Recently popularized by Ben Patrick, and sometimes referred to as the low cable pull-in, the reverse squat has quickly become one of my all time favorite ab exercises – it’s also the best exercise I know of for the hip flexors!
Today we’re going to take a look at exactly how to perform this exercise, what it’s useful for, a bunch of tips to enhance its effectiveness, and much more!
How To Perform The Reverse Squat
I recommend using a cable machine for best results.
1. Adjust your cable stack to the preferred height
If you have the cable attached on the lowest setting, you’ll notice significantly more hip flexor engagement, whereas if you move the attachment up a few pins, it’ll focus more around the lower abs.
I prefer going 3-4 pins off the bottom setting, as I’m currently using this exercise more for my lower abs than I am my hip flexors.
2. Attach Your Reverse Squat Strap
I highly recommend getting a reverse squat strap if you’re planning on doing this exercise regularly.
These straps are specially designed to synch around your feet, creating a secure attachment to the cable stack.
Unfortunately most gyms don’t have straps like this and you’ll probably struggle to find a suitable alternative to be completely honest…
Something like a tricep strap is going to be your next best bet.
Pro-Tip: Scoot up nice and close to the cable stack so that the slack is out of the reverse squat strap while you attach it to your feet.
Once it’s attached, scoot back to take up the slack.
3. Get into position
I recommend using some sort of mat for these, if not for comfort, to keep sweat off the floor.
Lie down in a supinated position and reach back over your head to grab ahold of something sturdy (usually the other cable machine pole).
You will need to have something solid behind you to grab ahold of!
You won’t be able to brace yourself with your arms by your sides. If there’s no pole or rack behind you, simply stick a weight plate or a heavy dumbbell behind your head that you can grab onto.
Make sure you’re back far enough that the weight is already off the stack (this prevents the weight stack slamming back down at the bottom of the rep).
4. Raise your knees up as far as you can
Begin reverse squatting!
Make sure your lower back stays flush with the ground while doing these, especially if you’re targeting your lower abs.
You can cheat a little if you’re doing it primarily as a hip flexor movement.
As far as tempo goes, I prefer to do them nice and slowly, but Patrick prefers doing them explosively.
If you’re training for athletic performance, the ATG standard for this exercise is 20 reps with 50% of your bodyweight on the stack.
If you’ve never done these before, that’s going to be extremely difficult.
This is a super unique stimulus that takes a lot of getting used to.
The first couple times I did this exercise, my entire core started cramping up violently, causing me to writhe in the fetal position on the ground in front of everyone…
I would recommend starting with no more than 33lbs on the stack for your first set.
You’ll probably be surprised how difficult that is!
Single Leg Reverse Squat
This exercise can also be done unilaterally, which can be a useful way to bring up your weaker side.
Also if you can’t find a reverse squat strap or a suitable alternative, you might be able to find an attachment that’ll work fine for one of your feet.
Reverse Squat Equipment
As mentioned earlier, this exercise does require some equipment, but luckily it’s all fairly inexpensive…
Reverse Squat Strap
This is a strap designed specifically for this movement.
All of the reverse squat straps on the current market are virtually identical, so I’d recommend going with the TBG reverse squat strap as it’s the most affordable.
I used it twice a week and the quality is excellent!
I would strongly advise against using a resistance band for this exercise.
The whole point of this movement is to be able to externally load the lower abs/hip flexors in a measurable and progressable fashion.
You can’t easily overload this lift when using resistance bands.
They’re also super finnicky and the often the inappropriate length and strength for an ideal stimulus.
But if there’s no better options in your gym, this is a fine last resort.
Reverse Squat Benefits
There are several very useful benefits you can look forward to when you start doing reverse squats…
Easy To Progressively Overload
The major benefit of the reverse squat is being able to progressively overload your lower abs and hip flexors.
Most athletes when training these muscles are doing exercises like L-sits and hanging leg raises using just their bodyweight or some light resistance…
But the beauty of the reverse squat is that we can really ramp up the external load to make these muscles super strong.
Larger Range Of Motion Than Any Other Hip Flexor Exercise
As far as your hip flexors are concerned, the reverse squat maintains tension throughout the eccentric portion of the movement, which I believe creates a better training stimulus compared to something like weighted knee raises.
Notice how there’s very little tension on the hip flexors at the bottom of the above exercise?
The supine position combined with the cable keeps the tension on right throughout the reverse squat.
The range of motion in the reverse squat is also much larger than many of the alternatives as well.
You’ll be able to tell just how powerful this exercise is after you find yourself on the brink of cramping up after your first set!
Enhanced Sprint Performance
Sprinters are known for having the strongest hip flexors in all of sports.
Strong hip flexors literally allow you to pick your legs up off the ground more quickly, which is a critical component of the knee drive in sprinting.
If you want to become a faster runner (any distance), regularly training your hip flexors is going to improve your biomechanics and efficiency greatly!
Reverse Squat – Sets & Reps
Anywhere from 8-25 reps is fine for these, depending on how much weight you’re using and how strong your core is.
They can be done explosively or in a slow and controlled manner.
The ATG standard for this exercise is 50% of your bodyweight for 20 reps.
Reverse Squat: Muscles Worked
You’ll feel this exercise in both your lower abdominals as well as your hip flexors (they attach your hips to your upper thighs).
You may also notice your rectus femoris working a bit too – this is the quad muscle which sits on top of your thighs.
Reverse Squat Alternatives
Nothing is going to replace the stimulus you get from the reverse squat, nothing.
But it can be inconvenient to do at times, especially when there’s not a cable stack available at the gym, or if you don’t have a reverse squat strap.
These other alternatives hit the exact same muscle groups.
Hanging Leg Raises
The hanging leg raise is probably the closest relative to the reverse squat as it also hits both the hip flexors and lower abs.
One extra benefit of the reverse squat is that it’s practically a hanging leg raise, except you’re not allowed to cheat by swinging your body.
The GHD sit-up is another great lower abs + hip flexors combo.
I love this exercise because it’s a ‘full range’ core movement which Crossfitters use to develop those giant ab muscles.
What’s The Verdict?
The reverse squat has recently become an absolute staple in my core routine because of how effectively it hits those lower abs.
Most athletes will prefer this movement for other reasons though, such as how it increases sprint performance as an explosive hip flexor developer.
By following my advice and tips detailed above, you’ll quickly find yourself falling in love with this movement too, so give it a shot as soon as possible!