Some Legendary Squat Alternatives

Some Legendary Squat Alternatives

Back squats are one of the three pillars in any solid strength training program. When that bar hits your back, there is almost nothing that like that feeling in the world.

But what happens when you can’t squat without pain? Either due to injury or mobility issues, the barbell is NOT your friend today.

This is why having alternative squat exercises is so key to any training methodology. Using the movements below will help you become the best version of your strong self.

Table of Contents:

  • Squat Alternative Benefits
  • Front Squat
  • SSB
  • Belt Squat
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Landmine Squats
  • Leg Press
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Goblet Squat

Squat Alternative Benefits

Injuries may prevent traditional squats. 

 

The regular back squat works the entire body, which means that different parts of your body may prevent you from properly performing them. When these are affected, but you still want to work your legs, the following alternatives will help you keep the gains train flowing!


It adds training variety.

While squats help train the whole body, variety is the spice of life. By implementing different exercises and movements, you can apply loads to change the ‘stressors’. It also helps potentially put different variables into muscle groups that will help address ‘imbalances’.


It can prevent plateaus.

Having different choices to train muscles can help prevent your training from becoming stale. This keeps things interesting, both physically and mentally, which helps your from being overtaken by the slump. If you replace squats with something else, you can increase the fun of training  time.


Front Squat

What You Need

  • Barbell

When the regular back squat is out, it’s time to put that barbell on the OTHER side of your body.

The front squat is one of the more underused but incredibly powerful squat variations that is available to anyone with a squat rack. This movement helps take the sheer/compressive force away from your lower back by keeping you more upright and allowing greater knee flexion.

Another bonus of the front squat is the fact that your quads and core will feel this like it’s no-bodies business, there by ALSO helping build a massive back squat when you go back.

One limiting factor for this movement however is the ‘rack’ position or where/how you hold the barbell on your upper chest. This requires you to have either really good upper-body mobility OR a work around like:

Bodybuilder Cross Arm: Shoulders under bar. Left arm to right shoulder and vice versa. This helps lock and secure the bar in.

Strap Hold: Using lifting straps you create handles on the bar which allows you to pull up

How to Move

  1. You’ll likely want the bar to sit slightly around your clavicle area
  2. Stand up the bar so that you can place it on your upper pec area
  3. Create a rack position by bringing your elbows up and placing your fingers on the bar OR going with the other two described options.
    1. Don’t fully grasp the bar in your hands
    2. Keep elbows up for the entire movement so the bar doesn’t fall
  4. Unrack the bar and set the feet in a slightly narrower position then your squat
  5. Squat down and maintain an upright torso
    1. Keep your core flexed
  6. When you hit depth, come back up

SSB (Safety Squat Bar)

What You Need

  • Safety Squat Bar

Following up the front squat we have the Safety Squat Bar, one of the BEST squat accessory movements out there. From changing the bar placement on your back to adding a set of handles and a pad for your shoulders/neck this is the cadillac of bars.

These additions help relieve shoulder stress and forces you to be more upright, like a front squat, with less of a chance of knocking yourself out.

The only disadvantage to using the SSB is trying to GET an SSB as it is not the most common bar to find in gyms.

The only hamper to the SSB is you actively needing THIS specific bar to perform the exercise.

How to Perform

  1. Get under the bar so your head is between the handles and the shoulder pads are facing up.
  2. Grab the handles and unrack the bar
  3. Step back in a normal squat position and perform as normal

Belt Squat

What You Need

  • Belt Squat Machine
  • OR Dip Belt/Boxes

For sure an underdog when it comes to leg training, a good belt squat can’t be beat.

One of the best alternative squats for people with lower back issues, the belt squat applies the load near the hips instead of on the spine. The weight is attached between the legs giving a near identical movement pattern and a way to grow.

One or two of the drawbacks to this is either not having access to one at a gym and it doesn’t hit your upper back and core nearly as much.


How to Perform

Using Belt Squat Machine

  1. Step into the belt and sit the belt on your hips without pinching
  2. Stand up to lift the weight and unrack
  3. Perform a squat in your desired stance

Trap Bar Deadlift

What You Need

  • Trap Bar

Ok, this may seem a bit odd, but the trap bar is incredibly similar in biomechanics to a squat, at least when it comes to knee and hip movements.

The other advantage is you can do heavier weights while pulling the handles up with you. There is less torque on the back due to positioning which also makes it great for people with nagging back issues. 

How to Perform

  1. Step into the center of a loaded trap bar so your ankles are in line with the handles
  2. Bend your knees, grab the handles and push hips back to get into a deadlift-like position
  3. Stand up with the weight

Landmine Squats

  • Barbell
  • Landmine Attachment / Corner

Landmine squats are absolutely something anyone can add into their lifting tool box, if you have a corner and a barbell.

You use your WHOLE body in this movement, from your shoulders to your calves and everything in between.

This is easy to set up and can be used by any level of lifter.

How to Perform

  1. Setup your bar either in a corner or in a landmine attachment
  2. Lift the bar and weight up so that the tip is resting in your palms, pointed at your chest.
  3. Keep the barbell up against your chest resting in your palms as you squat down
  4. Stand back up

Leg Press

What You Need

  • Leg Press

The leg press is one of the most well known squat variations and is found in almost any gym.

The position of the machine helps decrease/eliminate shear on your spine and lower back while also giving you dozens of variations on one machine. You can use different foot positions, single leg, stance widths and even calf raises!

This is another great method for people who haven’t acquired the mobility to perform squats yet. As you are learning to squat as an athlete you are still able to put heavier weight on and get them quads a growing!

How to Perform

  1. Sit in the leg press
  2. Place your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart
  3. Angle your feet and toes out to your comfort level
  4. Push up to unrack the weight
  5. In a similar squat pattern, allow the weight to come down by bending your knees
    1. Your knees can go around your body
  6. Press the weight up

Bulgarian Split Squat

What You Need

  • Barbell or Dumbbell
  • Squat Rack (if using a heavy barbell)
  • Weight Plates (If using a barbell)
  • Smith Machine

The literal deal with the devil for strength exercises. This unilateral (single leg) squat variation is a great way to build muscle in your legs and address weak points.

With a Bulgarian Split Squat an athlete is able to use different loading patterns to help change the variables. People use dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells. One of our favorites is using the Smith Machine to really get into the movement.

How To Perform

  1. Place one leg on a bench/bar/elevated surface. Ideally you want it just below your knee
  2. Place the other foot slightly forward, coming into almost a lunge position
  3. If correct, when you go down, both your legs should be at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Go straight down, not forward. 
  5. Push up
  6. When you are confident, add a bit of weight!

Goblet Squat

What You Need

  • Dumbbells or Kettlebells

The most time saving exercise on this list, the goblet squat is super simple and effective. It is performed by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest height.

While performing it you will feel it in your core and rear stabilizers building that beach body that everyone craves.

How To Perform

  1. Hold either the kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands, palms pointed up
  2. Keep your elbows tight to your body, relatively under the ‘bell’
  3. Come down in a very ‘front squat’ pattern while keeping your core area tight
  4. Squat your way back up

Squat the World

While the back squat is amazing, not everyone is able to perform it to the highest degree. With these variations you’ll get great strength gains while keeping you healthy.

Even if you can squat fine, that doesn’t mean you can’t still use these for your strength training goals to add some incredible stimulus to your training.

Which of these are in YOUR tool box?

 

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