Leg day has gotta be the most hated day of any split lifting schedule.
Sure, there are some maniacs out there (like ‘The Rock’ famously) who love crushing their legs, but for a lot of us, leg day is something to just be endured while working toward the goal of total body fitness.
But hey, if you’re half-assing your way through leg day, that’s still better than skipping it all together (as a lot of people do too), right?
I would say “yes”, but in the meantime, why not try and find a few ways to freshen up your leg routine so it isn’t so tedious to begin with.
And one surefire way of doing that is to swap out classic barbell squats for alternative exercises that hit the same muscles.
I’m not hating on squats, they’re a great exercise, but they’re not the only game in town when it comes to building your legs.
So, if you’re ready to switch things up, check out these barbell squat alternatives and give ’em a try on your next leg day.
A Quick Word On Barbell Squats
I’m kinda surprised it took me so long to write this article because the topic hits close to home for me – I kinda hate doing squats.
I appreciate and respect ’em as an exercise because I know they work pretty much every muscle from the core down, but as I get older, I find ’em to be more trouble than they’re worth.
Before we moved, I was using dumbbells and resistance bands for my strength training because my home gym didn’t have the capacity for a rack.
So, I essentially went like 7 years without doing barbell squats (or any other barbell move for that matter).
Well, in our new home I’m lucky enough to have the space for a half rack (we went with Force USA’s X15 Pro and completely love it), so I have access to all the classic weight lifting exercises I did when I was younger.
I was eager to jump back in and start doing bench presses, deadlifts, and even squats and for a few weeks, all was good.
But as I started increasing the weights, I started having issues with squats – mostly because of my hips.
I’ve had mild issues with my right hip for years, but these days, it tends to get stiff, tight, and even hurt with certain activities.
Now, you may be thinking that the physical therapist in me immediately came on to address the problem, which would mean: assessing myself to see what could be the problem, devising a treatment plan, and then following through with specific stretches and strengthening exercises to see if I could get my hip working well enough to continue performing squats.
Did I do this?
Nope, I just stopped doing squats.
It was the easier route and let’s be real, I never loved doing squats in the first place.
I’m not a professional power lifter and there are plenty of other ways to strengthen my legs, so who cares.
But again, the traditional barbell squat is a great exercise for building lower body strength and it’s as classic a strength training move as there is.
But, if you don’t like doing squats for safety reasons or are just looking to switch up your leg routine, there are plenty of other exercises you can use to target your glutes and quads.
The 5 Best Barbell Squat Alternatives
I know a lot of people do both lunges and squats as part of their leg day routine, but this versatile exercise can totally be used as a squat replacement.
Mostly because it also hits the quads and glutes pretty hard, but you’ll feel it in your adductors too.
There are a lot of different ways to do lunges and I kept things pretty vague here on purpose because you can pick and choose any combination of lunges that you like.
Personally, I’m a fan of alternating reverse lunges (while holding dumbbells), but I also use front lunges and walking lunges from time to time.
You could complete an entire leg workout with lunges alone if you wanted too, alternating between front, back, and side lunges.
And you can do lunges with your bodyweight alone, or make things a little spicier by holding dumbbells, holding a kettlebell, or throwing a barbell on your shoulders.
#2 Goblet Squat
Now this is a squat variation I do do from time to time and it’ll hit all the same muscles the traditional barbell squat will target.
Although with the goblet squat, you don’t get the same pressure through your back and shoulders and I find it easier to find a comfortable foot position.
You can do this exercise with either a dumbbell or a kettlebell, so feel free to use what you got.
Holding the dumbbell in front of your body also works your arms and core, but you obviously aren’t going to be able to work against the same kind of resistance you would with a barbell squat.
So, you might find yourself doing a few more reps to get the burn you’re looking for, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
#3 Dumbbell Front Squat
The dumbbell front squat is essentially the same as a barbell squat, except you just swap out the bar for a pair of dumbbells.
This is a nice alternative for folks who don’t have room for a rack or otherwise don’t have access to a barbell.
You can play with your foot placement to ensure a comfortable squat and feel free to adjust how deep you go as well – remember, it’s smart to keep things comfortable.
And holding the dumbbells will really get your core involved as you squat down, which is always a plus.
If you’ve ever done dumbbell squat thrusters (great exercise by the way), you’ll be familiar with dumbbell front squats.
#4 Kettlebell Squat (Offset)
I’ve you’ve got a kettlebell and are looking to keep things interesting, you really need to try the offset kettlebell squat.
This squat variation will really make your core work because the weight is off center, forcing your core (especially obliques and QL) to stabilize throughout the movement.
Holding the kettlebell will also work your shoulder and arm as well and working more muscles is always a good thing.
Holding the kettlebell in the rack position might take a little getting used to and you need to be careful not to kink up your wrist while holding it.
Otherwise, this is a great squat alternative you can easily do from home.
#5 Belt Squat
Ok, I wanted to throw something a little unexpected at ya, so I decided to finish things up here with belt squats.
You may not be familiar with this variation, but it’s a great way to get the benefits of squats, while taking it a lot easier on your low back.
Of course, the biggest downside is that you need a belt squat machine to do this one, although I’m sure there are some ways you could rig this up from home without a lot of expensive equipment.
But if you have access to a belt squat machine at your local gym, it’s worth checking out.
You can go as heavy as you like with this move, but just because you’re using a belt, doesn’t mean you should let your form slip.
But having the weight centered between your legs removes a lot of the stress having a barbell on your shoulders adds, so generally speaking, this is a much back-friendlier variation.
Alright, there ya have it, short and sweet.
To sum things up – barbell squats are a great exercise, but they aren’t for everyone.
If you don’t have a rack (or barbell), can’t comfortably do them, or are just bored with ’em, don’t worry – there are plenty of alternatives out there that can work the same muscles.
And luckily, most of the exercises don’t require much equipment.
I chose a handful of barbell squat alternatives, but I realize there are a bunch of other moves that could’ve easily made this list.
If you have any favorite go-to’s that weren’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear about it.
Please share by leaving a comment below and I’ll get back to you shortly.
Now go out there and crush your next leg workout!