossack squat, we are able to work the joint in various new degrees, directions, and improve our control and awareness.

How and When to Cossack Squat

The Cossack squat can be used as a warm up, corrective, active recovery, and/or assistance exercise. Depending on your ability to perform the movement through the full range of motion with finite control, you then can add variations, loading, and increase the intensity and complexity of the movement.

To perform the movement follow these quick steps:

1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width, at about the same stance you would set up for a sumo deadlift.

2. Shift your weight into your left foot, while simultaneously picking up your right toes and allowing your right heel move freely if need. 

3. Descend into a deep lateral lunge, focusing on sitting down instead of pushing your hips back, making sure to keep your left foot fully planted, and your right leg completely straight.

4. Take some time to explore tension in the legs, hips, and body, focusing on releasing lower and lower into the squat.

5. When ready, drive through the left foot, going over to your right and finishing the rep on that side.

I often find myself doing these as warm-up movements post a nice row or air bike bout so that my body is ready for the large demand placed upon it through this extensive range of motion exercise. The key I have found is to breathe through the movement and to make sure you are properly warmed up, as this is a more advanced mobility and strengthening exercise. Timed sets have worked well with my lifting groups in both workout sessions and active rest days, in which the emphasis is placed upon maximizing every repetition for quality versus quantity.

Whatever you choose, explore this movement to increase your range of motion, recover from training sessions,’and better protect yourself from often preventable injuries.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.