The One Squat Variation Your Legs and Abs Have Been Missing

Prisoner squats force your abs to stabilize your torso as you lift and lower.
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Squats are a lot like Oreos. Just when you thought you'd tried them all, there's always a new variation or flavor you can add to your workout routine (or snack cabinet). And while all squat variations offer plenty of benefits, the prisoner squat is definitely one you won't want to skip.


Before you prominently feature prisoner squats in all your workouts, start with some easy-paced reps, focusing on form over speed. Once you've got it down, you'll be busting out speedy squats in no time.

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How to Do the Prisoner Squat

If the prisoner squat sounds totally unfamiliar, you're probably not alone. Although this squat variation isn't as popular as its goblet or sumo counterparts, it's a great way to strengthen your lower body, while working on your core stabilizer muscles.

First things first, though, it's important to perfect your form:

Prisoner Squat

Skill Level Intermediate
Region Core and Lower Body
Goal Build Muscle and Improve Balance
  1. Start standing, feet hip-width apart. Place your hands behind your head, elbows pointing out. Keep your hands there the entire time.
  2. Slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
  3. Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as low as you can go while maintaining good form. Your knees should be over your toes and your gaze should be straight ahead.
  4. Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
  5. On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing.

"Prisoners squats are a great exercise because they don't just challenge your lower body (quads, glutes and hamstrings) but also your body as whole," Carolina Araujo, NY-based certified personal trainer, tells "Because of your hand placement (hands behind head or sides of your head), it forces you to promote greater core engagement."


The prisoner squat can also help improve the stability in your back and shoulders, as keeping your arms in the overhead position gets tiring after several reps. This position is also a great way to open up your chest.

You can even pace your prisoner squats add a cardiovascular element to your workout, Araujo says. Generally, she recommends people perform this move at a speedy pace, as they're weight-free and incorporate both the lower and upper body at once. That'll get your heart rate up in no time!


Incorporating the Prisoner Squat Into Your Workout

Lower-body exercises like the prisoner squat are a great way to strengthen and sculpt the glutes, quads and hamstrings. But this exercise also offers a handful of functional benefits, too. Building lower-body strength will help you complete day-to-day activities with more ease, whether you're going for a walk or getting up from a chair, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).


Thanks to its emphasis on abdominal strength and stability, the prisoner squat can also help prevent back pain. Strengthening your core can help improve your posture, which is especially important if you spend a lot of your day sitting, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And practicing proper posture is another big factor in helping prevent lower back pain over time.

Considering it works your body from head to toe, Araujo likes incorporating this exercise during a total-body workout. She recommends pairing your prisoner squat with a resistance-based lower-body exercises like weighted lunges or deadlifts. If you're doing dumbbell goblet squats, for instance, she suggests that you follow them up with a set of fast-paced prisoner squats.




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