When it comes to training, heavy compound lifts typically get all the press. Few get more attention than the barbell back squat. While typically skipped on Mondays, these exercises often forms the foundation of a well-rounded session that can transform not only your lower-body strength but your core too.
However, these benefits aren’t unique to the barbell back squat. Plenty of other exercises — we explore three below — pack the same punch, without the concern that often comes with loading up a heavy barbell across your back. With that in mind, we’ve recruited the help of Third Space Elite Trainer Tom Hall to provide his go-to alternatives and his coaching cues alongside. Let’s get stuck in.
- Start by holding a kettlebell by the horns close to your chest.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down between your legs until your hamstrings are on your calves. Keep your chest & head up and your back straight.
- At the bottom of the movement, pause then contract your glutes and drive back up to return to the starting position and repeat.
“This is a super humbling exercise,” says Hall, who suggests scaling up using a weight from 30% to 40% and, eventually, 50% of your body weight. “This will pick out the weakest link in your chain. It will work on your posture, abs and core.
Safety Bar Squat
Set the bar on a rack just below shoulder height.
- Bring your arms up under the bar and grab the handles in a neutral position. Rest the bar on top of your deltoids.
- Lift the bar and step away from the rack, then position your legs shoulder-width apart.
“It’s positioned between a front squat and a back squat,” says Hall, who recommends the exercise especially for people with shoulder pain or range of movement difficulties, as the handles are in front. “If you want to strength train and load with a barbell, it positions over your hip, allowing for a perfectly ‘normal’ squat pattern. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as a back squat, but you can hit your depth better. I’d recommend this only for strength work, topping out at six reps and hitting it with power.”
Dumbbell Split Squat
- From a standing position, lunge forward holding two dumbbells or a kettlebell. The heel of your back foot should be raised.
- Keeping your torso straight and with a slight forward lean, lower slowly until your back knee almost touches the floor.
- Pause, then push back up to return to your starting position, and repeat.
“It’s a similar movement and self-limiting, as your knee touches the floor,” says Hall. “If you struggle and get lower-back pain when you back squat, you can load up the split squat in either goblet or suitcase hold.”