6 alternatives to standard squats with a barbell

Avoid sit-ups because of back pain? This exercise has worthy alternatives that give a comparable increase in strength and muscle mass.

Author: Jim Stoppani, Ph.D.

Can you imagine yourself as a basketball player, who will replace Michael Jordan in the Chicago Bulls? Or in the post of Tim Cook, who continued the work of Steve Jobs in Apple? Or in the role of a quarterback who will replace Tom Brady when he hangs the boots on the nail? The task is not easy.

My arguments in defense of exercises that can be replaced by squats can be met with a similar skepticism. Yes, sit-ups with the barbell on the shoulders are the "king of exercises", and I'm as much a fan of this exercise as you are. But if you are concerned about the increased risk of injury, or you just do not like to squat to the horror, do not force yourself to perform squats in the traditional sense.

However, I strongly recommend that you regularly include any variant of squats in the training program (at least once a week). This is a fundamental movement not only in the world of training and sports, but also in real life. I know, squats with a barbell can be dangerous for the waist and knee joints – believe me, I also had back problems. But there are a lot of modifications of movement that reduce the load on vulnerable areas and generate excellent growth stimuli for the buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings and other parts of the body. On the effectiveness of these options are quite comparable with the traditional squats with a barbell on the shoulders.

Below we will consider six such exercises. Include any of them in your training program instead of the standard sit-ups, and you will get the same (almost) increase in strength and muscle mass as the crowned "king" gives.

Arguments in favor of replacement. This is still squats, but since the bar is on the chest, and not on the shoulders, the difference is very large. Compared to standard squats, the frontal squares more heavily load quadriceps than the gluteal muscles, so this is an excellent exercise for anyone who wants to pump the front of the thigh.

But what is especially important for people with low back pain, front squats force the body to stay in the maximum vertical position (otherwise the bar will fall to the floor), thereby reducing the burden on the spine.

Alternative 2: Jefferson Squats

Arguments in favor of replacement. The exercise is often called Jefferson's "deadlift," but since the back is in a vertical position, it's more like squats than the traditional pull rod where you have to bend forward as the bar is in front of the legs. In this version, you need to "saddle" the bar. Straight back is the main reason why many people choose Jefferson squats when having problems with the spine.

Arguments in favor of replacement. Zergher squats are another great option for lowering the load on the lower back. The bar is much lower (center of the trunk, not on the shoulders), resulting in a significant reduction in the effect of compression on the spine. Like frontal squats, Zercher squats are forced to keep the body in the maximum vertical position, and at the same time allow you to crouch deep enough.

The alternative is 4. Squats on one leg

Arguments in favor of replacement. The squat exercises on one leg have several other names (for example, the Bulgarian split squats), perhaps because it represents something in between squats and lunges – legs are set apart, one leg in front, the other at the back. The position, similar to the attacks, allows you to keep your back perpendicular to the floor and protects from a dangerous tilt forward, which often becomes the cause of low back pain.

Since one leg is at the back, it is possible to push the front leg as far forward as possible, as far as it is necessary to protect the knee from excessive load. In this exercise, you have a choice: you can put a bar on your shoulders or pick up dumbbells.

Alternative 5: Squats in the Smith simulator

Arguments in favor of replacement. Everyone who blames Smith's simulator for lack of "practicality" does not open his mind to the possibilities that this training tool offers. With regard to sit-ups, Smith's simulator has a number of undeniable advantages:

  • Opens the possibility for safe overload of the muscles of the lower part of the body with heavy weight and maximum stimulation of weight growth and strength indicators, since you do not need to think about balancing.

Alternative 6: Gakk-squat with a barbell

Arguments in favor of replacement. At first glance, the exercise may seem a bit strange, as if you are making the thrust the other way around, because the bar is behind your legs, not in front of them. But it's planned. In fact, gak squats with a barbell have been around for many decades, much longer than gak squats in the simulator, which is in most commercial gyms.

This movement is unique, because the bar is located behind. The load on the lower back is lower than the standard deadlift, as you do not have to lean forward. In this position it is much easier to keep the center of gravity above the heels, as it should be done during standard squats with a bar. This is a key advantage for people with a problem loin.


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