11 Best Squat Alternatives That Can Help You Build A Strong Lower Body

There are many other exercises that you can target your quads and other lower body muscle groups to build strength in your legs if you find it challenging to do squats.

squat alternatives

You may find affiliate links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Why Trust Us

Squats are some of the best compound exercises that target and build your lower body muscles.

While squats can boost athletic performance and aesthetic appearance, they can cause lower back and knee injury if done wrongly. But many squat alternatives can help strengthen your hips and build your backside.

Why do squats?

squat alternatives

Squats are one of the best all-around exercises for developing the glutes and front leg muscles or the quads. Varying your foot position and the depth of the squat can help activate and target other lower body muscles, including the hamstrings, abductors, gracilis, and the inside of the upper legs.

But despite its many benefits, squats are very challenging, and many, especially those with weak knee joints, struggle to do them.

If you find it challenging to squat for any reason, then you can opt for squat alternatives that are knee- and lower-back friendly. They can target similar muscles as squats but will not put much pressure on your joints and lower back.

Top squat alternatives for building muscular strength in your lower body

Glute Bridge

Here are some of the best squat alternatives that will not put much pressure on your muscles to include in your leg day and whole-body exercises.

Bulgarian Split Squat/One Leg Dumbbell Squat

bulgarian split squat - front squat alternatives exercises

The Bulgarian Split Squat, aka One Leg Dumbbell Squat, is one of the best squat alternatives for bad knees. It is also one of the best for those who struggle with back pain when they do back squats.

If you want to strengthen your quads but find it difficult to squat for whatever reason, then this is where to start your training.

The Bulgarian split squat is also one of the best squat alternatives for correcting muscle imbalances. Using one leg at a time helps you to focus more on your weaker side.

The exercise involves holding a dumbbell in each hand and placing your back foot on a weighted platform.

Placing your foot in an elevated position allows you to shift emphasis onto the foot on the floor, making it possible to emphasize your quads.

To make the exercise less challenging, start without dumbbells, and introduce the dumbbells as you build strength.

Muscles Worked: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs, adductors, shoulders, calves, traps, upper back
Intensity: Intermediate
Required Equipment: Dumbbells(optional)

Steps to follow to do the Bulgarian Split Squat


Lateral Lunges/Dumbbell Side Lunge

dumbbell lateral lunges - squat alternatives

Aside from targeting your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, side lunges or lateral lunges will target your inner thigh muscles.

Lateral lunges enable you to work one leg at a time, making them one of the best squat alternatives for correcting imbalances in your legs.

Side lunges are also a great way to build your body’s stabilizing muscles, enhance symmetry on your legs, and improve your balance.

Including a pair of dumbbells allows you to make the exercises more challenging for better results. The higher the weight, the greater the muscle and lower body strength you will build.

Ensure you keep your hands by your sides if using dumbbells. The knee to the leading leg should be between your arms when you lunge to the side.

Start without weights, especially if your balance is weak, and introduce the dumbbells later.

Muscles Worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
Intensity: Beginner
Required Equipment: Dumbbells(optional)

Steps to follow

  • Stand upright, holding a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Ensure you bend your knees slightly and the dumbbells by your sides.
  • Step out to your sides with one leg while pushing your hips down as if squatting. Ensure you maintain your balance, keep your head up, and your torso straight. Ensure your knee does not track out over your toes.
  • Push your heels down and pull yourself back to your starting position. Ensure you keep your back straight and your head up throughout the exercise.
  • Repeat with the other leg to complete a rep.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps to complete a session


Kettlebell Swing

The Kettlebell Swing is the exercise to start with if you struggle with the hip hinge movement pattern. It is one of the best squat alternatives that can prepare you for such exercises as the deadlift.

The kettlebell swing is a whole-body exercise that targets your upper and lower body muscles. It is one of the best squat alternatives to add to your training regimen.

Ensure you have enough space in front of you for the exercise. Also, ensure there are no breakable objects in front of you.

Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, quads, glutes, abs, adductors, shoulders, calves, traps, upper back, forearms, back.
Intensity: Beginner
Required Equipment: Kettlebell

Steps to follow

  • Place the kettlebell on the floor, stand behind it, bend your knees slightly, hinge at the hips, and grab the kettlebell handles with both hands. Ensure you shift your body weight to your feet. Keep your back straight and your feet more than hip-width apart.
  • Inhale, roll your shoulders back slightly, and engage your core.
  • Exhale, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings, and in one powerful movement, lift the kettlebell, swing it as far as possible between your legs, and reverse the movement to swing the kettlebell upward towards your chest, while straightening your hips.
  • Stop and reverse the upward swing when the kettlebell is at shoulder height. Ensure you don’t bend your arms. Align your neck with your spine throughout the swinging movement.
  • Continue the kettlebell swings for your desired number of reps.
  • To exit, do not stop suddenly. Instead, slowly reduce the momentum of each swing and gradually come to a halt.
  • Return the kettlebell to the floor.


Trap Bar Deadlifts

The trap bar deadlift is a variation of the deadlift. It is an exercise that many exercisers regard as a quad-dominant variation of the deadlift.

While the primary target is the hamstrings, it will indirectly target and work the muscles in your legs, including the quads. It will also build your lats, traps, forearms, and lower back. Thus it is one of the squat alternatives to include in your leg or full body workouts.

Using a trap bar for the exercises distributes the weight around your body, helping to reduce the pressure on your joints and other muscles.

You will need a trap bar for the exercise.

Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, quads, glutes, abs, adductors, calves, lats, forearms, traps, lower back, upper back
Intensity: Beginner
Required Equipment: Trap bar

Steps to follow to do the trap bar deadlift

Machine Leg Press

machine leg press - squat alternatives

The machine leg press is a squat variation for building leg muscles. It is one of the best squat alternatives and is seen by many as a machine version of the barbell back squat, though the machine does not mimic the squat movement completely.

The exercise involves using a leg press machine to target and work the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

The leg press is one of the best ways to train your muscles to help you progress to the squat movement. Varying your leg position can help emphasize different muscles. You can also use the leg press to correct imbalances in your muscles.

You will need a leg press machine for the exercise.

Muscles Worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, adductors, calves, lower back
Intensity: Beginner
Required Equipment: leg press machine

Steps to follow

  • Load the leg press machine with the desired weight and position yourself on the seat
  • Place your feet on the sled, ensuring your feet are shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale and extend your legs to unlock the sled.
  • In a slow and controlled manner, lower the weight until your legs are about 45 degrees.
  • Slowly extend your legs to drive or push the weight back to your starting position. Ensure you don’t lock your knees. That will help keep your quads under tension.
  • Repeat

Tips

  • Push through your heels if you want to emphasize the glutes.
  • Push through your feet if you want to emphasize the quads
  • Keep your low back flat and against the pads throughout

Dumbbell Lunge

dumbbell lunges - squat alternatives

Lunges are one of the best squat alternatives for building lower body muscles, including the quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings.

Lunges engage your core muscles to boost stability and balance and help prevent injuries.

Include lunges in your strength or circuit training and workouts. That should help strengthen your muscles to help you carry out such tasks as picking items from the floor.

Holding dumbbells in each hand when during the exercises will increase the resistance and help boost your results

Muscles Worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
Intensity: Beginner
Required Equipment: Dumbbells (optional)

Steps to follow to do the lunges squat alternatives

Bodyweight Walking Lunge

Walking lunges can target most of the major lower body muscles. It can also improve your core strength and your balance.

The exercise involves bending both knees and lowering your back knee to the floor while taking long steps forward.

Waking lunges requires you to maintain your balance and shift your body weight and position while standing on one leg when doing the movement. That makes it more challenging than stationary lunges. The lunge exercise is an effective way to prepare your body against fall-related accidents and injuries.

Walking lunges are squat alternatives and lower body strength training exercises that can form part of your circuit training. Alternatively, they can be part of your high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for cardio and strength.

You can make the exercise more challenging by holding a Dumbbell in each hand

Steps to follow

  • Stand upright with a slight bend in your knees and look straight ahead.
  • Take a step forward while bending both knees and lowering your hips till your back knee touches the floor. Ensure you keep a straight back.
  • Push your heel into the floor to help your stand while you bring your feet together, and then move it forward immediately to make another lunge.
  • Continue the forward movement while changing leg positions for your desired number of reps. Ensure you keep your back straight and your head up throughout the movement.


Bodyweight Wall Squat/Dumbbell Wall Squat

wall sit variations - weighted wall sit

Wall sit is one of the best barbell squat alternatives for targeting your front thigh muscles. The exercises are good for building endurance and isometric strength in your glutes, quads, and calves.

The exercise is simple, but many struggle to do it correctly. Ensure your hips and knees are at right angles, your back is flat against the wall, and your feet are on the floor.

Wall sits are popular leg strengthening exercises for athletes involved in downward skiing, ice hockey, running, and field and track events. The wall sit exercise can strengthen the hamstrings and quads. It can also help balance leg muscles.

You can use the wall sit squat alternatives to build muscular endurance to help delay fatigue in athletes. That can help them perform for longer.

Muscles Worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abs
Intensity: Intermediate
Required Equipment: Dumbbells (optional)

Steps to follow to do the wall sit exercise


Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

reverse lunges - leg curl alternative exercises

The reverse lunge is another lunge variation. Some exercisers find the reverse lunge less challenging. Thus you can start with this movement if you struggle with your balance when doing the lunge exercise.

Holding a dumbbell in each hand when doing the reverse lunge squat alternatives will make the exercises more challenging.

Muscles Worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
Intensity: Intermediate
Required Equipment: Dumbbells (optional)

Steps to follow

  • Stand upright, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Keep your feet at shoulder width.
  • Take a step back while bending both knees and lowering your hips until your back knee touches the floor.
  • Push through your front feet to rise while you while bringing your back foot back to your starting position.
  • Repeat with the other leg to complete a rep
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Weighted Step Ups

weighted step-ups with dumbbells

Weighted Step-Ups are lower body exercises and squat alternatives for bad back that are safe for exercisers of all fitness levels.

The exercise can help boost strength in the glutes and upper leg muscles.

Holding a dumbbell will make the exercise more challenging and help improve your results.

You will need a Plyo box like this from Amazon for the exercise. Alternatively, you can use a weight bench or a raised platform.

Muscles Worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
Intensity: Beginner
Required Equipment: Dumbbells (optional), Plyo box or Weight bench

Steps to follow

  • Stand in front of the pylo box holding a dumbbell in each hand
  • by your sides.
  • Look straight ahead and keep a slight bend in your knees.
  • Raise your right leg and step onto the box.
  • Then push through your left leg to lift your body and stand upright on the box.
  • Pause briefly, then step back onto the floor with your left leg, followed by your right leg, to return to your starting position to complete a rep
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Final words from LiveLIfe

Squats are movement patterns we use in everyday activities. They are also some of the best exercises for strengthening the leg and other lower body muscles, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. But squats can be very challenging, and not everybody can do them.

If you find squat exercises challenging, some of the squat alternatives discussed here should help you to target the same muscle groups to build your legs and other lower body muscles.

Incorporate some of these into your workout and training regimen to strengthen your legs without doing a squat

  1. Lorenzetti S, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, et al. How to Squat? Effects of Various Stance Widths, Foot Placement Angles and Level of Experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loadingBMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018;10:14. doi:10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7
  2. MACKEY ER, RIEMANN BL. Biomechanical Differences Between the Bulgarian Split-squat and Back Squat. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021;14(1):533-543.
  3. Kelcy Tobey, Jonathan Mike. 2017. Single-Leg Glute Bridge. Strength and Conditioning Journal 40(2):1. DOI:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000323
  4. Marchetti PH, Guiselini MA, da Silva JJ, Tucker R, Behm DG, Brown LE. Balance and lower limb muscle activation between in-line and traditional lunge exercisesJ Hum Kinet. 2018;62:15-22. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0174

Similar Posts