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Squat Alternatives

No squat rack? No problem! Try these 3 moves to keep achieving big results.

Whether you’re trying to build muscle, get stronger, enhance your conditioning or improve your sporting performance, the squat is the undisputed king of the compound, functional lifts.

Squats are extremely effective because they work a number of different muscles in your body, including multiple leg and core muscles.

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, glutes, adductors, hamstrings, calves (soleus and gastrocnemius), lower back (erector spinae), and core muscles (rectus abdominis and obliques).

The activation of so many muscles and the ability to lift significant weight delivers an out-sized hormonal response, which helps to boost the training response for enhanced muscle and strength development.

However, you won’t always have access to a squat rack. Due to its popularity and effectiveness, the queue at your local gym for the squat rack can restrict how often you get under a loaded barbell, especially if you train during peak periods.

Ensure optimal recovery between demanding leg training sessions.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t fret. There are other exercises that can deliver similar results. Next time you have to skip those squats, try one of these 3 exercise alternatives to get a similar benefit:

Deadlift
Why it works: While this is the most effective exercise for improving lower back strength, it is also an essential compound exercise for increased leg size and strength. Similar poundages in relation to squats can also be lifted during this exercise.

Muscles targeted: Glutes, quadriceps, back muscles (trapezius, levator scapulae, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae), and core muscles (obliques, rectus abdominis).

How to do it:
Start: Grip the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands placed just wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your torso tall as you raise your shoulders up and straighten your arms. Sit your hips down and back. Your shoulders should be directly above the bar, with the bar against your shins.

Movement: Brace your core muscles and forcefully drive your feet into the ground as you raise your torso and extend your knees. Actively contract your glutes to ensure you finish with your hips locked out. Return the bar to the floor by reversing the movement, making sure to set your hips back as you bend your knees. Keep your torso as upright as possible, maintaining the arch in your back throughout the movement.

Leg press
Why it works: The leg press also effectively targets your quads and activates other leg muscles, much like the squat. While you won’t get the same degree of core activation, you can add significantly more weight to the leg press sled, which helps to boost the anabolic response.

How to do it:
Start: Sit on a 45° sled leg press machine with your back resting on the padded support. Place your feet on the platform, shoulder-width apart. Extend your hips and knees to support the load of the sled. Release the dock lever and grasp the handles on each side.

Movement: Lower the sled by flexing your hips and knees, until your knees are just short of complete flexion. Return to the starting position by extending your knees and hips. Repeat for the required reps. Lock the sled in place with the dock lever before climbing out.

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Bulgarian split squat
Why it works: This unilateral movement is a great exercise to target the quads for serious strength development and some targeted muscle building. While there is less core activation, this focused movement can better isolate the quads to deliver squat-like benefits.

Muscle targeted: Quadriceps, glutes, adductors, hamstrings, calves (soleus and gastrocnemius), and lower back (erector spinae).

How to do it:
Start: Clean and press a barbell off the floor and position it on your upper back, across your shoulders. With your feet hip-width apart, place the rear foot on a bench, either resting on the top of your foot or on your toes – choose whichever is most comfortable for you and ensures you maintain balance.

Movement: Lower your hips toward the floor so that your rear knee almost makes contact with the ground. Ensure your leading knee tracks and maintains directional alignment with your toes. Pause and then drive through your planted foot to extend your knee and hip to return to the starting position. Keep your chest up throughout the movement. The majority of your weight should be placed on your front leg during the movement as your trailing leg is used to keep you balanced. Repeat for the recommended reps, then switch legs and repeat.