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5 Squat Alternatives for Stronger Legs & Lower Body

5 best squat alternatives

Are you tired of squats? Have a bad back or knees? Or is the squat machine always taken?

No matter the reason, I'm glad you're here as I will present to you the 5 best squat alternatives for stronger legs. I'm not gonna lie; squats are one of my absolute favourites on a leg day. But there are many exercises that target the same muscles and will help you to burn calories, build stronger muscles and help you get a nicer butt.

Top 5 Squat Alternatives

1. Leg Press

LEG PRESS SAFELY: (Introductory Information for Beginners)

Alright, let's start with my favourite alternative to squats: the leg press machine. It's a fantastic piece of equipment that help target those leg and butt muscles effectively. One of the key benefits of opting for a leg press machine instead of squats is its ability to spare your spine from heavy loading. Unlike squats, which put significant pressure on the lower back, the leg press offers a similar squatting motion with a reduced risk of injury. This makes it an excellent alternative for those concerned about spine-related mobility issues.

Allows for heavy resistance trainingLimited range of motion
Targets multiple leg muscles simultaneouslyRequires machine access
Offers lower back supportMay not mimic functional movements
Adjustable for various fitness levelsPotential for incorrect form without supervision

How you perform this exercise correctly:

  1. Adjust the machine: Sit on the leg press machine and adjust the seat so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle when your feet are placed on the platform. Adjust the weight to an appropriate level for your fitness level.
  2. Position your feet: Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate. Ensure that your heels are flat and your toes are pointing slightly outward.
  3. Engage your core: Before pushing the weight, engage your core to stabilize your body throughout the movement.
  4. Push the weight: Extend your knees and hips to push the platform away from you. Keep your back firmly against the backrest throughout the movement.
  5. Control the descent: Slowly lower the weight back down by bending your knees until they are at a 90-degree angle again. Avoid locking out your knees at the top of the movement to maintain tension on your muscles.
  6. Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions, ensuring that you maintain proper form throughout the set.

Start with a weight that you can handle comfortably and gradually increase the resistance as you get stronger. And always prioritize proper form over lifting heavy weights. Work on the negatives and slowly go down rather than stressing through the leg pressing.

2. Bulgarian Split Squats

Stop F*cking Up Bulgarian Split Squats (PROPER FORM!)

Let's delve into another fantastic squat alternative: Bulgarian Split Squats. This exercise is a real game-changer for building lower body strength and stability although it takes some time to master as you need to work on your balance. Which is, if you ask me a big plus for your long term goals.

Targets each leg individuallyRequires balance and coordination
Builds strength in quads, glutes, and hamstringsMay be challenging for beginners
Improves balance and stabilityLimited range of motion compared to squats
Can be performed with minimal equipment

How to perform Bulgarian Split Squats correctly:

  1. Set up: Stand facing away from a bench or elevated surface, about two feet in front of it. Place the top of one foot on the bench behind you, laces down. Your other foot should be planted firmly on the ground in front of you, ensuring your stance is stable.
  2. Engage your core: Before you start moving, engage your core muscles to stabilize your body throughout the exercise.
  3. Lower your body: Slowly lower your body towards the ground by bending your front knee. Your back knee should bend as well, almost touching the ground. Keep your torso upright and your chest lifted throughout the movement.
  4. Drive through your front heel: Push through your front heel to return to the starting position, straightening your front leg. Ensure you maintain tension in your leg muscles throughout the movement.
  5. Repeat on both sides: Complete the desired number of repetitions on one leg before switching to the other leg.
  6. Maintain proper form: Pay attention to your knee alignment, ensuring it tracks in line with your toes to prevent strain on your joints.

Once you get the hang of them, you'll love the results they deliver. Incorporate them into your leg day routine for a killer lower body workout!

3. Walking Lunges

Lunges are an overall great alternative to squats, but my suggestion is that you hit walking lunges for that extra hamstring pump. This dynamic exercise not only targets your leg muscles but also improves your balance and coordination. Here's why I'm a big fan:

Works multiple muscle groups simultaneouslyRequires space for movement
Improves balance and coordinationMay be challenging for those with knee issues
Can be done anywhere with little equipmentRequires proper form for effectiveness
Helps increase lower body strength

How to perform walking lunges correctly:

  1. Start in a standing position: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips or by your sides.
  2. Step forward: Take a large step forward with your right foot, landing on your heel first.
  3. Lower your body: Bend both knees to lower your body towards the ground, ensuring your front knee is aligned with your ankle and your back knee nearly touches the ground. Keep your torso upright and your chest lifted throughout the movement.
  4. Push off: Push off your front foot to bring your back foot forward, stepping into the next lunge.
  5. Repeat: Continue alternating legs as you walk forward, performing lunges with each step.
  6. Maintain proper form: Pay attention to your knee alignment, ensuring it tracks in line with your toes to prevent strain on your joints. Also, engage your core muscles to stabilize your body throughout the movement.

Walking lunges are a fantastic addition to any workout routine, offering a dynamic way to strengthen your legs and improve your overall fitness. You can do them just about anywhere, making them a convenient choice for busy schedules. Give them a try and feel the burn!

4. Straight Leg Deadlift

Stiff Legged Deadlift

The straight leg deadlift is an excellent alternative to squats that focuses on targeting the posterior chain muscles like the hamstrings and glutes. One of the great things about stiff-leg deadlifts (as the exercise is also called) is their versatility – you can perform them using either dumbbells or a barbell.

They really put your hamstrings and glutes to the test by engaging them significantly during both the lowering (eccentric) and lifting (concentric) phases of the exercise. Straight leg deadlift is often forgotten, and I don't see too many others doing it; please give it a go, and you'll see why I listed it as a fantastic squat alternative.

Targets hamstrings, glutes, and lower backRequires proper form to prevent injury
Improves hip mobility and flexibilityMay be challenging for beginners
Can be performed with minimal equipmentLimited range of motion compared to squats
Helps develop strength and stability in the core

How to perform straight leg deadlifts correctly:

  1. Start with proper stance: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of your thighs with an overhand grip.
  2. Engage your core: Before you begin the movement, engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine and protect your lower back.
  3. Hinge at the hips: Keeping your back flat and your chest lifted, slowly hinge at your hips, allowing the weights to lower towards the ground while keeping your legs straight. Feel a stretch in your hamstrings as you lower the weights.
  4. Lower the weights: Lower the weights as far as your flexibility allows while maintaining a slight bend in your knees to prevent hyperextension.
  5. Drive through your heels: Push through your heels to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement to engage the posterior chain muscles fully.
  6. Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions, focusing on maintaining proper form throughout the exercise.

Start with light weights and gradually increase the load as you become more comfortable with the movement. Pay close attention to your form to prevent injury and maximize the benefits of this exercise.

5. Lying Leg Curl

How To Do A Lying Leg Curl (Prone Leg Curl)

Finally, there is the lying leg curl. This exercise targets the hamstrings specifically and offers several benefits. I know this one is often used in many leg day routines but many don't know that it can be used as an alternative to squats.

Targets the hamstrings effectivelyLimited involvement of other lower body muscles
Offers a full range of motionRequires a leg curl machine or equipment variation
Helps improve knee joint stability
Can be adjusted to suit various fitness levels

How to perform lying leg curls correctly:

  1. Set up the machine: Adjust the leg curl machine so that the pad rests just above your ankles when you lie face down on the bench.
  2. Position yourself: Lie face down on the bench with your legs fully extended and your ankles positioned under the pad. If available, grab the handles for stability.
  3. Engage your core: Before you begin the movement, engage your core muscles to stabilize your body throughout the exercise.
  4. Flex your knees: Keeping your upper legs flat on the bench, exhale as you bend your knees, bringing your heels towards your glutes.
  5. Squeeze your hamstrings: Hold the peak contraction for a moment, focusing on squeezing your hamstrings.
  6. Return to starting position: Inhale as you slowly lower the weight back down, straightening your legs until they are fully extended but not locked out.
  7. Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions, maintaining controlled movements throughout.

Remember to adjust the weight according to your strength level and focus on maintaining proper form throughout the exercise. Lying leg curls helps strengthen and sculpt your hamstrings, improving lower body strength and stability.

instead of squats

It's a Wrap

There you have it, my 5 go-to exercises whenever not going for squats. But like I said, I usually tend to include squats in my leg day routine, although I understand that not everybody wants to/can hit squats every week.

Feel free to mix these up to find your favourite, or try to do them all together in one day if you really want some hamstring action. I'm going to finish off with some of the frequently asked questions that I tend to get on the topic. As I know, there might be different reasons why people cannot do squats.

Which is the Best Squat Alternative for Bad Knees?

If you suffer from bad knees, your best options for squats will be the leg press machine together with step-ups, leg curls, and the straight leg deadlift. These alternatives are all good for strengthening your lower body without putting too much pressure on your knees.

Which is the Best Squat Alternative for a Bad Back?

Again, the leg press machine, leg curls and even mox squats are three exercises that you can opt in for if you suffer from back pain but still want to strengthen your legs.

Are Squats the Best Lower Body Exercise?

If you use proper form then yes, I must admit that all studies are pointing at the same thing – squats are the best leg and lower body exercise.

Can Alternative Squat Exercises Help Me Squat?

The simple answer is yes. If you work on strengthening your hamstrings, glutes and rest of your lower body you will be able to squat more eventually. That being said, if you suffer from lower back/knee issues, you will have to include the guidance of a chiropractor.

Can I Build Strong Legs Without Squats?

Of course. To strengthen your legs and lower body, you can target each muscle. I suggest that you include a compound routine to maximize the effect.


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