Shrimp Squat: Benefits, Muscles Used, More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 23, 2022

The shrimp squat is one of the most challenging single-leg squat variations and could be pretty frustrating for beginners. It is a quad-dominant exercise that also requires excellent ankle mobility. The range of motion employed in this single-leg bodyweight exercise stretches the hip flexors and ankles, which aids with the development of hip and ankle mobility.

A shrimp squat is a single-leg squat variation that uses the body's weight to strengthen the lower body. Since shrimp squats utilize a single leg, they challenge one side of the lower body at a time. They are one of the best exercises for increasing leg strength, balance, coordination, and mobility in the lower body. The shrimp squat is one of those few leg exercises with unparalleled recruitment of leg stabilizer muscles. 

Furthermore, they aid in preparing the body for advanced powerlifting activities such as front squats and deadlifts. When done correctly, shrimp squats primarily work the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and especially the quads. They also give the abdominals and back muscles a good workout. Other lower body muscles such as the hip abductors and adductors are also significantly activated.

How to Perform Full Shrimp Squats With Proper Form

Stand with the feet together on a folded yoga mat and the knees slightly bent. The yoga mat provides a cushion for the knee if one falls hard during descent. Put the body weight on one foot, with the shoulders over the hips.

shrimp squat

Flex the opposite leg while keeping the thigh straight with the trunk, as if doing a standing quad stretch, and grab the top of the foot with both hands. The knees should be close together. Tighten the core and retract the scapula for better stability. Maintain a straight back and keep the chin tucked as if holding an egg beneath the chin throughout the range of motion.

Start the downward movement by bending the weight-supporting leg's hip, knee, and ankle. Then, control the descent by leaning the body, the head riding past the knees, while the knees are going past the toes. Keep the back straight, core tensed, and shoulder retracted throughout the descent.

At the bottom of the movement, the knee of the suspended leg should touch the yoga mat just directly in line with the back of the heel of the other foot, and the shoulders should be aligned with the knee of the weight-supporting leg.

Reverse the movement by extending the ankle, knees, and hips while maintaining a straight back. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before switching to the other leg. Choose the sets and repetitions based on the ability to maintain good technique throughout the exercise.

Workout Progression to a Full Shrimp Squat

A fitness coach will never recommend a full shrimp squat to a beginner. However, one can train for the ability to execute this exercise by following a workout progression starting from one of the easiest single-leg squat variants, that is, the split squat.

dumbbell split squat

First, start with a bodyweight split squat routine until one can efficiently perform 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps, then move to weighted split squats using a barbell or dumbbells with gradual weight progressions leading to a load of at least 30% of body weight as added resistance. 

After mastering the split squat, progress through the Bulgarian split squat, starting with a low elevation for the rear foot and moving up to a higher elevation (knee flexion of about 90°). Also, do weight progressions for this exercise with dumbells, a barbell, or a kettlebell.

Toes-to-Floor Shrimp Squat

Stand with feet together and the knees slightly bent. Put the body’s weight on one foot while flexing the other leg at a 90° angle. The knees should be close together, with the toes of the bent leg hanging lower than the knee.

For extra balance, extend both arms forward at shoulder level. To improve stability, brace the core and retract the shoulders. Begin the descent by bending the standing leg's hip, knee, and ankle. Then, control the descent by leaning the body forward, with the head riding past the knees and the knees riding past the toes.

Keep the back straight, core tight, and shoulders retracted throughout the descent. At the near bottom of the movement, the toes of the suspended leg should touch the ground to provide support for the final few inches of the descent before the knee touches the ground.

Reverse the action by extending the ankle, knees, and hips while keeping the back straight. The back foot may be used to help the front leg to drive the knee up off of the ground. Repeat for the required amount of times before switching to the opposite leg. One should choose the set and repetitions depending on their ability to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.

Heels-up Shrimp Squat

This variation is performed the same way as the toes-to-floor shrimp squat, both arms out front and the other leg is flexed at a 90° angle. However, halfway through the descent, the back foot is lifted further so that the toes won’t touch the ground. Lifting the body back up relies solely on the front leg.

Single-Arm Shrimp Squat

Stand with the feet together and place the body weight on one foot. As if executing a standing quad stretch, flex the opposite leg and grip the top of the foot with the hand on the same side of the foot. The knees should be touching. Extend the other arm out front at shoulder level for added balance. To improve stability, tighten the core and retract the shoulders. Keep the back straight throughout the range of action.

Begin the downward movement by bending the upright leg's hip, knee, and ankle. Then, maintain control of the descent by leaning forward, with the head riding past the knees and the knees riding past the toes. Keep the back straight, core tight, and shoulders retracted throughout the descent.

The knee of the suspended leg should hit the ground just in line with the rear of the other foot's heel at the bottom of the action, and the shoulders should be aligned with the knee of the weight-supporting leg. Next, invert the movement by extending the ankle, knees, and hips while keeping the back straight. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before switching to the opposite leg. 

How to Shrimp Squat Safely and Avoid Injury

The shrimp squat is one of those variations, like the deep or full squat, where the knees ride past the toes. The knee position will always vary based on the type of squat an individual performs. It is natural for the knees to go past the toes to maintain balance when performing the shrimp squat, and this is fine as long as one has no injuries or ankle mobility limitations.

shrimp squat muscles

According to Fry et al., reducing forward knee mobility may reduce stress on the knees, but forces are likely to be incorrectly shifted to the hips and low-back area. As a result, proper joint loading during this exercise may need the knees moving slightly past the toes.

Include correct warm-ups, rest, and nutrition in any training regimen to see consistent development and increase body strength. Furthermore, good exercise technique is critical for ensuring the safety and efficiency of a fitness regimen. Nonetheless, each exercise may need to be tweaked to achieve the most significant outcomes for a certain individual's demands.

Select a weight or exercise variation that will allow the body to retain total balance and control throughout the activity. For example, for shrimp squats, one may utilize a suspension trainer or a parallel bar to provide stability and reduce resistance while still getting used to the exercise or perform easier variations of single-leg squats first like the split squat or the Bulgarian squat. 

Knee pads or a cushioned mat may be needed for beginners to protect the knees. When doing any workout, pay close attention to what the body says and stop if feeling pain or discomfort. If suffering from a previous or pre-existing health concern, see a doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.

Final Thoughts

The risk of injury is quite considerable for this squat variant, and the conventional prescription is to master the easier single-leg squats first, followed by a training progression from the easiest shrimp squat variations to the more difficult raised full shrimp squat. However, more advanced athletes, who understand the risks of excessive joint loading at extreme ranges of motion, can safely employ this squat variation and reap the benefits.

References

1. Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Med. 2013;43(10):993-1008. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6

2. Fry AC, Smith JC, Schilling BK. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(4):629-633. doi:10.1519/1533-4287(2003)017<0629:eokpoh>2.0.co;2

3. Swinton PA, Lloyd R, Keogh JW, Agouris I, Stewart AD. A biomechanical comparison of the traditional squat, powerlifting squat, and box squat. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2012 Jul 1;26(7):1805-16.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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