Do you want to find a way to build bigger, stronger and more powerful legs, without ever having to perform a squat again? Read on to find out which exercises are ‘must haves’ if you’re serious about building your lower body.
It’s commonly accepted that the squat is the king of all exercises, a powerhouse exercise that works the lower body whilst also testing your core and back strength, the squat is undefeated, except when it isn’t.
Although it’s one of the most beneficial moves that you can do in the gym, not everyone is actually able to squat.
Through injury, medical conditions or pure hatred for squatting, some people just don’t squat whereas others, due to their goal and training program, simply don’t need to.
Professional bodybuilders, movie stars, athletes and fitness models, the list goes on of people that for one reason or another, don’t squat, but don’t be fooled, it doesn’t mean they skip leg day altogether.
In this article, we’re going to look at what you can do if squatting isn’t for you and more importantly what lower body exercises you should be doing to help you build a well-rounded physique.
Read on to see which exercises we recommend.
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
Muscles worked: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Adductors, Abductors, Calves
The Bulgarian Split Squat (BSS) is one of the single best moves you can do in the gym for unilateral strength and conditioning. An extremely difficult move to complete, mainly due to balance issues, the BSS works all muscles in the lower body and is a fantastic exercise to help build strength and size in your legs as well as helping to address any muscular imbalances.
With one leg behind and the other in front, you’re putting much greater emphasis onto your front leg, under more tension and stress, and therefore helping to promote more muscle growth as you complete this exercise.
If it sounds challenging, that’s because it is, and that’s also why so many people dislike this powerful muscle builder and opt for easier options instead.
If you want to truly see improvements in your legs and glutes, you should include this move and simply treat the BSS like any other exercise, spend time developing your technique and competency and just like anything else, over time you will see the results you want.
2. Lunge/Walking Lunge
Muscles worked: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Adductors, Abductors, Hips, Core
A functional, multi-joint exercise, the lunge has many variations including stationary lunges, reverse lunges or walking lunges to name but a few. All of which are great lower body exercise options to help your build muscle, improve strength, increase stability and test your core strength.
A fantastic quad and glute builder, lunges offer a great way of strengthening your hips and improving hip flexibility and the unilateral nature of the lunge can offer a more impactful way for you to address any muscular imbalances.
With many variations of lunge available, you can often adjust your position to focus more on a particular muscle group and by carrying a load in different ways you can also make the exercise a truly full-body move.
Often, people that struggle with knee pain can dread completing a lunge due to the pain they have to endure, but it’s also worth remembering that with front, reverse, side and curtsy lunges, there are more than a few ways to make this move work for you.
As with most exercises, body position and technique will also play a factor, so ensure you are completing the move correctly before you begin.
3. Deadlift Variations
Muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, core, Lats
If the Squat is the king of all exercises then the Deadlift is a very close second.
Another amazing full body compound exercise that works numerous muscles at once the Deadlift predominantly works the posterior chain, although its impact is felt all over the body from the core to the arms to the back and legs.
Whereas the squat places more emphasis on the quadriceps, the deadlift places greater emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes, and for that reason, it can be the preferred option for people with bad knees and those that are specifically looking to put more work onto their posterior chain.
Deadlift variations such as the Romanian Deadlift, Stiff legged deadlift or a dumbbell single-sided deadlift are also worth considering.
All unique in their own right they all place greater emphasis on the posterior chain, helping you to strengthen and develop your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, without having to put pressure on your knees or joints.
4. Leg Press
Muscles worked: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Adductors, Abductors, Calves
The Leg Press machine can be a great option for new and experienced users alike as you don’t have to worry about loading the weight onto your back, making it a much safer alternative to squatting.
The same goes for people that are recovering from injuries or for those that are dealing with movement limiting conditions that could stop them from squatting.
The leg press works the entire lower body and with an amended foot position, it can actually be used to target certain muscles specifically, such as the glutes, hamstrings or quads.
Many professionals now use the leg press, instead of a back squat, as they also feel it is more secure for their knees and doesn’t put their body through as much stress as a heavy squat does and it’s not uncommon to find many professional athletes or bodybuilders that no longer squat, and instead load up the plates, ready for a leg press.
5. Hack Squat
Muscles used: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves
The Hack squat gives you many of the benefits associated with the squat but often under a more secure and stable setting allowing you to lift a far greater weight than normal. As the upper body and core aren’t used in the same way as they would be in a traditional squat, the hack squat allows you to focus more on lower body development and on improving range of motion.
For new lifters or those that are returning after injury, the Hack squat can be a great option for developing lower body strength or addressing muscular imbalances, without risking further injury and the supported nature of the machine often allows for users to take pressure off their knees as they use this machine.
Many people prefer the hack squat machine for lower body development as it frees the arms and shoulders up, taking pressure away from those joints but it also allows for solo training, as you don’t need a spotter when using this machine.
6. Hip Thrust
Muscles used: Hamstrings, Glutes, Core
When it comes to glute development there is truly only one option, the Hip thrust.
A move with much variety, including single-legged or banded variations, the hip thrust will help you to build your glutes and hamstrings without putting pressure on your joints.
More and more people are ditching the squat, in favor of the hip thrust, when looking for firmer, more defined, powerful glutes as the potential from this move is incredible.
Fitness enthusiasts are turning to this exercise over the squat as they are seeing far greater results in their physique but with so much athletic performance including knee drive when running or the thrust forward when pushing also improving as a direct result of doing the hip thrust exercise, more and more people are turning to the thrust.
Although the squat is an important exercise that certainly deserves consideration when designing a training program, it isn’t for everyone.
Different needs, different ability levels, different outcome goals, and even different exercise preferences all play a part in the exercises you do and why you do them.
Luckily there are more than enough suitable alternatives to help you build a strong, powerful and immensely impactful lower body.
Whether you want to focus on your hips, glutes, quads or hams and if that were for athletic performance, aesthetic goals or just your own personal training project, the exercise moves above will give you exactly what you need to achieve your goal, without having to squat.