The counterbalance squat is an advanced lower-body exercise that challenges stability and coordination. By holding a weight out in front of your body as you squat, your core has to work overtime to resist rotation and keep your torso upright. This creates a fiercely effective functional training move.
Mastering the counterbalance squat takes practice, but can pay dividends in strength, muscle development, balance, and athleticism. Read on to learn proper form, muscles worked, benefits, exercise variations, tips, sample workouts, and common mistakes. With the right guidance, you’ll be reaping the rewards of counterbalance squats in no time.
What is a Counterbalance Squat?
The counterbalance squat is a free-weight variation of the traditional bodyweight squat. Rather than holding your arms out in front of you or down by your sides, you’ll hold a weight (like a kettlebell, dumbbell, or plate) with both hands extended in front of your chest.
As you squat down, focus on keeping the weight centered in front of you while maintaining an upright torso. This challenges your core stability, balance, and mobility in ways a regular squat simply can’t. The constant pull of the weight taxes your entire core to resist rotation on the way down and back up.
Muscles Worked During Counterbalance Squat
Like a regular squat, counterbalance squats target the major muscles of the lower body. This includes the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves as primary movers.
Your core also gets a run for its money. The rectus abdominis must contract isometrically to keep your trunk vertical, while the obliques resist side-to-side rotation. The erector spinae also works hard to extend the spine against the pull of the weight.
Benefits of Adding Counterbalance Squat to Your Routine
Building full-body coordination between your upper and lower muscles is one of the key benefits of the counterbalance squat. The core activation enhances strength in the midsection, while the constant stability challenge hones proprioception and balance.
Other key benefits include:
- Strengthening the legs and glutes through a full range of motion squat
- Developing explosive power by incorporating jumps
- Improving athleticism by enhancing balance and control
- Adding muscle mass to the quads, hamstrings, and glutes
- Building a resilient and durable core for better posture and injury prevention
Proper Form and Technique
Proper form is vital for maximizing benefits and minimizing strain on the lower back.
Key Technique Cues:
- Foot stance slightly wider than hip-width apart. Toes can point out at an angle.
- Hold weight at chest height with elbows bent. Hands shoulder-width apart. Engage core.
- Initiate movement by sending hips back while keeping chest tall and weight-centered.
- Squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Keep weight as close to the body as possible.
- Focus on keeping torso upright throughout the motion. Do not round the lower back.
- Push through heels to return to the starting position. Squeeze glutes at the top.
Avoid rounding the back, letting knees collapse inward, twisting side to side, or squatting with unequal weight distribution. Go low enough to train a full range of motion while maintaining form.
How to Progress the Counterbalance Squat
To continually challenge your muscles and core as they get stronger, use these progressive training techniques:
- Increase or decrease the counterweight amount based on the ability
- Hold weight overhead for greater demand
- Modify squat depth: go deeper or more shallow
- Slow down the tempo with controlled eccentric and concentric
- Add a 3-second paused squat at the bottom
- Perform on an unstable surface to amp balance challenge
Advanced Variations to Maximise Benefits
- Once you’ve mastered the basic counterbalance squat form, try these challenging variations:
- Overhead counterbalance squat: Hold weight overhead instead of at the chest
- Jumping counterbalance squat: Explosively jump between reps
- Single leg counterbalance squat: Performed on one leg for greater balance
- Lateral counterbalance squat: Take a side step and squat down
- Counterbalance squat walk: Walk forward or backward while performing squats
- Integrating Counterbalance Squat Into Workouts
There are many ways to effectively incorporate counterbalance squats into workout routines:
- As a warm-up to activate glutes, quads, core, and prime for heavier lifts
- On lower body strength training days to demolish quads and glutes
- Added to full-body exercise circuits for a metabolic boost
- For athletic performance training to build explosive power
Counterbalance Squat Workouts and Routines
Here are some workouts showing how to implement counterbalance squats for different goals:
Beginner Full Body Workout
3 sets of 12-15 reps of normal counterbalance squat
3 sets of 12-15 reverse lunges on each side
Intermediate Leg Day Routine
5 sets 12 reps back squat
4 sets 8-10 reps overhead counterbalance squat
3 sets 15 reps split squat on each side
Advanced Powerlifting Program
10 sets 3 reps low pause counterbalance squat
8 sets 6 reps jumping counterbalance squat
Common Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Counterbalance squats develop great strength, but also carry injury risks, especially for beginners. The most common injuries include:
- Lower back strain from excessive forward lean
- Knee pain if knees collapse inward
- Quad or hamstring strains from poor flexibility
To prevent injuries:
- Maintain a neutral spine and avoid rounding the lower back
- Keep knees centered over feet – don’t let them cave inward
- Only squat to a comfortable depth based on your mobility
- Warm up thoroughly and start with lighter weights
Equipment and Setup
The most common counterweights used for this exercise include:
- Kettlebell or dumbbell held at chest height
- Weight plate held vertically at chest
- Fixed barbell positioned horizontally in front of the chest
Choose a manageable weight that allows you to maintain proper upright torso position and squat with control. Hold weight close to the center of the chest throughout the motion.
Tips for Mastering Counterbalance Squat
Tips for perfecting your counterbalance squat technique:
1. Start with light weight and progress gradually as form improves
2. Film yourself from multiple angles to ensure proper form
3. Squeeze glutes forcefully at the top of each rep
4. Control the descent – don’t just drop down
5. Actively push knees outward to keep them aligned over feet
A Word From Blogzah
When performed correctly, the counterbalance squat builds tremendous full-body strength. To master the movement: maintain an upright torso, initiate from the hips, keep knees out and weight centered. Progress gradually and use form cues to maximize benefits and prevent injury. This exercise challenges both physical strength and neuromuscular coordination.
How deep should I squat?
Squat as low as you can while maintaining proper form. Ideally, thighs should be at least parallel to the floor at the bottom.
Will it hurt my shoulders to hold the weight?
If positioned correctly, it shouldn’t. Keep elbows bent and weight close to the chest. Avoid shrugging shoulders’ up.
Can I use resistance bands instead of weights?
Yes. Looped bands can provide a downward pull against upward force. Monitor tension carefully.
What muscles does this work the most?
Primary movers are the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. The core is worked isometrically to resist rotation.