Using Variable Resistance for the Squat

Using Variable Resistance for the Squat

Reading time: 5 Minutes

The squat is a popular strength training exercise in the athletic community. With the right technique and practice, this exercise helps athletes develop their lower body strength. To optimize the development of this strength and turn it into power, coaches should use variable resistance cords attached to the frame of the rack and the bar.In this article, Dan Hutchison,  MS, ATC, CSCS, explains how using variable resistance for squats will benefit athletes.

What is Variable Resistance and How Does It Help?

Variable resistance cords will “vary” the load throughout the squat’s range of motion, mainly decreasing theload during the descent phase of the squat and increasing it during the ascent. Such variability increases the load as the athlete’s mechanical advantage improves. Basically, as the exercise gets easier the load gets heavier!

Key Advantages of Variable Resistance for Squats

1.Safety: Using variable resistance places heavier load at the mechanically optimal position. This optimal position allows the athlete to learn the technique both during descent and ascent. Additionally, it reduces the amount of “dead weight” on the bar, making it easier for spotters to provide emergency assistance.

2.Stability: Athletes may struggle with balance and proprioception. Variable loading throughout the movement allows the athlete to recruit more muscle fibers, enhancing their muscle coordination and increasing stability.

3.Explosiveness: During traditional weight-loaded squat movements, athletes may experience deceleration during the end-point of the range of motion due to anticipation of the movement’s completion. However, with variable resistance, athletes can learn to push through this end-range motion, enhancing their power and explosiveness at extension. This skill carries over to other exercises that require a similar extension phase, such as sprinting and vertical jumping.

Developing Strength and Power with Variable Resistance

Using variable resistance applications for squats provides athletes with several advantages, including enhancing safety, stability, and explosiveness. By adding variability to the loading, athletes develop leg strength throughout the full range of motion, promoting greater strength gains during training. While the technique can be challenging, like any new exercise, it’s worth exploring for coaches looking to add some variability to their squat training program.


Here are some useful references if coaches are interested in learning more about variable resistance training: 

Ebben, W.P. and Jensen, R.L. Electromyographic and Kinetic Analysis of Traditional, Chain, and Elastic Band Squats. JSCR, 16(4): 547-550. 2002. 

Joy, J.M., Lowery, R.P., de Souza, E.O., and Wilson, J.M. Elastic Bands as a Component of Periodized Resistance Training. JSCR, 30(8): 2100-2106. 2016. 

Hutchison, D. (2015). Perform-X Training Systems Education Manual. 

Wallace, B.J., Winchester, J.B. and McGuigan, M.R. Effects of Elastic Bands on Force and Power Characteristics during the Back Squat Exercise. JSCR, 20(2): 268-272. 2006.