Posted November 13, 2013

Best Exercise in Ever: Cossack Squat

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts, and I figured I should throw up this great utilitarian exercise I use a lot with my clients, as well as myself.

For those who don’t know, a cossack squat is essentially like a variation of a Ukranian shumka dancer move acquired from the centuries old culture of the cossacks, which extends back before the 12th century through slavic, Ukranian and Russian heritage. Essentially, these peoples were groups of loosely formed communities, fairly self sufficient from others and under no major governing or regulating body, which made for a large variety of cultures, traditions and practices. One of those was the expression of dance, which allowed the formation of modern and traditional shumka and cossack dancing, which is characterized by a lot of kicks, heel point work with the toes elevated (in opposition to ballet which involves being on point of the toes). They also created the move most synonymous with Russian dance, cossack, or jump style.

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Now the cossack squat I’m talking about is sort of a calmer, less bouncy version of this guy, but no less impressive. The great thing about these bad boys is that they take advantage of multiplanar movement, specifically through the frontal and saggital plane, whereas conventional squats tend to exist solely in the saggital plane with a small amount of external rotation. The demands of rotation on the hip creates some additional hip mobility benefits, plus it also just looks stupid awesome dropping these bad boys to depth in the middle of a crowded gym.

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Now the great thing about these squats is their overall versatility. You have your hands free, which means you can hold on to stuff, which is ideal for hands. It also means you can scale the exercise to make it harder or easier as the situation calls for depending on mobility, tissue tension, or movement maturity of the individual.

A stepped down version of the cossack is to use your hands to add stability through the floor, or alternatively through holding on to another supportive stricture in order to hit depth and maintain control.

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You can load the weight on in an offset manner with a single weight on either the trailing leg or driving leg.

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You could use double kettlebells for double excellence.

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kudos to Jon-Erik Kawamoto for the video.

You could also throw down some super-sick ninja type hip mobility where you sit to a surface only 4 inches off the floor with a vertical spinal position and using a small weight held in front to counterbalance.

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Funny story, my arches were on the verge of cramping through the entire set of these. No joke, they mess up stuff you didn’t think could be messed up, especially when you get to a new depth.

How to do it

Take a wider than shoulder width stance, and turn one foot out to the side with the toe off the floor. Keep that knee straight, and squat to your other leg, trying to keep both heels on the ground and keeping your spine as straight and tall as possible. Lower as deep as comfortable or until you have to start rounding your spine to get any lower. Return to the start position and start cursing in foreign tongues. If you can’t keep the straight leg straight, open your stance up a little wider. Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Don’t try to over-analyze this stuff.

Now a massive benefit of doing these is to increase the usable range of motion through the hips which can help squatters get down deeper into the hole when lifting, and help those with some restrictions to moving in a tighter saggital plane motion get through their sticking point and hit some appreciable depth.


It’s also beneficial to anyone who does a predominantly saggital plane activity, such as running, cycling, sitting in a cubicle farm, walking, driving, or smashing the rest of the left over Halloween candy while watching re-runs of The Biggest Loser and sobbing gently to yourself.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Or better yet, film yourself doing them and see if you can match my depth. Apparently for a big goofy white guy from Canada, I have some mad hip mobility out the sides, so give it your best shot and let me see what you can do.


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