The squat is the undisputed heavyweight champion of exercises to build strong, muscular legs and glutes. Unfortunately for gym visitors and athletes with previous illnessesjoint injuriesor mobility issues, barbell squats are generally not appropriate for a lower body workout.
The research shows (unsurprisingly).that shallow or partial squats are less effective than deep squats and compromise movement security.Luckily, there are a handful of squat alternatives that you can incorporate into a lower body workout for now or as a complement to barbell squats.
The best squat alternatives work the same primary muscle groups as barbell squats, but without requiring as much coordination or technical know-how. Essentially, these lower body exercises allow you to "squat without squats."
Let's take a look at four of the best squat alternatives for a lower body workout!
The best squat alternatives for lower body exercises
The most prudent way to learn proper squat form is through repetition (read: practice), but it's also wise to incorporate squat alternatives as part of your routine.lower body workout. Using the alternative squat exercises in this article will help strengthen those muscles that may be lagging behind or interfering with your ability to squat with proper form.
Another notable benefit of squat alternatives is that they are generally less technical and much safer for beginners and intermediates. Damn it, even advanced lifters and bodybuilders should use squat alternatives as support exercises and bulking.
Removing the technical nature of squats from the equation allows you to focus on lifting heavier weight without risking injury. Many of the best squat alternatives are also easier on the joints and don't require the level of mobility/flexibility required for sub-parallel barbell squats.
The main benefit of using a leg press as an alternative to squats is that it doesn't put as much stress on your spine as the barbell squat. As such, the leg press is a great way to simulate a squat movement with much less risk of injury. It's also a suitable squat alternative for people with mobility issues originating from the spine.
However, the leg press is arguably the most respected lower-body exercise in the fitness subculture, presumably because so many bodybuilders and gym-goers perform it as an "ego boost." Finally, you can have toothpicks for your legs and still do leg presses with a decent weight.
However, like the squat, you need to perform the leg press through its full range of motion for maximum effectiveness.
Biomechanically, a proper leg press is very similar to a barbell squat. Imagine where your chest would be in relation to your knees if you squatted just below parallel. That's the same depth you should aim for on a leg press, keeping your hips and glutes tight to the padding and supporting your spine throughout the range of motion.
A big mistake with leg press machines is that you have to lower the weight of the sled as much as possible. This is actually counterproductive and unsafe as it causes people to lift their buttocks or hips off the machine's padding and twist their spine, which is a big no-no to staying injury-free. Likewise, loading 400 pounds on the leg press and doing a quarter rep isn't a good idea.
How to do the leg press correctly:
Sit or lie on a leg press machine so your back and buttocks are flat on the padding. Place your hands on the machine's handles (usually near your hips).
Place your feet shoulder-width apart near the top of the platform (sled). A narrower stance puts more emphasis on the quads, while a wider stance puts more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings.
Brace your spine, take a deep breath, and lower the sled until your knees reach a 90-110 degree angle. Then push the platform away from your torso and straighten your knees until your legs are almost straight. Keep your knees slightly bent at the top and exhale.
Repeat step 3 for as many reps as needed.
Again, don't let your hips/glutes or chest slide off the padding at the bottom of the rep by lowering the sled too far; this drastically affects the safety and effectiveness of the leg press.
Interestingly, a 2008 study published in theJournal of Strength and Conditioning Researchfound that high-rep leg presses at 40% of maximum 1 rep (1RM) are better for stimulating quadriceps growth, while low-rep sets at 80% of 1RM are superioraimed at the buttocks.
Straight leg deadlift
Sometimes referred to as the "stiff-legged deadlift," the straight-legged deadlift is often overlooked for gym-goers of all skill levels, despite its versatility and practicality. This is a fantastic squat alternative for people who have a loose posterior chain (i.e. back, glutes, and hamstrings).
The best thing about stiff-legged deadlifts is that you can use dumbbells or a barbell to perform them, and they force your hamstrings and glutes to do a lot of work in the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (lifting) phases of the deadlift movement. .
It's quite common for people to rely on leg curls as their primary form of hamstring training, and this will certainly affect squats in the long run. Leg curls and most hamstring isolation exercises involve predominantly concentric contractions with minimal eccentric tension. Consequently, the straight leg deadlift offers a lot more "bang for your buck" than a posterior chain exercise.
Common mistakes with this exercise are arching your back and locking your knees. Be careful not to develop these habits.
How to do a straight-legged deadlift:
- Stand with a narrower or shoulder-width stance so that your feet are when you look down. If using dumbbells, place one parallel to each foot on your side.
- Bend at the waist and keep your spine neutral, squat down and grab the bar/dumbbells with a shoulder-width outside grip (use lifting straps if needed).
- Keeping your knees slightly bent, raise the weight by straightening your hips into a standing position.
- From the upright position, lower the bar/dumbbell onto your toes and bend your hips (not your knees). Keep your knees slightly bent as you lower the weight; Pull your shoulder blades back and keep your core engaged throughout the movement to keep your spine as neutral as possible.
- Lift the weight by straightening your hips and standing tall (making sure you don't arch your back at the top).
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 for multiple reps to complete one set.
Note: You can also increase the range of motion of the straight leg deadlift by performing it on an elevated platform.
The good morning exercise is essentially a straight-legged deadlift with a barbell resting on your upper back (similar to a barbell squat). Like the stiff-legged deadlift, good mornings are a great squat alternative for developing the posterior chain, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
This exercise can be a bit challenging until you get used to the unorthodox mechanics. Play it safe and start with a relatively light weight so you can focus on form. Avoid looking up during this exercise; Your neck/head should stay in line with the rest of your spine, even at the bottom of a good morning.
How to say good morning:
- Place a barbell across the back of your shoulders, directly along the midline of your traps, with a grip just outside shoulder width. Don't let the bar go too high on your traps or neck as it can stress your cervical spine (especially with heavier weights).
- Unlock the bar and assume a stance outside of shoulder width. Keeping your torso flat/straight and a slight bend in the knees, bend at the hips and lower your chest forward until it is parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes and raise your torso back to an upright position by straightening your hips.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 as needed to reach your rep goal.
Be careful not to arch your lower back too much; You should feel the tension mostly in your glutes and hamstrings.
Walking lunges (barbell or dumbbell)
Lunges are another versatile and effective squat alternative for lower body exercises. The best thing about lunges is that they're not a technical movement and are a great way to get your heart rate up while targeting your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips and calves.
You can do standing lunges with a barbell or a dumbbell, whichever is more comfortable and challenging for you.
As an alternative to squats, lunges tend to put less strain on the knees since you're using comparatively lighter weights. If you find that lunges make your knees worse, try leaning your torso/chest slightly forward during the movement. Many people will find that this takes pressure off the knee.
How to do lunges:
- Place the bar across your upper back (across your shoulder blades and along your trapezius muscle), keeping the bar outside shoulder-width apart and tucking your elbows under the bar. If you're using dumbbells, simply hold one in each hand at your sides during the exercise. The feet should have their normal standing distance.
- Taking a deep breath and engaging your core, now step your left leg forward in a normal stride (don't go too far as this will affect your balance). Be careful when landing on heel rather than front foot.
- Lower your hips by bending your front knee until the knee of your opposite (back) leg almost touches the floor.
- Finish the lunge by pressing the heel of your front foot into the floor, using the toes of the opposite foot for balance, and returning to an upright position.
- Repeat steps 2-4 with the other leg to complete one rep on each side.
- Repeat steps 2 through 5 as needed to reach your rep goal for the set.
In general, lunges should be performed in sets of at least eight reps on each side.
Are squats the best lower body exercise?
Barbell squats remain the best lower body exercise you can do. In fact, you will practically use itall major muscle groups of the core and lower bodywhen using proper form on barbell squats.
It goes without saying that nothing sets a foundation like the heavy squat (as long as it's "on grass"). You can turn your thighs into real tree trunks by doing nothing but squats for your lower body workout.
However, performing barbell squats with proper form requires a bit of practice and technique that even advanced gym goers find difficult to master.
We've all seen people carry the bar with a lot of weight and squat with a three inch range of motion. Sure, it might be fun to watch, but it's dangerous when things inevitably go wrong.
Would you do bicep curls with a two inch range of motion to build bigger arms? Probably not. The same goes for squats.
AStudy 2002found that as the depth of the squat increased, so did the activation of the glutes. In other words, it's far better to drop the weight and squat with proper form throughout the range of motion.
squattingdown the streetuntil the bend of the hips is parallel to the thigh and keep the chest elevated throughout the movement. If you can go deeper without damaging your spine, do it.
If you find that squats cause knee pain, it's a good idea to look into some quality weightlifting knee wraps and a quality joint supplement such as a high-quality joint supplementJoint support of Transparent Labs.
The Best Squat Alternatives Can Help Your True Squat!
While no exercise can truly replace the barbell squat, squat alternatives will certainly help you safely build muscle mass in your legs and glutes. Over time, the strength and muscle growth from these exercises will carry over into actual squats.
With that in mind, make sure you alternate squats with proper form and don't let your ego get the better of you. Heavy lifting can be exciting, and breaking new personal records is always encouraging. But poor form and sloppy technique lead to injury, and you won't gain much muscle mass if you're injured.
Quality over quantity is the name of the game for long term muscle building.
And of course, proper nutrition is key to maximizing performance and recovery.Building muscle starts with protein, so be sure to read:How to determine optimal protein intake
come and see usSquat CalculatorforCalculate your one rep max. And if you are looking for a strength-based methodback workoutWe are there for you there too.