3 alternatives to doing heavy squats

Build your legs without the squat.

There’s a reason the squat is often considered the king of exercises. Aside from being a great quad builder, it recruits so many other muscle groups along the way. This gives you something of a full-body workout every time you step inside the rack with a decent amount of weight.

However, for many reasons, sometimes a heavy barbell squat is not always an option.

For one, you might be injured or have persistent lower back problems. Heavy barbell squats with a back injury can be a bad choice.

You also might simply want to change up your workouts. Even if you’re perfectly healthy, rotating exercises in and out of your program can be a great way to keep things fresh and interesting.

Luckily, there are always options when it comes to strength training. Here are some options for working your legs hard — without heavy squats:

Pre-exhaust with leg extensions

The idea behind the pre-exhaustion technique is to tire out your target muscle group with lighter weight and higher reps. In the case of quads, this would be done with leg extensions. If it’s hamstrings you’re working, you would use the leg curl.

You can start light and work up to a heavier weight with the safety of the isolation equipment. With this technique, not only do you pre-exhaust your quads or hamstrings, you’ll safely warm up your knees as well.

Afterwards, you can move on to a leg press or even light squats — without the need for going too heavy.

Substitute with another movement

Swap out squats for a similar movement that doesn’t aggravate your injury.

We’ve already mentioned the leg press, which can be just as effective as the squat to build strength and muscle in your lower body.

There’s also the Smith machine, which enables you to squat while stabilised, taking some of the pressure out of getting your technique perfect. This is especially helpful if you have a knee problem.

Another option is the hack squat or the V-squat. The V-squat provides a more natural squatting movement and is designed to be easier on the knees and back.

Squat later in the workout

Once you’ve done a full workout — whether you’re incorporating some of the above suggestions or not — you can come back to squats and just rep out.

With the pressure off the squat as a pinnacle exercise, you can instead use it with a light weight and a high rep range. One example of this style of leg workout might be leg extensions, leg press, leg curls and then light squats to finish off.

Give some of these ideas a try. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And when it comes to building strength and muscle in the gym, you always have options.

Check out some other alternative leg exercises to throw into your workout below:

Bulgarian split squat

Romanian deadlift (RDL)

Leg press

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