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11 Front Squat Alternatives

Whether you want to build bigger, stronger, more toned, or more athletic legs, squats are a must. No exercise works as many lower body muscles at the same time. Squats aren’t called the king of exercises for nothing!

There are many types of squats to choose from, but many experts believe that front squats are amongst the best. Front squats put your torso in a relatively upright position, which is useful for taking stress off your lower back.

Front squats are also favored by athletes as they can help boost running and jumping performance. Finally, of all the squat variations, front squats are one of the best exercises for hitting your quads, which are the muscles on the front of your thighs.

As good as front squats undeniably are, they’re not an easy exercise to master. Doing front squats properly requires good upper body flexibility and a strong core. Some people find front squats incredibly uncomfortable, as the bar must rest across the front of your shoulders and may even press against your throat.

Thankfully, there are plenty of front squat alternatives you can use instead. Each one works the same muscles but involves different training equipment or a slightly different movement pattern.

So, whether you are bored of front squats or just don’t like them much, you can still enjoy all the benefits they have to offer, even if you can’t or don’t want to do them.

Front Squat Alternative

What Is A Front Squat?

A front squat is a compound barbell exercise popular with weightlifters, bodybuilders, CrossFitters, athletes, and recreational exercisers. It’s called the front squat because it involves resting and holding a barbell across the front of your shoulders.Front Squat

How to do it:

  1. Put a barbell in a squat rack set to shoulder-height. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Stand close to the bar and press your elbows forward and under it. Rest the bar across the front of your shoulders (Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor).
  2. Unrack the bar and step out and into a hip-to-shoulder-width stance. Brace your abs.
  3. Keeping your torso upright and your elbows pointing forward, bend your knees and squat down as far as you can, remember dont round your lower back. Make sure you keep your heels on the floor.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

What Muscles Do Front Squats Work?

Because front squats are a compound exercise, they involve several joints and muscles. The main movers and shakers involved in front squats are:

Male hips and quadriceps Quadriceps – Known as the quads, these are the four muscles on the front of your thighs. Their primary function is extending your knees. The four quadriceps are rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.

Muscles Hamstrings – Known as hammies on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings flex your knee and extend your hip. The three hamstrings are biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.

Gluteus implant Gluteus Maximus – The glutes are the largest muscle in the human body. Working with your hamstrings, the glutes extend your hips.

Core Core – The collective term of muscles that encircle your midsection. During front squats, these muscles create intra-abdominal pressure to support your spine. The main core muscles are rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae.

11 Front Squat Alternative Exercises

The following exercises are every bit as effective as front squats and work the same muscles but are either easier to learn or perform or involve different training equipment.

1. Goblet Squats

Goblet Squat

Goblet squats are very similar to front squats, but your arms are in a much more forgiving position. If front squats hurt your shoulders, this is the alternative for you.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell in front of your chest by the vertical handles. The top of the handle should touch your chin. Stand with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

2. Hack Squat Machine

Hack squat machine

The hack squat machine works your legs while supporting your lower back. It’s a great alternative for anyone who finds front squats too hard on their lumbar spine.

How to do it:

  1. Stand on the footplate with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Place your shoulders under the shoulder pad and your back against the backrest. Grab the handles and disengage the weight locking mechanism.
  2. Without lifting your heels, bend your legs and squat down as far as you can.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

Note: Remember to lock the weights back in place when you are finished. 

3. Barbell Hack Squats

Barbell hack squat

No hack squat machine? No problem! Here’s a free weight alternative.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your back to a barbell, feet about hip-width apart. Squat down and grab the barbell with your palms facing backward. Straightening your arms, drop your hips, and lift up your chest.
  2. Driving your feet into the floor without rounding your lower back or bending your arms, stand up.
  3. Place the weight back on the ground and repeat.

4. Cyclist Squats

Cyclist squats

Elite cyclists often have very well-developed legs. And while hundreds of miles of riding and spin bike training are part of the reason, this common cycling training exercise is another.

How to do it:

  1. Rest and hold a barbell across your upper back. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, heels raised on a 2-4 inch platform, such as length of 2×4 or a couple of weight plates. Brace your abs.
  2. Keeping your torso upright, bend your knees, and squat down as deeply as you safely can.
  3. Stand back up but do not fully extend your knees – stop just short of lockout to keep your muscles under tension.
  4. Immediately descend into another rep.

5. Smith Machine Front Squats

Smith machine front squatsDoing front squats using a Smith machine might seem like cheating, but with no weights to balance, you’re free to focus on training to failure and don’t have to worry about dropping the bar when you get tired. This is a useful exercise for bodybuilders.

How to do it:

  1. Set the bar on a Smith-machine to shoulder-height. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Stand close to the bar and press your elbows forward and under it. Rest the bar across the front of your shoulders. Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor.
  2. Unrack the bar and step out and into a hip-to-shoulder-width stance. Brace your abs.
  3. Keeping your torso upright and your elbows pointing forward, bend your knees and squat down as far as you can without rounding your lower back. Make sure you keep your heels on the floor.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

6. Leg Presses

Leg pressesLike machine hack squats, leg presses work the same muscles as front squats but with much less strain on your lower back. They’re also a very comfortable exercise, even if you lift heavyweights.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the leg press machine and place your feet on the footplate, between hip and shoulder-width apart. Make sure your lower back is slightly arched. Brace your abs.
  2. Unlock the weights and bend your legs. Lower your knees toward your chest without letting your lower back round.
  3. Push the weight back up and repeat.

Note: Remember to lock the weights in place before getting off the machine. 

7. Lunges

Lunges

The main advantage of lunges is that they allow you to work one leg at a time. This makes them useful for fixing strength imbalances. Lunges are also good for your hip mobility and your balance.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together, arms on your sides. Brace your core.
  2. Take a step forward, bend your legs, and lower your rear knee down toward the floor. Keep your torso and your front shin upright.
  3. Push off your front leg and return to the standing position.
  4. Repeat by leading with your other leg. Alternate legs for the duration of your set.

Note: Hold dumbbells in your hands to make this exercise harder. 

8. Step-Ups

Step-ups

Step-ups are a lot like lunges but, instead of moving horizontally, you move vertically instead. This makes them even more similar to front squats.

How to do it:

  1. Stand facing a knee-high box, bench, or step.
  2. Bend one leg and place your foot flat on the platform.
  3. Drive your foot down and step up and onto your step. Try not to push off your trailing leg too much.
  4. Step down with the same leg and then repeat.
  5. Either do all your reps on one side before changing legs or alternate as preferred.

Note: Make step-ups harder by holding dumbbells. 

9. Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats

If you’ve mastered lunges and step-ups, you should be ready for a new challenge. Bulgarian split squats work the same muscles but involve a larger range of motion and considerably more balance.

How to do it:

  1. Standing with your back to a knee-high bench. Bend one leg and put the top of your foot on the bench behind you. Hop forward into a split stance.
  2. Bending your legs and lower your rear knee down towards the floor. Keep your front shin and torso upright.
  3. Stand back up and repeat. Try to do the same number of reps on both legs.

Note: Make this exercise harder by holding dumbbells. 

10. Trap Bar Squat Lifts

Trap bar squat lifts

Trap bar squat lifts are a valuable alternative to front squats. They’re easier on your lower back, require none of the upper body flexibility, but still deliver a great workout.

How to do it:

  1. Stand between the handles of your trap bar with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart. Squat down and grab the handles with your hands facing inward. Straighten your arms, drop your hips, lift your chest, and brace your abs.
  2. Drive your feet into the floor and stand up. Do not allow your lower back to round.
  3. Bend your legs, place the bar back on the floor, and repeat.

11. Pistols

Pistols exercise

Pistols are a challenging bodyweight alternative to front squats. They’re basically a single-leg squat, which is why you won’t need any extra weight to do this move.

How to do it:

  1. Clasp your hands together and extend your arms in front of you. Extend one leg out in front of you, heel touching the floor.
  2. Bend your supporting leg and squat down, keeping your arms and other leg out in front. Descend as far as you can.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

Note: Make this exercise easier by squatting down onto a bench. 

Bottom Line

Front squats are a challenging leg exercise that can be used to build muscle size, strength, jumping, or increase athletic performance. They work all of the muscles in your lower body, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. But, as good as they undoubtedly are, front squats aren’t for everyone.

For starters, you need excellent upper body mobility to achieve a proper front squat rack position. You’ll also need a squat rack. Some people find resting a heavy barbell on the front of their shoulders excruciatingly painful.

Also, if you do front squats too often, they’ll start to lose some of their potency. The good news is that there are plenty of front squat alternatives that are every bit as effective. Some use different training equipment, while others involve slightly different movements.

So, whether you’re looking for a more straightforward exercise or just something to do instead, this article contains all the information you need. No barbell? No problem! Try lunges, step-ups, or Bulgarian split squats instead. Got a bad back? Leg presses and the hack squat machine are great options as they provide plenty of extra back support.

You don’t have to give up front squats, but if, for any reason, you’d rather do something else, any of these 11 alternatives will more than suffice.

Patrick

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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