Cyclist squats are among the best squat variations for targeting the quads because of their narrow stance.
A study titled “Effects of Stance Width and Barbell Placement on Kinematics, Kinetics, and Myoelectric Activity in Back Squats” concluded that the vastus lateralis produced greater myoelectric activity during the narrow stance widths. (1)
I often implement cyclist squats with my clients to help them develop all four quad muscles better. Also, some have limited ankle mobility, so the elevated heel position during cyclist squats certainly helps.
I created a very simple guide after a thorough biomechanical analysis of the cyclist’s squats. In this article, you will learn to perform cyclist squats correctly, the muscles worked, the best tips and variations, and the most common mistakes to avoid.
How To Do Cyclist Squats
Here is how to do cyclist squats properly:
Step One — Assume the Starting Position
Load a barbell on the squat rack with an appropriate weight. Place a 45-pound weight plate (or a squat wedge) on the floor behind you. Position the barbell on your upper back, unrack it, and step back. Place your heels closer than shoulder-width apart on the weight plate’s edge. Ensure your back is straight throughout the entire movement.
Pro Tip: Practice a few bodyweight cyclist squats with your heels on the weight plate before unracking the loaded bar. Use this exact foot placement and body alignment during the actual cyclist squat.
Step Two — Lower Into a Squat
Bend your ankles, knees, and hips to lower into a squat. Since your heels are elevated, you can achieve greater squat depth. Go as low as your mobility allows. Hold the bottom of the squat for one second.
Pro Tip: Focus on keeping your knees aligned with your toes. This is mainly because elevated heels can increase the tendency for the knees to drift inward.
Step Three — Extend Your Ankles, Knees, and Hips
Extend your ankles, knees, and hips to return to the starting position. As you stand up, ensure your back is flat and your core contracted to remain stable and injury-free. Avoid locking out your knees at the top of the ROM. This allows you to maintain a constant tension on your quads.
Pro Tip: Push through the balls of your feet on concentrics while keeping your heels on the elevated surface. This will maximize quadriceps engagement throughout the movement.
Watch the video demo:
Muscles Worked During Cyclist Squats
The primary muscles worked during cyclist squats are:
- Gluteus maximus
Also, here are the secondary muscles:
- Erector spinae
Best Tips To Perform Cyclist Squats
Here are some of the most effective tips to get the best bang for your buck during cyclist squats:
You must descend into the deep squat position with utmost control. Slow eccentrics help you master the technique, activate more muscle fibers due to higher time under tension (TUT), and reduce the chance of potential injuries.
Achieving proper squat depth can help bias the quads better. In my experience, many lifters try to compensate for the lack of ankle mobility during the cyclist squat by leaning forward.
Excessive forward lean compromises squat depth and places undue stress on your lumbar spine. Lifters noticing an extreme forward lean should stack multiple weight plates. Greater heel elevation will compensate for poor ankle mobility, allowing you to achieve better squat depth.
Lifters often overlook their breathing technique. However, this is where most lifters leave gains on the table. Breathing correctly is crucial to maximize your performance.
Take a deep breath at the starting position and hold it during the eccentric phase of the cyclist squats. Breathe out sharply on concentrics.
Most Common Cyclist Squat Mistakes
The most common cyclist squat mistakes include:
Improper Heel Elevation
Improper heel elevation leads to poor posture and suboptimal quad activation. The heels are elevated during this exercise to achieve greater squat depth even without excellent ankle mobility.
If the weight plate or squat wedge is too small, it will require greater dorsiflexion, which can hamper your squat depth.
I suggest picking a stack height where you can safely enter the deep squat position without compromising your form, excessively bending forward, or rounding your spine.
Too Wide a Stance
Cyclist squats are designed to bias the vastus lateralis. However, a wider stance can shift the focus to the vastus medialis. I advise picking the narrowest possible stance, where you can safely enter the bottom squat position without compromising your form.
Excessive Forward Lean
Excessive forward lean while squatting is almost always the result of poor dorsiflexion. Elevating your heels compensates for poor ankle mobility. However, some lifters lean forward excessively because they aren’t conscious enough of their body and want to rip through the reps.
I have my clients look up slightly during cyclist squats. Sometimes, this can help with driving the butt down and shifting the emphasis on the quads rather than hams and glutes.
Neglecting Core Engagement
Overlooking core engagement is another common mistake lifters make during cyclist squats. Activating your core muscles stabilizes your body and ensures proper balance during the descending and ascending phases.
Proper core activation will also fixate your spine, which is crucial for preventing back injuries. Think consciously of your core muscles, and keep them as active as possible during the entire movement.
Ignoring Individual Biomechanics
Ignoring individual biomechanics is another common mistake lifters make. You must consider factors such as your limb length, joint mobility, and muscle strength and flexibility while trying to squat ass to the grass.
Understanding your biomechanics helps you:
- Adjust your stance width and angle
- Employ relevant tools for assistance when necessary
- Incorporate mobility exercises
- Strengthen supporting muscle groups
- Progress gradually
Cyclist Squat Variations
Here are some cyclist squat variations you can add to your exercise arsenal:
Bodyweight Cyclist Squat
This is an excellent cyclist squat variation for beginners.
- Place a weight plate on the ground behind you.
- Place your heels on the edge of a weight plate so they are elevated.
- Hold your hands in front of your chest.
- Simultaneously, bend your ankles, knees, and hips to lower into a squat.
- Go as low as possible.
- Hold at the bottom for a second.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
Pro Tip: Focus on maintaining a slow and controlled tempo, especially in the lowering phase. This will increase muscle time under tension and enhance muscle activation.
Goblet Cyclist Squat
Goblet cyclist squats are another excellent beginner variation to help you master proper form and technique before doing more complex cyclist squat variations.
- Place a weight plate on the ground behind you.
- Hold a kettlebell in front of your chest with both hands.
- Place your heels on the weight plate so they are elevated.
- Simultaneously, bend your ankles and knees.
- Go as low as possible.
- Return to the standing starting position.
Pro Tip: Hold the bottom of the squat for about 2-3 seconds. This can significantly increase the intensity of the exercise and further target the quadriceps, even without added weights.
Dumbbell Cyclist Squat
Dumbbell cyclist squats are another excellent beginner variation.
- Stand tall with your feet in the hip-width apart stance and your heels elevated on a small platform.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides or at shoulder level in a front rack position.
- Keep your chest up and back straight as you descend.
- Aim to squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Ensure your knees don’t go past your toes.
- Drive through your heels and the balls of your feet to return to the starting position.
Pro Tip: Focus on keeping your torso more upright during the squat. This will shift the emphasis to the front of your thighs, intensifying the workout for your quadriceps.
Cyclist Squat with Resistance Bands
Cyclist squats with resistance bands will bias the glutes.
- Place one end of a loop resistance band under your feet and the other around your shoulders.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your heels on a raised surface like weight plates.
- Engage your core and keep your chest proud as you lower into a squat.
- Push your knees out during eccentrics.
- Lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Push through your heels to rise back to the starting position.
Pro Tip: Actively push through your heels on concentrics. This works your glutes and quads more and helps with power and strength development.
Cyclist Squat on a BOSU Ball
Cyclist squats on a BOSU ball are excellent for developing your stabilizers.
- Place a BOSU ball on the ground with the flat side up.
- Carefully step onto the center of the BOSU ball with your feet hip-width apart.
- Find your balance and stabilize your core.
- You can extend your arms out in front for additional balance.
- Bend your knees to lower into a squat.
- Lower as far as you can while maintaining balance and proper form.
- Press through your mid-feet to rise to the starting position, maintaining balance on the BOSU ball.
Pro Tip: Engage your core muscles throughout the exercise to maintain balance. This helps you perform the squat more effectively and enhances your overall core strength and stability.
Cyclist squats are among the best squat variations for targeting the quads. My top recommendation for mastering cyclist squats is to perform them at least once weekly. Focus on learning the form and technique before proceeding with more complex variations.
In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on cyclist squats and how you implement them in your lower-body workouts.
- Larsen S, Kristiansen E, Helms E, van den Tillaar R. Effects of Stance Width and Barbell Placement on Kinematics, Kinetics, and Myoelectric Activity in Back Squats. Front Sports Act Living. 2021;3:719013. Published 2021 Sep 1. doi:10.3389/fspor.2021.719013
- Peterson MD, Pistilli E, Haff GG, Hoffman EP, Gordon PM. Progression of volume load and muscular adaptation during resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(6):1063-1071. doi:10.1007/s00421-010-1735-9