How to Do Cannonball Squats

Exercise Setup and Proper Form for Explosive Quad Gains

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: July 1, 2023

If you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter looking to achieve explosive quad gains, cannonball squats may be the niche leg exercise you need. However, it’s important to note that this exercise may not be suitable for everyone and could even lead to joint pain for some individuals.

To determine if this exercise is right for you, check out my comprehensive guide to cannonball squats. This guide provides detailed instructions, form tips, and exercise variations to incorporate into your leg day workouts.

Cannonball Squats

What Are Cannonball Squats?

The cannonball squat is a modified version of the traditional squat that requires standing with your feet extremely close together, almost touching. This narrow stance significantly alters the squatting movement.

Not many people are familiar with this exercise as it is quite specialized. However, fitness influencer Julian Smith, also known as the Quad Guy, has brought it to the forefront in recent years.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Julian Smith (@smith.julian)

Cannonball Squat Muscles Worked

Cannonball squats mainly target the quadriceps on the front of your thighs by involving deep knee flexion. However, the hips, glutes, and hamstrings also contribute to the movement.

These squats particularly focus on the vastus medialis, also known as the teardrop-shaped muscle above the knee cap, and the vastus lateralis, which creates the outer sweep of the quad.

Goblet Squats Muscles Worked

Benefits & Limitations

Cannonball squats promote a more upright torso position and reduce hip bend due to the narrow stance. This results in greater activation of the quads as your knees bend more during the exercise.

However, this extreme range of motion can put extra stress on the knee joint. Additionally, achieving full squat depth without rolling your hips requires superb ankle mobility.

Pros

  • Excellent quadriceps activation
  • More upright squatting posture

Cons

  • Requires excellent ankle mobility
  • Puts a lot of strain on the knees

Who Should Cannonball Squat?

Again, many people should not include this exercise in their leg workouts. For instance, cannonball squats are contraindicated for anyone with existing knee pain or injuries.

In addition, you should not attempt this exercise if you have not perfected the technique on traditional barbell squats first, as this exercise requires more advanced body control. Also, cannonball squats are not good for targeting the glutes or overall strength.

You Should Not Do Cannonball Squats If You:
  • Have bad knees or knee pain

  • Have not perfected traditional squats

  • Are training for strength or booty gains

  • Have limited ankle mobility

  • Cannot perform the full range of motion with good form

It is worth noting that cannonball squats have their place in certain workout routines. They can be especially beneficial for intermediate to advanced-level squatters seeking a variation that concentrates on their quadriceps.

How to Do Cannonball Squats

For barbell cannonball squats, begin by placing the bar on your shoulders. Then stand with your feet close together or touching, and angle your toes slightly outward.

Start the squat by slowly bending your hips and knees while keeping your chest out and back straight. Squat down as far as possible without allowing your hips to roll forward at the bottom. 

To finish, stand back up by extending your knees and pushing your hips forward. Repeat as desired, typically 8-12 repetitions for muscle growth.

To summarize, here are the steps to perform cannonball squats properly:

  1. Place barbell high on shoulders
  2. (Optional) Elevate your heels on a block or wedge
  3. Stand with feet close or touching, toes slightly out
  4. Slowly squat down while keeping your chest up and back straight
  5. Go as deep as possible without rolling hips forward
  6. Extend knees and drive hips forward to stand back up
  7. Repeat for 8-12 repetitions

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Cannonball Squat Form

The instructions and video above should give you a great starting point for performing cannonball squats. But here are some additional tips to help you perfect the form and maximize quad activation.

1. High Bar Placement

First, it’s beneficial to place the barbell higher on your shoulders. This bar position helps you maintain a more upright posture and get greater knee bend during cannonball squats.

See How: High Bar vs Low Bar Squats

2. Heel Elevation

Second, elevating your heels on a block or wedge enables you to squat deeper without requiring as much ankle flexibility. But remember, if you have limited ankle range of motion, you should still address the root cause and work on mobility.

Cannonball Squats Setup

3. Allow Your Knees to Track Outward Slightly

When doing the cannonball squat, it’s not necessary to keep your knees together as it could result in unwanted hip strain.

Rather, it’s better to let your knees point outward at a similar angle to your feet. Doing so will ensure that your joints are correctly aligned and reduce any stress on your body.

4. Go Slow On The Way Down

It’s important to maintain a slow tempo on the descent of this exercise. This will help increase the time your quads are under tension and ensure proper technique.

Be mindful of your hip positioning at the bottom of the range of motion – if they start to roll, pause and begin your ascent. Also, your knees should be bent more than your hips or ankles at the bottom.

Cannonball Squats Form

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Cannonball Squat Variations

There are a few different ways to perform cannonball squats other than with the barbell on your back. Here are some of the most common exercise variations.

Cannonball Front Squat

To perform a front squat, you hold the barbell on the front of your shoulders instead of your back. This shifts the center of gravity forward, leading to a more upright body position.

The cannonball front squat is an advanced variation that combines the forward bar position with a close stance to activate the quads and maximize knee flexion. It’s crucial to start with lighter weights to avoid excessive knee stress.

Cannonball Goblet Squat

The goblet squat involves holding a weight, usually a dumbbell, in front of your chest while doing the squat movement. Like front squats, this shifts your center of gravity forward and emphasizes the quads.

The cannonball goblet squat adds to this by utilizing the feet together stance, making it very quad-dominant. However, the drawback is that your elbows could hit your thighs at the bottom, limiting the range of motion.

Cannonball Hack Squat

A hack squat machine involves a weighted sled on rails that sits on your shoulders and results in a relatively upright body position during the squat movement. You can also perform hack squats with your feet low and close together on the platform to put even more emphasis on the quads.

Cannonball Squat Alternatives

For those who can’t perform cannonball squats, here are some alternative exercises that can help you build quad size and strength.

Narrow Stance Squat

The narrow stance squat typically involves standing with your feet roughly hip-width apart. For most individuals, this equates to a distance of 9-12″ between their feet.

With this close stance, you get a bit more quad activation without the extreme knee flexion of cannonball squats. So it can be a safe alternative for those with knee problems.

Heel Elevated Squat

Another way to increase quad activation without using a narrow stance is by raising your heels off the floor. For most individuals, heel-elevated squats result in greater squat depth and knee flexion.

Quad-Focused Leg Press

The leg press offers another quad-focused leg exercise with the benefit of being more stable. The key is placing your feel low on the platform, which results in greater knee bend.

See How: Leg Press Foot Placement for Quads vs Glutes

Hack Squat

The traditional hack squat exercise is inherently more quad-dominant even if you don’t go to the extreme of placing your feet low on the platform. So this can be another good alternative to cannonball squats.

Sissy Squat

The sissy squat sounds like a wimpy exercise, but it’s actually incredibly challenging because it involves squatting down without bending your hips. This movement is excellent for building the quads and can even help you develop stronger knees.

More Leg Exercises & Workouts

Now you know if cannonball squats are an exercise that you should include in your routine. And you know how to do this exercise with proper form, should you decide to try it.

But a complete leg day workout should also involve some exercises for your glutes and hamstrings. So check out the articles below for more leg exercise guides and workout routines.

21 Compound Leg Exercises for Glutes, Quads, & Hamstrings

Leg Press vs Squat Comparision

15 Hack Squat Alternatives for Quads

Top 10 Landmine Leg Exercises & Circuit Workout

Barbell Hamstring Exercises (with Videos)

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squats

How & When to Use Heel Elevated Squats

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By |July 1, 2023|Workouts|Comments Off on How to Do Cannonball Squats for Explosive Quad Gains
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