3 Kettlebell Variations That Will Improve Your Barbell Back Squat

These kettlebell squat variations can have a ton of carryover to your barbell squat!

Google the word squat and you come up with over 168 million hits.

Then Google the word deadlift and you only get 24 million hits. According to Google, the squat is the king of all exercises. See how easily I solved that debate?

Squats are a staple of every serious lifter’s routine. So, whether you love them or hate them, you cannot deny they play an important role in any training goal you’re striving for.

What’s Needed for Great Squats

Let’s quickly go through what’s important for a good squat form.  

  • Ankle mobility: allows your shin and knee to travel forward and backwards.  
  • Knee stabilityas a general rule knees need to go out and not cave in.
  • Hip mobilitywhen your hip flexors are tight, good luck getting into a squat.
  • Thoracic mobilitykeeping your chest up plays an important role in not dumping the barbell in a front squat and keeping the spine in neutral for both squats.
  • Upper back strengthstronger upper back at lats keep the spine straight and stops a back squat from turning into a Good Morning.  

Although there are other factors at play but these are the big rocks.

How Kettlebells Can Improve Your Barbell Squat

The unique shape of the kettlebell (as opposed to the dumbbell) challenges your balance, stability and grip strength while your swinging, squatting, pressing or pulling the bell.

Holding the kettlebell goblet (or racked style) encourages you to stand up straighter, and it helps get your upper back tight and urges you to keep your chest up, which is part of a good squat set up. 

However, racking the kettlebells is where the real magic happens. Racking (single or double) fully engages your anterior core because if you don’t engage and you lose position, then the kettlebells will smack you. And that’s not a nice feeling…

The rack position hammers your upper back strength and thoracic mobility, which makes the barbell feel like child’s play when you get back to barbell squats.

Furthermore, the kettlebell adds movement variety to ensure continued strength gains and helps prevent overuse injuries from too much barbell work.

Kettlebell Squat Variations

Here are 3 kettlebell squat variations to help improve your squat technique. 

How to set up and perform racked kettlebell squats

  • Clean the Kettlebells up– by performing a hip hinge and swing
  • Set the rack position – rest the KB on your forearms, biceps, and shoulders with a neutral wrist position.
  • Set your feet – into your preferred squat stance.
  • Get into neutral- fully exhale all the air out of your lungs to bring your ribs down and engage your glutes.
  • Sit between your legs, not over them – you know, like a squat.
  • Breathe – stay tight in the bottom position by filling your lungs full of air and start to exhale all the air out of your lungs on the way up. 
  • Press the ground away from you – while exhaling, start pressing the ground away from you with your whole foot until standing. 

1. 2 KB Front Squat

Why It Helps

The double racked position feels like your being strangled. This position fires up your anterior core, upper back and grip strength. Furthermore, because of the load on your chest, it encourages deep belly breathing as opposed to chest breathing.  

You use less load here but this exercise is intense. And it gives you a welcome break from the heavy barbell too.

Sets and Reps

Being an accessory exercise for regular squats, 3-4 sets of between 8-15 reps works well.

Training Suggestion

Seeing you have the kettlebells in the rack position, go for a walk. For example

  • 1A. 2 KB Front squat 8 reps
  • 1B. Kettlebell racked carry 20-40 yards
  • 1C. Collapse

2. Offset KB Front squat

Why It Helps

The offset load not only engages your anterior core but your obliques too. And if you have a strength imbalances (upper back and legs) between sides, the kettlebell will give you instant feedback.

Because you do both sides for one set, it gives you a nice volume boost for hypertrophy or fat loss also. 

Sets and Reps

3-4 sets of between 6-8 reps works well.

Training suggestion

Pairing this with a suitcase carry will have your obliques singing to you the next morning. For example,

  • 1A. KB offset squat-6 reps
  • 1B. Suitcase carry on the same side 20-40 yards.
    • Rest
  • 1C.  KB offset squat (on the other side)-6 reps
  • 1D. Suitcase carry in the same side 20-40 yards 

3. 2 KB Bulgarian split squat

Why It Helps

The racked kettlebells provides you with thoracic mobility and upper back strength benefits that carry over to your barbell front squat. And raising the center of gravity along with the bigger range of motion increase your stability demands

The split squat helps with leg drive and in reducing strength imbalances between legs. Leg drive is essential for squatting heavier weights and reducing strength imbalances.

Sets and Reps

For strength do 4 sets of 6 reps. For hypertrophy and endurance try 3 sets for 8-12 reps.

Training Suggestion

For a real upper back whammy, pair with a single arm row. As a bonus, this will smoke your grip also.

  • 1A.  Double racked Split squats 8-12 per leg
  • 1B.  Single arm row 8-15 reps

Wrapping up

Kettlebell squats give you a break from the barbell and gives you a great training effect with a reduced load.  And this keeps your spine in a better mood.

But your quads will screaming at you. Sorry, you can’t have it all. 

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

Feature image from baranq/shutterstock. 

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

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