3 Alternatives to Barbell Squats

Barbell squats are arguably the best exercise for shaping your glutes, quads and hamstrings, but what if you can’t do traditional squats? Don’t fret–there are several other squat alternatives that will train your lower body just as effectively without the need for a barbell. Keep in mind these are advanced techniques, however, and beginners should not try these exercise. These exercises are best for people who have weight trained for a while.

Alternative #1: Jump Squats With this exercise, no equipment is necessary, as you’ll use the force of your own body weight to strength train and build explosiveness. If necessary, you can add additional weight by carrying dumbbells in your hands.

How to do it: Standing straight, lower yourself down into a typical squat stance, pushing your hips back, pushing your knees out and reaching at least parallel. Parallel means your knee joints should be parallel with your hip joints. Do not go higher than parallel, as this is not correct form.

Once reaching parallel, quickly leap into the air using the force of your legs. After landing, descend back into the squat stance and repeat this for at least eight repetitions.

Alternative #2: Pistol Squats Just as a forewarning, this exercise is extremely hard–so if you’re a beginner, stick with something easier instead, such as jump squats. Pistol squats, also known as the one legged-squat, force you to maintain your balance and flexibility while squatting down, making it incredibly hard to master, according to Power Athletes Mag. On the upside, pistol squats help develop more leg power and strength.

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How to do it: Standing straight, extend one leg out so it is parallel to the floor. Now imagine you’re trying to sit back into a small chair. Push your hips back and down towards the floor like a regular squat, but make sure the other leg is parallel to the ground. Continue doing this until your hamstrings are resting on your calf muscle.

Now try getting back up to the starting position. This is one repetition. Continue for eight reps. This is hard to learn at first, but with enough practice, you should be able to get the “feel” of the exercise.

Alternative #3: Bulgarian Split Squat Like the pistol squat, the Bulgarian Split Squat only recruits one leg in this movement, but this time more emphasis is put on the glute muscle, also making this an excellent glute exercise. This exercise can be done with your own bodyweight or with dumbbells, but you will need a bench or coffee table for this exercise.

How to do it: Place one of your legs on a bench or coffee table below you, so that your leg is stretched out and resting on it. Keep your torso upright. Keep your other leg straight.

Now, keeping your torso upright, lower your straight leg back into a squatting stance, until you reach parallel. Now return to the starting stance. If done correctly, this should feel harder than a regular squat, with more pressure on the leg extending downward, not the leg on the bench or table.

Remember to keep proper form with all of these exercises–resist the urge to cheat, which won’t work out your muscles as effectively. It’s also important for reducing your injury risk. Good luck!

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Steve Kotter, “Pistol Power: Mastering the One-Legged Squat,” PowerAthletesMag.com