The basic iteration of the squat is a brute of an exercise. It's the foundation of many strength programs, and one of the big three lifts in powerlifting.
The problem is that it tends to beat up the lower back, knees, and limit mobility for athletes who may not have developed their muscle strength.
Also, mundanity can begin to creep in when you are repeatedly doing the same version of the squat over and over. That's where alternatives come into the picture and the Pulse Squats, or Squat Pulses, depending on what you want to call them, are one of my favorites.
Theses squats give you many of the benefits of regular squats without beating up your back and knees. They are also a fantastic way to step outside the normal parameters of what you're used to with squats, lunges or walking lunges.
Today, I will show you why pulsing squats are such a great exercise, as well as how to do them properly and some alternatives if pulsing aren't for you.
What is the Pulse Squat Exercise?
The Pulse Squat is a half squat movement where you begin in a deep knee bend position, and then pulse up and down.
This is an excellent alternative to squats, especially if your lower back isn't too impressed with your repeated squatting behavior, or if you want to start taking the strain off of your knees after heavy leg day.
Again, there are various variants and modifications of the Pulse Squat. You can throw in weights, kettlebells, and go really slow or very fast. But here's a look at the most basic version.
Video: Pulse squat exercise Demonstration
As you can see, she squats down until her thighs are parallel to the ground and then creates a pulsing movement.
The idea behind the pulsing move is to increase the time under tension for the primary muscle groups, which are the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and calves. It's a great way to build strength and muscle endurance.
The goal of pulse squats is to slowly increase your range of motion, which will let you go deeper into the squat.
Muscles worked with pulse squat exercise
The Pulse squat is essentially a regular squat with a pause and pulses in the catch position. The benefits of this variation is that it reduces stress on your back and knees because you're eliminating momentum and there's no bounce out of the hole or out of the bottom.
The Pulse Squat works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, ligaments and tendons.
The basic squat is always more quadriceps-intensive than the rest of the leg muscles. Pulsing increases the time under tension for the quads. You just need to make sure that you're pausing at the bottom of the movement for 1-2 seconds, which will force your body to recruit more muscle fibers in your quads due to the increased time under tension.
Your quads are made up of four muscles including the vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and rectus femoris.
Vastus medialis oblique (VMO) is the teardrop muscle that sits on top of the knee joint. The Pulse Squat presses deep into this region to help build strength.
Want a perky booty? Then you need to increase the tension in those glutes! The Pulse Squat is a very glute-intensive movement, as your glute muscles needs to explode, during the concentric and eccentric pulses.
Glutes are the largest muscles in the body and it takes a lot of energy for them to contract and fire on all cylinders. Performing the pulses will give you a great workout for this muscle group.
The Pulse Squat is a fantastic way to work your core muscles. Not only will you have to keep the torso upright, there is also a balance aspect as well, as keeping your hips engaged and tight as they pulse up and down.
Your deep abdominal muscles will be working overtime to stabilize the spine, as the pulses occur.
How to do Pulse Squat Exercise– Step by Step Instructions
The Pulse Squat is relatively simple to do as long as you are not adding weights or doing complex versions. Here's a step by step guide on how to do the basic bodyweight version of the Pulse Squat.
Step 1 - Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Ensure that you keep the back straight and core engaged throughout the whole movement!
Step 2 - Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground (knees over ankles). Then pause for 1-2 seconds at the bottom of your squat.
Step 3 - Explosively straighten your legs and return to a standing position. This is where the pulses will come into play, as you half-squat, pause and then return to the starting position.
Step 4 - Repeat and do as many reps as required.
The Pulse Squat is a fantastic way to build strength and lean muscle mass. It's very functional as well as it works your core, glutes and quads throughout the movement.
How many reps and sets of pulse squats should you do?
Coming to the big question, how many sets and reps should you do? Well, that depends on a number of factors including your fitness level, age, weight and goals.
If you are new to the whole exercise routine then perform 3 sets of 10 reps for pulse squats. Once you get stronger you can increase the number of sets to 4-5, while keeping the number of reps at 10. Alternatively keep it at 3 sets but bump up the number of reps to 15-20.
As you get even stronger, increase the sets to 6-8 or keep it at 4-5 sets but increase the number of reps to 20+. It truly depends on how intense you want your workout to be. If you want a more intense workout, you can throw in weights or vary the tempo.
Ideal Reps and sets for females and beginners
As I said, the number of reps and sets depend on a number of factors including your age, fitness level, weight and fitness goals.
For instance, someone who's overweight and has tight hamstrings, limited mobility in their knees and struggles to squat until their thighs are parallel to the ground, should probably start with 3 sets of 10 reps.
As they get stronger, the number of sets can increase up to 5 while keeping the same number of reps at 10 or do 3 sets with 15-20 reps. Once again, it's totally up to you. Females is a very broad term. I would use a basic squat strength test to figure out how many reps and sets you should do.
Here's a great squat test you can use as a starting point of reference - https://www.brianmac.co.uk/squatest.htm
Ideal Reps and Sets for Males & Advanced
Now we are talking. If you are an advanced lifter, then you probably have very specific reasons for doing the pulse squats and know exactly what your goals are.
In this case, you can get right to it by adding dumbbells or Kettlebells. Generally, dumbbells are held by the side of the body, while kettlebells can be held up front with your arms extended.
The latter can be more challenging since it involves shoulder and core strength. Also, all your stabilizer muscles will come into play. Another option is using the pulse squat as a finisher. Perform 1 minute of pulse squats for 4-5 sets after doing your normal leg routine.
You could even add a cardio element to the Pulse squat by increasing the tempo or adding jumps to the mix. So, rather than squat –pulse-pulse- up, you go squat - jump - pulse - jump - up.
If you perform this intensely, you'll end up in a large puddle of sweat and tears.
How many times a week should I do this work out?
I consider the Pulse squat as a modifier move rather than a primary compound exercise. Therefore it should be done once or twice a week at the most to avoid overtraining and injury.
A lot of folks I know perform this as part of their HIIT routine, rather than doing it on leg day because they do a lot of squats and variants already.
On leg day, I would only do the pulse squats as a finisher. Also, keep in mind that your legs need time to rest and recover before you train them again. So aim for 2-3 days off between leg workouts.
Pro Tips on pulse squat exercise to get best results
While it's a fairly simple move, there's always a possibility that you may get it wrong. So, here are a few pro tips for the perfect pulse squat.
Keep your feet apart at shoulder width and point them slightly outwards. Inhale as you go down, & exhale as you come up. The breathing is an important, but overlooked aspect of squatting form.
Try not to lock your knees when you squat. This is especially important if you have tight hamstrings.
Don't lean forward when you pulse squat, but do make sure your knees don't go outside your toes. This will ensure that you sit back and not just down.
If all these tips seem too difficult to grasp at once, start by adding a couple of pulses, & come back down slowly from the top position.
Common Mistakes to avoid while doing Pulse Squat Exercise
Any version of a squat is highly prone to poor form because it involves so many muscles, joints and connective tissue to effectively stabilize your entire body weight.
You see the legs are already under a large amount of tension as they go through this range of motion repeatedly. And to make that tension effective, you need good form.
So here's what not to do:
Letting the knee come in front of the toes
People with tight hips, especially those who sit for long hours, tend to let their knees come forward during squatting. This puts a lot of strain on the knee cap and can result in injury or chronic pain down the road.
Not allowing your back to curve enough
When you do squats, especially pulse squats, you'll notice that the natural tendency is to allow your back to round forward slightly. But it should never be flat - your back should curve outwards in order to maintain the natural curvature of the spine.
Attempting too many reps or using weights that are too heavy
The risk is very high when you overreach with squats. So if you are a beginner, perform just one set of pulse squats - going down & coming up for a count of 10. Keep the weights light, and slowly increase the reps, as you get comfortable with the exercise.
If you are more advanced, aim to do 4 sets of 20 pulses with a static hold at the top. This means that from your standing position, you'll hold yourself in that squatting position for a few seconds then come back up.
Pulse Squats Benefits
Pulse Squats offer numerous benefits that go beyond breaking up the routine. Here's a look at the primary ones.
You can perform this exercise anywhere - at the gym, at home or even outside on the road. It's also safe & effective for all ages & genders, unless your range of motion is limited for some reason.
This move has a lot of flexibility. You don't need any special equipment & as such, you'll never run out of options on how to perform it! Weights, tempo, reps, intensity, there are numerous ways to make it more challenging.
It's easy on the joints
Unlike other forms of squatting, the pulse squat is extremely low impact. It can even be modified to make it easier if needed. Just do bodyweight squats & count the pulses instead of reps.
Helps boost muscle strength
This is an excellent exercise for both beginners & seasoned athletes alike. The simple nature of the move ensures that weaker muscles are able to remain engaged throughout, which in turn helps increase their strength.
Pulse Squat Variations
As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to perform pulse squats. Here are some variations that I add to my routine from time to time.
Dumbbell Pulse squat
The Dumbbell Pulse Squat is a great way to add some instability to the exercise as well as work your core & upper body. Not to mention that it’s great for hypertrophy.
Here's a video that shows how to do the dumbbell squat in perfect form.
How to do the dumbbell Pulse squat
Step 1 - Hold a dumbbell in each hand & stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your upper body upright.
Step 2 - Bend the knees and lower yourself into a squat, going down till your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower if you can. Make sure that you keep the weight on your heels & go only as low as comfortable for.
Step 3 - Now push yourself away from the ground to a standing position using only your legs. Repeat this for two pulses. Keep this movement slow & controlled, and do not lock your knees at the top of the squat.
Step 4 - Complete 10 reps.
Sumo Pulse Squat
Sumo Pulse Squats are a great way to train your inner thigh muscles and can also be done with dumbbells if you want to make it even more challenging.
Here's a video that shows how to do the Sumo Pulse squats in perfect form.
How to do the sumo pulse squats
Step 1 - Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart & toes pointing outward at a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and keep your arms straight, so that the weights hang by your sides.
Step 2 - Bend at the knees and lower yourself into a sumo squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower if you can, while keeping your upper body upright & core engaged throughout.
Step 3 - Push yourself away from the ground to a standing position using only your legs. The pulses in this move are performed by pushing off from your heels. Keep the weight on your heels throughout & do not lock your knees at the top of the squat.
FAQ about Pulse Squat Exercise
Still got unanswered questions on pulse squats? Below is a run through of the common questions that come up often.
Q. How many calories does the pulse squat burn?
A. That depends on the intensity, your body weight and whether or not you have added weights or resistance bands. For instance, a Pulse squat done with 10lbs added to your bodyweight will burn more calories than a bodyweight only pulse squat. Similarly, if you do an HIIT version, you will burn more calories than a normal squat.
Q. Is it okay to stop & take a rest?
A. Absolutely. You should in fact take breaks between sets to catch your breath and allow the muscles to rest. If at any point during the exercise you feel that you are pushing it too far, pause to reset.
Q. How long until I see results?
A: What results are we talking about exactly? If its hypertrophy, results depend on more than just the pulse squat. You need to maintain a proper diet & make sure you are training hard enough (proper form, limiting rest between sets etc.) It may take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months for this exercise to make an impact on your physique.
Q. What are pulse squats good for?
A: Well, if your goal is to increase hypertrophy or gain muscle, then this exercise will definitely help you reach that end. But if your goal is fat loss, it will also contribute towards speeding up the process. It also works great for increasing muscle strength.
Q. Can Pulse squat be done with dumbbells?
A. Yes, they can. But it’s an advanced move that requires a lot of practice and skill. If done improperly, can lead to injuries. It’s best to start with bodyweight squats first before trying the dumbbell pulse squat.
Q. Pulse Squat vs Regular Squat Which is better?
A: It's an apples and oranges debate. Every move has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, Pulse squats are better for increasing the total time under tension for the muscles. Normal squats on the other hand, are the bee's knees for hypertrophy, strength and endurance.
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