Kickstand Squats for Leg Strength, Size, and Athletic Performance
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
The kickstand squat is nothing new as it’s been around the fitness industry for a number of years. Unfortunately it often goes largely unnoticed in many training circles and performance centers or simply doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. While many are quick to dismiss it as an unnecessary lower body exercise I’ve found it to be quite useful and effective for many of my clients and athletes. Here’s an example of the barbell variation as demonstrated by my awesome figure athlete Leslie Petch.
How To Perform the Kickstand Squat
To perform the kickstand squat, simply stagger your feet so that one foot is in front of the other while placing most of the tension on the front leg. The heel of the front leg should be anywhere between 1-6 inches in front of the toes of the back leg. In addition, I’ve found that having the feet slightly, but not excessively staggered (laterally) feels ideal and promotes optimal mechanics. In other words if you were to slide the back leg forward and parallel to the front leg it should land almost right next to it with little or no space in between each foot.
Additionally, some individuals will report that the movement feels like a mini lunge or split squat. However, the main difference is that slightly more tension is placed onto the front leg with less tension on the back leg in comparison to a true lunge or split squat.
As you squat down focus on driving through the heel of the front leg while keeping the heel of the back leg tall rather than down or sagging towards the ground. This helps to ensure more tension is placed on the front leg and also ensures optimal activation of the posterior chain of that leg. In regards to depth both legs should move into an approximately 90-degree joint angle. Lastly, make sure your hips are set back throughout by maintaining a proper hip hinge rather than allowing the hips and knees to drift forward which promotes dysfunctional lower body mechanics and potential injury.
Benefits of The Kickstand Squat
Now that we’ve covered the technical components, let’s discuss the various benefits of the kickstand squat. Here are 8 reasons why it’s so effective as well as a few unique variations.
1. The kickstand squat is essentially a single leg squat with slight support from the back leg. Simply put, it provides an effective method for performing single leg squats while also providing just enough support to allow the individual to overload the movement. For instance when performing true single leg squats, I’ve found that most individuals must decrease their load substantially to the point where they may only use a quarter or a third of the load they typically use for bilateral squats. For example I have several athletes who can back squat over 500 pounds yet rarely go past 155 on single legs squats as any additional weight will make it difficult to balance and control.
In contrast I’ve found that most individuals can handle up to 2/3 of their typical bilateral squat weight when performing the kickstand squat most likely because of the slight support provided by the back leg that helps the individual balance their body. In the case of the 500-pound squatter this would allow them to handle well over 300 pounds. In such a scenario performing a mildly supported single leg squat with 300 pounds provides enormous tension to that individual leg thereby creating significant levels of mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. As a result the kickstand squat is an incredibly effective lower body variation for inducing significant functional strength and hypertrophy throughout the glutes, quads, and hamstrings while also maximizing the overload response.
2. The kickstand squat is exceptional for eliminating various imbalances and alignment issues throughout the lower body as the hips, ankles, and knees must maintain proper alignment, positioning, and mechanics throughout in order to successfully complete each repetition. Otherwise, the lifter will struggle to maintain balance and lock the movement in.
3. While the kickstand squat doesn’t provide as much instability as a true single leg squat, it’s still relatively unstable and difficult to balance particularly when ample overload is applied. As a result it’s quite effective for strengthening the muscles of the feet and ankles while also promoting better balance and stability.
4. The kickstand squat helps to promote optimal hip hinge mechanics during the squat (a critical component of correct squatting technique) as it feels very natural and comfortable to keep the hips set back throughout. This not only promotes optimal technique for single leg and split squat variation but also transfers quite nicely to bilateral squats including barbell back squats.
5. The kickstand squat is highly effective for improving sprint speed and mechanics particularly out of the starting position as most sprint starts involve setting up in a position that’s quite similar to a kickstand. Whether you’re a track athlete looking to improve their speed out of the blocks or a football player looking to improve their sprint power out of the 3-point stance, this squat variation will provide tremendous benefits.
6. The kickstand squat is surprisingly easy to teach and even easier for individuals to learn. This is most likely because the movement feels very natural and represents a very functional position that’s used in everyday life.
7. Programming lower body exercises that provide significant overload to the legs yet also minimizes tension to the low back and spine can be quite difficult. The kickstand squat provides a highly effective movement choice for crushing the lower body while minimizing stress to the spine.
8. Similar to other squatting variations, the kickstand squat is incredibly versatile and can be applied to nearly all squatting variations including front squats, goblet squats, trap bar deadlifts, overhead squats, Zercher squats and more.
Kickstand Goblet Squat
Here’s an example of one of my awesome clients Todd Weiland performing goblet squats using the kickstand method.
Because of the loading nature of traditional goblet squats, the upper body and core tend to be the limiting factor as the arms, shoulders, and abs can give out well before the legs. With that said, the goblet squat is very conducive for pairing with the kickstand protocol as the legs tend to give out before the upper body and core. Try progressing to the point where you can handle half of our body weight for multiple sets of 3-5 reps on each side.
Trap Bar Kickstand Deadlift and Squat
The trap bar also provides another excellent method for combining with the kickstand protocol as demonstrated by my awesome client Elizabeth Yates. These can be performed in a dead stop fashion by placing the bar down to the floor each rep or they can be performed in a more constant tension fashion by pausing an inch or so above the floor as shown in the video. The dead stop fashion is more conducive for producing a strong overload effect while the constant tension method is excellent for producing metabolic stress and eccentric muscle damage.
Both methods are highly effective for inducing hypertrophy and can be employed consistently throughout one’s training. As an added bonus, because the set will take over double the time to complete than a normal set the time under tension provided to the upper back, traps, shoulders, and forearms is quite intense thereby providing a strong stimulus for building functional strength and size throughout the lower and upper body alike.
RDL’s and Bent Over Row’s
If you’re looking to implement the kickstand method in a fashion that emphasizes the posterior chain including the glutes, hamstrings, lats, and upper back, try performing RDL’s, good mornings, and bent over rows with the kickstand protocol. Here’s one of my athletes Ike Onike (@ikonik51) performing underhand grip bent over barbell rows with a kickstand RDL/position.
Besides placing enormous tension on the glutes and hamstrings this promotes optimal rowing mechanics as the athlete will be required to slow the movement down and use smooth horizontal pulling mechanics. Excessive momentum or loss of spinal neutrality will disrupt the athletes stability resulting in a loss of balance. Try performing several sets of 3-6 reps per leg.
If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ a variety of movements such as kickstand squats, kickstand deadlifts, and kickstand bent over rows into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates.