Cossack Squat: How to Perform, Benefits & Expert Tips 

a vector image of people performing various exercises including the Wall Squat.

The Cossack squat is one of the most underrated exercises in existence – it is not very often you spot the Cossack squat being included in a routine. 

However, this shouldn’t be the case. The Cossack squat is an excellent exercise that has a ton of applications, and as you are about to find out, it may even have a few advantages over regular squats.  

Let’s get right into it and take a look at Cossack squat form, the benefits that come with performing the Cossack squat, and some expert tips to help you along the way.  

What is a Cossack squat?   

The Cossack Squat, also known as the Side-to-Side Squat or the Russian Squat, is a unique lower body exercise that originated from the Cossack warriors of Eastern Europe.  

It involves moving laterally from side to side in a deep squat position, targeting the muscles, joints, and mobility in the hips, groin, and thighs.  

This exercise not only strengthens the lower body but also enhances flexibility, balance, and coordination. 

How to Do the Cossack Squat Step by Step 

Step 1 – Find Your Stance 

Begin by standing with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Maintain a straight back and engage your core for stability. 

Step 2 – Shift your Weight and Sit 

Shift your bodyweight onto one leg as you slowly lower yourself down into a deep squat on that side.  

Keep the opposite leg straight and the heel grounded on the floor. Your working leg should be externally rotated, and the knee should track over the toes. Maintain an upright torso and avoid leaning forward. 

Step 3 – Stand Up 

Push through the heel of your working leg and activate the muscles in your inner thigh and glutes to rise back up to the starting position.  

Repeat the movement on the opposite side, alternating between both sides. 

Benefits of the Cossack Squat 

Restores Or Improve Range Of Motion 

Push through the heel of your working leg and activate the muscles in your inner thigh and glutes to rise back up to the starting position. Repeat the movement on the opposite side, alternating between both sides. 

Builds Resilient Joints And Soft Tissues 

The Cossack Squat places stress on the joints and soft tissues in a different plane of movement. This helps strengthen and stabilize the knees, hips, and ankles, reducing the risk of injury and promoting joint health. 

Improves Frontal Plane Movement Ability 

Most traditional lower body exercises primarily focus on the sagittal plane, but the Cossack Squat adds a frontal plane component.  

This lateral movement enhances your ability to move laterally, improves lateral stability, and translates to better performance in activities such as sports, dancing, and daily movements. 

Better Squats 

The Cossack Squat complements other squat variations by targeting different muscle groups and movement patterns.  

By incorporating Cossack Squats into your routine, you can enhance your squat performance, strengthen your lower body from different angles, and overcome plateaus. 

It Gets You Out Of The Sagittal Plane  

As mentioned earlier, the Cossack Squat moves your body laterally, challenging muscles that are not typically engaged in the sagittal plane.  

This multidirectional movement helps improve overall functional fitness and expands your movement capabilities. 

Improves Performance  

The Cossack Squat enhances lower body strength, stability, and mobility, which can directly impact your athletic performance.  

Whether you’re a runner, a weightlifter, or a weekend warrior, incorporating this exercise can improve your overall movement efficiency and power output. 

Corrects Imbalances  

The Cossack Squat is an effective exercise for identifying and correcting muscle imbalances and asymmetries between the left and right sides of your body.  

It allows you to target each leg individually, ensuring balanced strength and mobility development. 

Muscles Worked by the Cossack Squat 

Adductors 

The adductor muscles, located on the inner thighs, are heavily engaged during the Cossack Squat. They play a significant role in moving your legs laterally and stabilizing your hips. 

Hamstrings 

The hamstrings, located at the back of your thighs, are actively involved in controlling the descent and providing stability during the Cossack Squat. They work alongside the quadriceps to maintain balance and control throughout the movement. 

Quadriceps 

The quadriceps, located at the front of your thighs, are crucial for extending the knee joint during the Cossack Squat. They help you rise from the bottom position and provide strength and stability throughout the exercise. 

Glutes 

The gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, are key players in the Cossack Squat. They contribute to hip extension, lateral movement, and overall lower body stability during the exercise. 

Who Should Do the Cossack Squat 

Strength Athletes 

Strength athletes, such as powerlifters and weightlifters, can benefit from the Cossack Squat as it targets multiple muscle groups involved in their respective sports. 

It helps develop lower body strength, stability, and mobility, which can enhance performance in the squat, deadlift, and other compound movements. 

Sport Athletes 

Athletes participating in sports that require lateral movement, agility, and stability can greatly benefit from the Cossack Squat. It mimics the movement patterns involved in various sports, such as basketball, soccer, tennis, and martial arts.  

By incorporating the Cossack Squat into their training, athletes can improve lateral strength, mobility, and overall athleticism. 

General Population 

Even if you’re not an athlete or a strength enthusiast, the Cossack Squat can still be a valuable addition to your fitness routine.  

It helps improve lower body strength, flexibility, and balance, which are important for everyday movements and activities.  

The Cossack Squat can also be beneficial for individuals looking to enhance their functional fitness and overall well-being. 

Cossack Squat Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations 

To Warm-Up 

Performing a few sets of bodyweight Cossack Squats can be an effective warm-up before lower body workouts or activities that involve lateral movements. Aim for 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions on each leg, focusing on controlled and deep squats. 

As Part of a Conditioning Circuit 

Include the Cossack Squat as one of the exercises in a conditioning circuit to improve cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance.  

Combine it with other exercises like burpees, mountain climbers, and jumping jacks. Perform 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions on each leg, alternating between exercises. 

To Develop Mobility 

If your goal is to improve hip mobility and flexibility, dedicate a portion of your training session to Cossack Squats.  

Perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions on each leg, focusing on achieving a deep squat position and emphasizing the stretch in the adductors and hips. 

Cossack Squat Variations 

Supported Cossack Squat 

The Supported Cossack Squat is a modification that provides additional stability and support, making it a great option for beginners or those who may struggle with balance.  

Holding onto a stable object, such as a pole or TRX straps, can help you maintain an upright posture and focus on the movement without worrying about balance. 

Landmine Cossack Squat 

The Landmine Cossack Squat adds an element of resistance to the exercise.  

By holding the end of a barbell inserted into a landmine attachment or wedged in a corner, you can perform the Cossack Squat while simultaneously challenging your muscles with the added weight.  

This variation can help increase lower body strength and enhance stability. 

Foot-Elevated Cossack Squat 

The Foot-Elevated Cossack Squat elevates the non-working foot on a step or sturdy platform.  

This modification increases the range of motion and demands more flexibility and strength from the working leg. It also adds an additional challenge to the stability and balance requirements of the exercise. 

Cossack Squat Alternatives 

Back Rack Cossack Squat 

The Back Rack Cossack Squat is a variation that involves placing a barbell across your upper back, similar to a traditional back squat.  

This modification adds additional resistance and challenges the muscles of the lower body, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.  

It can be a great option for those looking to increase overall lower body strength. 

Low Switch Cossack Squat 

The Low Switch Cossack Squat is a variation that incorporates a transition from one side to the other without returning to the starting position.  

Instead of standing up fully between repetitions, you switch from side to side in a continuous, fluid motion.  

This variation adds a dynamic element to the exercise and can increase the cardiovascular demand while targeting the same muscle groups. 

Lateral Squat 

The Lateral Squat is a similar exercise to the Cossack Squat but with a narrower stance and a focus on lateral movement.  

It involves stepping to the side, bending one knee while keeping the other leg straight, and returning to the starting position.  

The Lateral Squat targets similar muscles as the Cossack Squat and can be a suitable alternative or progression for those who find the Cossack Squat challenging. 

Mistakes to Avoid 

1. Leaning Too Forward 

One common mistake in the Cossack Squat is leaning too far forward, which can compromise form and place unnecessary strain on the lower back.  

Focus on keeping an upright posture throughout the movement, engaging your core, and ensuring your weight is evenly distributed. 

2. Moving Too Quickly 

Rushing through the Cossack Squat can lead to poor form and reduced effectiveness. 

Take your time and maintain control as you descend into the squat and return to the starting position.  

This allows for better muscle activation and helps avoid potential injuries. 

3. Back Arched 

Rushing through the Cossack Squat can lead to poor form and reduced effectiveness. 

Take your time and maintain control as you descend into the squat and return to the starting position.  

This allows for better muscle activation and helps avoid potential injuries. 

4. Heels Come Out of the Floor 

Rushing through the Cossack Squat can lead to poor form and reduced effectiveness. 

Take your time and maintain control as you descend into the squat and return to the starting position.  

This allows for better muscle activation and helps avoid potential injuries. 

Expand Your Knowledge 

To expand your knowledge and understanding of the Cossack Squat, consider exploring related exercises, such as lateral lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and other squat variations.  

These exercises target similar muscle groups and movement patterns, providing a well-rounded lower body workout. 

Cossack Squat Progressions 

To progress in your Cossack Squat journey, consider incorporating the following progressions: 

Deep Cossack Squat: Work on gradually increasing your depth in the Cossack Squat, aiming to go as low as possible while maintaining proper form. This helps improve flexibility and mobility in the hips, adductors, and hamstrings. 

Weighted Cossack Squat: Once you have mastered the bodyweight Cossack Squat, you can add resistance by holding dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Start with light weights and gradually increase the load as your strength and technique improve. 

Equipment Needed (If Any) 

The Cossack Squat can be performed with little to no equipment.  

However, if you choose to add resistance or modify the exercise, you may need some equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, a landmine attachment, or a sturdy platform for foot elevation. 

Cossack Squat – FAQs 


What Is a Cossack Squat Good For? 

The Cossack squat is good for unilateral leg muscle growth and strength. It’s also great at improving flexibility and fixing muscle imbalances.  

Are Cossack Squats Worth It? 

Yes, Cossack squats are worth it if you are interested in unilateral leg growth and flexibility.  

They are one of the best alternatives to squats for flexibility and ankle mobility.  

What Is The Difference Between A Cossack Squat And A Regular Squat? 

The difference between a Cossack squat and a regular squat is that a regular squat works both legs at the same time, while Cossack squats work each leg individually. 

This makes the Cossack squat great for fixing muscle imbalances.  

What Is The Difference Between Lateral Squat And Cossack? 

The difference between the lateral squat and the Cossack squat is that the Cossack squat requires more flexibility as it goes below 90 degrees, while the lateral squat is generally easier to perform as it stays above 90 degrees.  

I’m Really Inflexible. Can I Still Do Cossack Squats?  

Yes, you can still do Cossack squats if you are really inflexible.  

Becoming flexible enough to perform the Cossack squat takes practice, and with time, you will be able to perform this exercise.  

Are Cossack Squats Effective For Building Muscle?  

Yes, Cossack squats are effective for building muscle if you incorporate progressive overload. 

This is the process of increasing weight or resistance as you get stronger to continually challenge your muscles to grow.  

Where Am I Supposed To Feel Cossack Squat? 

You are supposed to feel the Cossack squat in your glutes and quads.  

You may also feel it slightly in your ankles while you are improving your flexibility.  

What Are The Cossack Squat Benefits?  

The Cossack squat benefits are leg muscle mass and growth, unilateral development, and flexibility.  

Can I Do Cossack Squat If I Have Mobility/Flexibility Issues?  

Yes, you will be able to perform the Cossack squat if you have mobility/flexibility issues.  

While it’s not going to be possible for anyone, most people can improve their flexibility enough to be able to perform the Cossack squat with enough time and practise.  

Is The Cossack Squat A Stretch?  

No, the Cossack squat is generally not considered to be a stretch.  

While the Cossack is one of the types of squats without weight and can be used as a stretch, it is also a strength/muscle-building exercise.  

Are Cossack Squats Dangerous?  

No, Cossack squats are not dangerous when performed correctly. 

However, if you practise poor form, then you could end up putting excessive stress on your joints.  

What Is The Difference Between A Cossack Squat And A Lateral Lunge? 

The difference between a Cossack squat and a lateral lunge is that the Cossack squat maintains a wide stance throughout the entire set, while lunges step the leg out in and out of reps. 

We hope this article will be of use to you! 

The Cossack squat is an incredible exercise that is just going to be perfect for some of you, and if you decide to include it in your routine, you won’t regret it. 

If you’d like more fitness advice, feel free to check out our other content at MovingForwards

See you next time.