The gyms are back and we couldn’t be happier. And if there’s one thing we’ve all missed it’s barbell squats, right? Squats are the go-to compound lift in the gym because they target every muscle in your lower body and are a staple of any leg day session.
As squats are so popular, we know the squat rack isn’t always available, particularly during peak times. It’s really important that you maximise the time you have in the gym. You want to get in, get it done, and get out again — there’s no time for waiting around awkwardly for someone to finish their set.
If all the squat racks at your gym are being used, that’s no excuse for skipping leg day. We’ve got the perfect alternatives to help build those bigger legs — without a barbell in sight.
Back Squat Alternatives
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
Make no mistake, the Bulgarian split squat is a killer. It will take every ounce of courage to regularly programme these into your workout but you will thank yourself later. The lower quadriceps, glutes and core get an incredible workout and they can be completed with just a pair of dumbbells. Make sure your technique is sound and the weight isn’t too heavy that it compromises form. Repeat the following for both legs.
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hand and place your right foot backwards on to a raised implement such as a bench. Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees and your standing leg should be slightly forward of your body.
- Keeping your core braced, squat with 90% of your weight on your standing(left) leg, lowering yourself slowly.
- When the knee on your right leg is roughly an inch from the ground, push your standing leg hard to return to the starting position.
2. Kettlebell Squat
Now, this isn’t just a great alternative for when there isn’t a squat rack with the busy queues about. This is great for those who struggle placing a barbell in the correct position across the back. It helps take the stress off the spine and still uses the same muscles as a normal back squat.
- Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out. Hold a kettlebell by its handle at chest height.
- Brace abs and hinge at the hips and knees to lower into a squat, pausing when thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Push up through your heels till upright. Keep your core engaged throughout.
3. Leg Press
The leg press is a great alternative to the squat both for building power and growing those leg muscles. It is less taxing on the CNS as the weight isn’t loaded on the back.
- Place your feet on the footplates and push upwards whilst bracing your core.
- Extend your legs and keep your head and back flat against the seat pad. Extend with slow control to prevent injury.
- Make sure you don’t lock your knees out completely as this can cause your knees to bow out.
- Slowly lower until your knees come towards your chest and repeat.
Take Home Message
Make no mistake, the squat is a great strength exercise for leg development. However, it isn’t the only one — whether there aren’t any squat racks available or you have issues with the usual back squat there is a substitute for everyone’s needs.
So, next time someone’s been hogging the squat rack, don’t fear, there’s always something to get your legs burning.