This straightforward exercise not only strengthens each leg’s strength and coordination, but also removes hip instability that inevitably creeps in after years of training heavy bilateral movements like squats and deadlifts.
We are not perfectly balanced machines. One side of our body has more prominent organs than the other side in different places. We have one dominant side that will always be a little stronger and more coordinated than the other.
So when we start doing heavy bipedal or bilateral movements like squats and deadlifts, it makes sense that we develop a tendency to push harder, to face our dominant side, or to prefer it.
It’s part of the business to be human, and no amount of one-sided focused remedial action or exercise will balance us perfectly.
There is no point in thinking about it because we are naturally unbalanced.
We should always focus on the basics that are beyond any movement and practice. If you want to know what these core principles are, check out this new course I am offering.
When the imbalance is too great
However, sometimes the space between the sides and segments can get a little too big. In this case, we need smart exercises that will train all variables to move the gauge back towards your baseline. This is a reasonable asymmetry.
The Cossack Squat requires you to move into positions that can be difficult at first, but the movement itself is simple and straightforward.
It can be done anywhere with body weight or loaded in different ways with whatever type of weight is available to you.
Why The Cossack Squat?
Any one-legged exercise can improve stability and physical awareness. What makes the Cossack squat valuable is that you have the slight support from your hind leg.
With this support, you can focus on controlled movement over the full range of motion that is available to you while building more mobility and strength at the end of your range.
If you fall, you are at the limit of your hips and ankles. Just look at the picture above. I crouch on one side of my body as low as I can.
We all tend to emphasize linear movements in which we move straight up and down. If you want a big squat and deadlift, that’s fine. However, you need to make sure that you move in different directions and movement patterns, at least at times.
The Cossack squat is an exercise that you can add to the end of your workout to help you move in a different plane.
It is best to move through these different patterns to avoid overloading the pattern (injuries to your soft tissues cannot move in just one pattern or restrict your free range of motion for too long).
It would be helpful if you moved in these different positions to keep all of the connective tissue in the body healthy.
The longer we’ve been training, the more we may need this.
The older we get, the more we have to move in every possible way.
And the more we sit for work, the more we should move in every possible movement pattern.
Use any movement pattern
- Place your feet a foot or two outside shoulder width. You may need to adjust your feet wider. Play with your posture to find out what is comfortable and strong.
- Ground the foot on the side that you will be crouching on first. Press your big toe firmly into the floor and apply pressure to the floor outside of your foot just below the outside edge of your ankle.
- You can curl your toes out at first but eventually work towards keeping them straight as this will challenge your mobility and stability to new levels.
- Use your other foot on the opposite side to help you and push you into a crouch.
- Sink into a crouch without your heels or any part of your feet losing contact with the ground. With some variations, your toes may lift and twist up on your back leg. However, if you keep them down, then it’s better to question the mobility of your adductors.
- Squeeze the foot you were squatting on to push your hips up and back, center.
- Let yourself sink to the other side without a break, taking into account the same points of contact and ideas.
Weighted Cossack squat
To add weight to this exercise, you usually hold the weight in front of you to use as a counterweight to keep you upright, or you can hold it close to your body.
If you want to change it, try keeping a weight behind your head.
Holding a weight behind your head will test your dexterity to stay upright.
You will train the strength and flexibility of your upper back, and your core will work even harder to maintain posture and stabilize you. Win, win and win.
Watch your limit
This exercise is not about bending and creasing into a position that you cannot yet reach. It’s about finding the edge of your flexibility and stability in this movement and slowly challenging it without losing posture and stiffness or compensating in any way.
If you practice it consistently, you’ll get to that lower position, but your adductors, knees, and ankles won’t like you very much if you try to force it too soon.
Ready for more trouble?
There are several ways to load this exercise to make it more challenging. Holding a weight behind your head, which I described earlier, is one of them. Holding the weight above your head with your arms outstretched is another.
However, there is something else you can do to test your mobility and stability that doesn’t necessarily require weight.
Choose the side you squat on and place a small plate or similar flat object under that foot. Do the number of repetitions you choose, then switch sides.
If you lift your foot just a few inches, you will struggle to hold the position as you lower yourself into a lower position.