You have been to the squat buffet and not only went back for seconds and thirds, but also fourths and fifths. You dream about squats so much that you once woke up in your neighbor’s yard overhead squatting his pet Chihuahua. You have tried them all: hindu, sumo, overhead, hack, pistol; you name it and you have done it. Or have you? There is a little gem of a bodyweight squat that I have been teaching my students at seminars around the world for years. This simple and unassuming little move starts off like a warm bath on a Sunday afternoon and ends like a leap out of a moving freight train onto a unicycle. Ok, maybe it’s not THAT hard, but it is the toughest bodyweight single leg squat I have ever seen. Yes, boys and girls, I am saying that it’s harder than a pistol squat.
Let’s start off slow and easy with the simplest version of this great exercise. As we scale this bad boy up you may encounter some mobility restrictions. Don’t even think about trying to jump past or cheat your way through them, face them! If you are stuck, you better work at getting unstuck. If you are stiff, you better get supple. If you want to move better, jump faster, and lift more, you have to train your mobility and flexibility, there simply isn’t any way around it. I know, I know, you don’t “like” to work those things. Well guess what, no one cares what you “like.” This isn’t about “like,” it’s about “need” and you need to mobilize that body if you want to tackle the advanced version of the Superman Squat.
Superman Squat 1: Baby Superman
Like the name indicates, this is step one. Baby Superman, fresh out of his spaceship and crash landed on Earth. From a standing position, raise your arms over your head and hinge forward as you crease at the hip and move one leg back behind you. Bend the back leg so that your heel moves up toward your butt. With the knee of your working leg pointing toward the ground, slowly lower yourself until that knee just touches the floor, and then come back. Remember to only touch the floor lightly; if you fear that you may slam your knee down, place a pad on the floor. Easy right? Ok, so maybe not so easy, but hey, let’s not forget that I said it was “Baby Superman,” not you as a baby. Even buck naked on the side of the road that kid could still lift up a car.
Baby Superman Modification: Ok, so you tried the Baby Superman and your foot, rather than your knee, hit the floor. Or maybe you got half way down and then fell into a quivering pile on the floor. Don’t panic! We can scale this exercise down so that even my fourth grade math teacher could do it (Don’t ask, let’s just say not the most athletic man you have ever seen). Start with your right knee bent and your left leg trailing behind your laces on the floor. The starting position basically looks like an odd lunge. Raise your hands up and lean forward as you drive off of the right leg and lift to the standing position. Working from the bottom up this way will help you build some of the strength needed for the first version of this exercise. As you improve, start from the bottom position with a bent back leg.
Superman Squat 2: Kindergarten Superman
So, you tore through the Baby Superman? Don’t get too excited, that was pre-school. Now it’s time for Kindergarten Superhero. Assume the Superman 1 position with your right leg back in the air, knee pointing toward the ground. Grab a hold of your right ankle with your right hand. Lower yourself to the floor and back up again while maintaining a your grip on the ankle. Still too easy for you? Try switching things up so that you are reaching back with your left hand and grabbing your right ankle. That should keep you busy for a little while, but just in case it doesn’t, go have a look at Superman 3.
Superman Squat 3: Full Superman
This is where we separate the Superheros from the merely fit mortals. Kneel down as in the modification given for Superman 1. With your right knee bent reach back as you bend your left leg clasping both hands around your angle. That’s right, BOTH hands. If you are unable to reach back and comfortably hold your ankle with both hands, STRETCH! Start working on your flexibility and come back to this when you have a body that doesn’t move like an old Buick. For those of you who are capable of holding your ankle, the rest is simple. Get up. That’s it. No jumping, wiggling, kipping, rolling, or anything other than a slight lean forward and press up from the ground while maintaining your grip. From the standing position, slowly lower down with your knee just touching and go up again. Repeat these steps until you feel like a total badass.
Superman 3 isn’t easy but it’s worth it. As you have seen and felt this great little bodyweight exercise will challenge your strength as well as your mobility and flexibility. At the heart of this challenging move is the ability to control your body and develop raw strength from a dead stop.
You can combine the Superman with exercises like the Pistol into something I call a Pendulum. This move builds on the skills needed for both with a much higher demand on your control over your body. Simply perform a Pistol Squat with your right leg in front and then after you return to the top position, move the same leg behind you and perform a Superman. Five reps of five on each leg should get you feeling nice and warm.
Superman Squat Tutorial Video:
Strength is a skill and it is best developed first without the use of training tools. Learn to control your body and then conquer the resistance offered by weights.