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The barbell front squat is a compound exercise that can help build your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hips. The movement involves doing a squat while holding a barbell above your chest. It is a very effective way to build and maximize the growth of your core, quads, and other lower body muscles, but many find it intimidating.
Luckily there are quite a few barbell front squat alternative exercises that can help you target the same muscles with similar results. Read on to find out more.
Best front squat alternative exercises for building quad strength
If you struggle to use a barbell while squatting or don’t have access to a barbell, then here are some of the best front squat alternatives to help you achieve your lower body muscle-building goals.
The front squat alternative exercises can also be handy after recovering from injury. You can also include them in your lower body training regimen to help boost your result.
Dumbbell Front Squat
The dumbbell front squat is a weighted front squat alternative exercise that can help strengthen and build your quads, hamstrings, legs, and glutes.
Holding the dumbbells in the racked position for the movements can also help you work your upper back and core muscles. Thus it can help improve your posture.
The dumbbell front squat alternative exercises can also help improve midline stability and control.
You will use a pair of dumbbells instead of a barbell for the movement. Most athletes who train at home have dumbells. Thus you can do the alternative to front squat exercises in the comfort of your home.
You may have to use a pair of lightweight dumbbells for the exercise, especially if you are a beginner. Move unto heavier weights as you build up strength.
Required equipment: Pair of dumbbells
Steps to follow
- Stand with a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Ensure you keep your legs at slightly more than a hip-width apart.
- Lift the dumbbells and bring them up to your shoulders. Ensure one end of each dumbbell rest on each shoulder, and your elbows are facing forward.
- Keep your back straight, your head forward, and your chest high.
- Bend your knees and start lowering your butts to go into a squat. Ensure you keep your back straight and neutral during the movement (1). Your knees and your feet must point in the same direction.
- Keep lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Hold for one or two seconds.
- Return to your starting position by pushing your heels into the floor and extending your hips and knees until you straighten your legs.
- Repeat 8-12 reps to complete a set.
You can incorporate the front squat alternative exercise into your circuit or strength training regimen
Smith Machine Front Squat
The Smith machine front squat alternative exercises are one of the most effective ways to build big legs.
The smith machine removes some of the stress from your upper back and core. Thus it is an effective way to lift more weights to help build your core and quads without worrying about balancing the bar.
A Smith machine makes it much easier to hold the bar for the front squat. It can also allow you to do higher reps than you will do without the Smith machine.
Steps to follow
- Set up the bar at a height just below your shoulder height on the Smith machine.
- Squat under the bar, Ensure your feet are at about shoulder-width apart.
- Grasp the bar, ensuring your hands are in line with your shoulders.
- Breathe in and unrack the bar.
- Bend your knees while pushing your hips back to sit between your legs.
- Continue the downward movements until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause for one or two seconds
- Then, push your feet into the floor, flex your core and explode up. Ensure you push down through your entire foot, not just your heels or toes. Your little toe, big toe, and heel should all be firmly on the floor.
- Repeat 6-15 reps for a set and 3-5 sets to complete a session
The goblet squat is another good barbell front squat alternative that replaces the barbell with a kettlebell or dumbbell for the exercises, making it suitable for all fitness levels.
Holding the weight in front of you allows you to counterbalance the tension on your back. That reduces the stress on your spine and allows you to maintain a correct posture.
With the weight in front of you, you force your core to work harder to support the weight, allowing you to target your glutes and quads.
It is also a front squat alternative exercise that can help boost your fitness levels and build your lower body muscles.
The exercise involves holding the kettlebell or similar weight with both hands in front of your chest while you squat. The process allows your elbows to track between your knees, with the weight following the movement.
Start with a lighter weight and increase the weight as you get stronger.
Steps to follow
- Hold the kettlebell with both hands and bring it close to your chest. Keep your feet more than a hip-width apart. Angle your toes outward slightly. Keep your hands on either side of the handles.
- Look straight ahead, activate your core, and keep your back neutral and straight.
- Breathe in and start squatting until your hips go below your knees. Your elbows must be between your knees at the lowest point of the movements. That will ensure your toes and knees are aligned.
- Ensure you keep the kettlebell close to your body and your chest tall throughout the movement. The kettlebell must follow your movements up and down as you do the squats.
- Ensure you try to distribute the weight evenly across your feet.
- Pause at the lowest point of the movement, push through your heels, breathe out, start rising and return to your starting position.
Resistance Band Squat
A resistance band squat replaces the barbell with a resistance band, making the exercise accessible to many, especially those not comfortable with barbells.
You get resistance from the band as you lower and rise into the squat movement, a process referred to as eccentric and concentric movements.
The resistance band puts your muscles under tension throughout the exercise, forcing them to work harder to help you get results. It is another good barbell front squat alternative worth considering, especially if you are not a frequent gym visitor.
You can target your quads, glutes, and hip adductor muscles, and also your core and back with the resistance band squats.
You will need a resistance band of appropriate tension for the exercise. Check here for our recommended resistance bands for home gyms if you decide to get one.
To do the exercise, loop the resistance band under your feet, pull the handles around the back of your shoulders, and start squatting. Ensure you maintain the tension in the resistance band throughout the exercise
The Zercher squats are perhaps the most challenging front squat alternative exercise on the list.
Unlike the front squats, where you hold the barbell on your shoulders, the Zercher squats require you to support the barbell with the crook of your arms while doing the squats. That removes the strain on your wrist and makes it easier for you to hold the weight.
The Zercher squat can help build and strengthen your quads and core. While it is not a biceps-building exercise, holding the bar in the crook of your elbows can help give you bigger biceps. It can also target your back.
- Place the barbell on a rack and load it with the appropriate weight.
- Place the crook of your elbows and scoop it out.
- Stand with feet at hip width. If necessary, hold your hands together. Squeeze your core and squat as low as possible. Ensure you keep your back straight throughout the movement
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a lower-body exercise for strengthening your leg muscles.
It is a front squad alternative exercise that forces your core to work harder to help you build your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Placing one leg behind you on an elevated platform forces you to maintain your balance and helps you to emphasize your quads.
Steps to follow
- Stand at about 2 feet in front of a bench or an elevated platform
- Place the foot of one leg on the bench and keep the other firmly on the floor.
- Engage your core and lower your body to go into a deep lunge. Ensure your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is almost touching the floor.
- Push through your knees and raise yourself up
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
The single-leg squat is an effective way to tone and build your glutes and legs.
It can help strengthen your core and boost your strength, coordination, and balance. The single-leg squat is one of the best ways to build stability and core strength.
- To perform the exercise, stand and balance yourself on one leg and bend your knee slightly. Ensure you keep your back straight.
- Lift the other leg slightly off the floor, extend it, and point it straight ahead.
- Slowly lower your body and go into a squat. Ensure you look straight ahead as you do this.
- Remain in that pose for as long as you can.
- Swap legs and go through the process with the other side of your body
Add the front squat alternative exercise to your lower body or even, full-body strength training workouts.
The landmine squat is a full-body strength-building exercise that can help target lower and upper body muscles.
It is a front squat alternative exercise that can target and work many muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, triceps, traps, abs, and delts.
You will need a T-bar for the exercises.
The exercise involves loading the T-bar with weight plates. You then hold the end of the bar, lift it up to chest level and then squat while holding the loaded bar.
Weighted Vest Squats
A weighted vest is one of the best ways to add resistance to your bodyweight exercises.
It may not be an exact replacement for weights, but it can help you build muscle and tone your body when used with some exercises.
It is another good front squat alternative exercise to consider, especially if you can’t use barbells or don’t have access to one.
You can also use a weighted vest to beef up exercises like the lunges and planks to help you work your core or supercharge your push-ups and pullups to boost your results.
Load the vest with the appropriate weight and do your squats. The weighted vest will help distribute the weight around your body and add extra resistance to the movement to help you get better results.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Lifting barbells should not be the only way to boost your squat exercises.
Thus not being strong enough or not confident enough to use barbells should not be a barrier in your fitness journey.
Your answer could lie in some of the barbell squat alternative exercises we have listed and discussed in the article.
Each of the front squat alternatives we have identified has its strengths and weaknesses. But each can play a role in your effort to build your core and other lower body muscles.
Incorporate some of these into your training, even if you are a regular barbell user. Aside from adding variety to your regimen, they can also spice things up and help you achieve your goals.
- Graham JF. Exercise technique: dumbbell squat, dumbbell split squat, and barbell box step-up. Strength Cond J. 2011;33(5):76-78. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181ebcf12
- Ryan C.A. Foley, Brittany D. Bulbrook, Duane C. Button, and Michael W.R.. 2017. EFFECTS OF A BAND LOOP ON LOWER EXTREMITY MUSCLE ACTIVITY AND KINEMATICS DURING THE BARBELL SQUAT. National Library of Medicine
- Madeleine B Reece, Graham P Arnold, et al. 2020. Barbell back squat: how do resistance bands affect muscle activation and knee kinematics? National Library of Medicine