The barbell back squat is one of the best compound exercises you can do for overall strength and health, but let’s face it, some days you’re just not in the mood or need a break!
Thankfully, there are a wide variety of exercises out there that make for great alternatives to the back squat, some being very similar, while others not so much! Yet all of these exercises are ideal for switching in for a great leg workout.
In this article, we will look at 11 of the best squat alternatives you can try in your next leg workout!
Of course, depending on your reasons for wanting to change up from the squat, you may want to consider just changing from a high bar to a low bar position or vice versa, which can yield equally significant benefits without straying too far from your program.
Even your shoe choice can have a profound effect on your squat, which is also a worthwhile consideration depending on your goals.
So, what are the 11 squat alternatives?
- Front Squats
- SSB Squats
- Sled Leg Press
- Hack Squats
- Leg Extensions
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Step Ups
- Zercher Squats
- Belt Squats
- Landmine Squats
Let’s look at them in more detail.
Ok, it may still be a squat, but switching from a back squat to a front squat can make a pretty significant difference and can stimulate our muscles in a completely different way to the traditional back squat.
You’re likely to feel more activation in your quads here due to the front-loaded position and a lot less stress on your lower back to boot! You’ll also require a lot less weight on the bar, which will make the front squat less taxing overall, while still allowing for great muscle activation.
The front squat does require some good shoulder and wrist mobility to achieve the most optimal rack position, however, there are some good variations of this position for those who are less mobile in their upper body!
Another close variation of the back squat, the SSB (safety squat bar) is a personal favorite of mine when I want to change up my routine.
If you’re a Powerlifter, specificity is key, and the SSB squat ticks a lot of boxes in that respect, meaning your workout won’t be wasted.
The SSB is great when you want to squat but a shoulder injury or impingement is preventing you from reaching the standard barbell, for example.
You will also likely find that the unique loading position of the bar places a lot more emphasis on your mid to upper back as your body works to prevent the weight from pulling you forward.
This unique stimulus can be a great way of breaking through plateaus or sticking points when you return to the back squat!
Sled Leg Press
The sled leg press is a fantastic alternative when you want to focus solely on your legs and remove your back from the equation. Similarly, being able to lie back in the sled between sets can be a welcome rest!
If ego lifting is your thing, most people will tend to be able to move a lot of weight with the leg press compared to their back squat. But you don’t ego lift, right?
There are actually two versions of the hack squat and you’d be forgiven for thinking they are two completely different exercises, however, both are great alternatives to the squat and will give you a great quad workout.
The hack squat machine is the easier and more common of the two and the execution is pretty similar to a back squat. The key difference of course is that it is performed in a purpose-built machine, which can help support your back.
The barbell hack squat, on the other hand, is for all intents and purposes, just a deadlift performed with the barbell behind you. This is actually quite a technically difficult lift to perform but will give you a surprising amount of quad activation if performed correctly!
If your main reason for squatting is to develop your quads, leg extension machines could be a worthwhile alternative.
Arguably the least taxing exercise on this list, the leg extension is more suited to high rep, lower weight, bodybuilding style workouts. Although it will help on the strength side, it will be far more beneficial for quad hypertrophy than anything else.
A great benefit of the leg extension is the ability to easily turn it into a unilateral exercise, that is, using one leg at a time. This is a useful way of working on any imbalances you may have.
Lunges are a very versatile squat alternative and another that takes advantage of unilateral movement patterns.
They can be performed with barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, church bells(?), or even just as a bodyweight exercise. You can do them on the spot or as walking lunges.
No matter where you are or what equipment you have, you should be able to get in some lunges no problem.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian Split Squats are somewhat like lunges as they have a similar movement pattern. The key differentiator is that your rear leg is propped up on a bench, box, or another high surface.
This squat alternative will give you a deep stretch in your quads and is great for building up that musculature, just be sure to work on your balance first before you start adding the weight!
Steps ups can be kind of thought of as the reverse of the Bulgarian Split Squat. Instead of facing away from the bench or step, you will now be facing towards it while the leading leg is now the one on the bench/step.
Step ups are great for progressive overload that doesn’t require you to increase the weight. All you have to do is increase the height of the step to make the movement more and more difficult.
One drawback of the step up is that it is very easy to let your trailing leg do a lot of the work making the exercise sub-optimal if your mind-muscle connection is not on point.
The Zercher squat is one of the lesser-known squat alternatives out there and is also a bit bizarre!
The unique feature of the Zercher squat is the barbell placement, which sits in the crease of your elbows. This unique bar placement alters the balance point of the lift compared to a back squat and can lead to much more quad activation when done correctly.
The Zercher squat, however, is not a comfortable lift and you’ll really feel it in your elbow joint. A good pair of elbow sleeves may help make it more comfortable, but be prepared to potentially ruin your sleeves in doing so. A barbell pad also works well here.
Definitely one to try out but there are certainly less awkward lifts out there that will achieve pretty similar end results, such as the front squat.
Belt squats are another personal favorite squat alternative of mine, however, they do require a bit of additional kit to perform.
The best way to perform a belt squat is using a specialized belt squat machine. Unfortunately, this is a machine that is really only seen in specialist gyms, so if you frequent a commercial gym, you may be out of luck.
Alternatively, belt squats can be performed using boxes or other raised ledges, and of course, you will need a belt to attach weight to.
The great benefit of the belt squat is that it completely removes the upper body from the exercise, so if your back is fatigued or injured, you can get a great leg workout without any fear.
And the final squat alternative is the landmine squat, A great barbell exercise that trains a lot of the same musculature as the back squat.
The landmine squat can be a useful tool for mixing up your workouts as a lot of variations can be thrown in to spice up the lift. For example, you could add in a shoulder press at the top of each squat to make it more of a full-body exercise, or even throw in some twists to work your obliques.
One drawback of the landmine squat is that it can be a little awkward to initiate the lift as well as end it, unless you’ve thought ahead, as getting the barbell into position from the ground can be a little cumbersome.
So there we have it, 11 fantastic exercises that make great barbell back squat alternatives.
If you’re looking to add in something new or different to your next leg workout, why not give one of these exercises a go and see what they do for you!