Squats are a necessity in nearly any gym routine. Not only are they great for building lower body strength, but they are essential for working on your physique or getting better lower body endurance.
One popular squat variation is the barbell front squat, which can get you some massive quads and really hone in on your lower body strength.
The Deets on Front Squats
If you’re not sure exactly what front squatting is, not to worry. While it may sound self-explanatory to some, it can be hard to imagine how a front squat works. With a front squat, you’ll still use a barbell much like you would in a traditional squat.
However, that is pretty much where the similarities end. The form is quite different and instead of sitting the barbell on your back or shoulders, the barbell will rest on your chest.
Benefits of Front Squats
While conventional squats are the most popular, front squats have several benefits compared to a traditional squat, such as a diminished load on the knees. This is not to say if you’re doing conventional squats you should give them up altogether. However, if you suffer from certain issues, front squats may be better for you.
Benefits of front squats include:
- Better for Building Quads: If you think about the way front squats are loaded onto the body, it only makes sense that they would really work your quads. But don’t worry, your hamstring and glutes will still get some serious burn. Stronger quads can be beneficial for a multitude of people, including runners, cyclists, and, of course, weightlifters.
- Less Harsh on the Knee Joints: Front squats can be a great alternative if you have knee problems. If you find yourself with knee pain from doing traditional squats, then you may want to consider front squats as an alternative. This is because the load of the weight is better supported by other parts of your body and the knees aren’t taking too much compression. Of course, always consult a medical professional before performing any exercises.
Effectively Builds Muscle: Free weight exercises are incredible for building muscle, getting stronger, and toning the body. Front squats are no exception. If you’re worried about front squats being effective, you should know they are highly likely to help you reach your fitness goals. If you already perform front squats but don’t feel like you’re seeing good muscular improvement, try our Steel Supplements Pro Series Mass Stack to boost both your muscle mass and your lifts.
- Amazing for the Core: With front-loaded squats, you’ll find a huge necessity to engage the core for better stability. For this reason, front squats can be a great way to strengthen the core, especially the abdominals, but have also shown benefits to the upper back, as well.
- Less Stress on the Back: Front squats are great for people who find the weight of the barbell too much for their back. Even if the weight is easily moved by your lower body, your back must also be able to handle all that pressure. While lack of good form is often the cause for this type of pain, it can be mitigated by choosing front squats over traditional squats. If you’re also worried about the compression of the spine with traditional squats, front squats can help with this, too.
Of course, there are some limitations to front squats:
- Less Weight Can Be Handled: This is simply due to physics, your body cannot handle the same weight in the front as it might be able to when the barbell is loaded on the back. However, you can still use front squats to increase squat volume and boost your PRs in other lifts.
- Requires More Range of Motion: If you lack range of motion in your ankles, hips, and back, front squats will be challenging. But this is good thing because they can expose weaknesses in your body that need to be addressed which will ultimately make you stronger.
- Weight Increase May Feel Slow: Because form and stability are most important in front squats, you’ll have to establish a very good foundation before adding significant amounts of weight.
10 Front Squat Alternatives
If you find front squats too difficult or are in need of some change in the gym, there are several great front squat alternatives that will provide similar benefits.
1. Goblet Squat
Goblet squats are an amazing way to prepare the body for full-on front squats. The difference? Use a dumbbell or kettlebell in place of the barbell. This will allow you to work on form rather than trying to balance a long bar across the chest. Goblet squats are also a great option for on-the-go exercise.
Here is how to do a goblet dumbbell squat:
- Grab the dumbbell so that the handle is perpendicular (straight up and down) to the floor. Your hands should be holding the bottom of the top dumbbell head. Think of the way a cup, or, in this case, goblet, looks. Your hands should mimic this shape when holding the dumbbell at chest height, close to your body.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Now, begin the movement by hinging at the hips. Maintain a good, upright posture and engage the core. Squat as low as you can go, aiming for a depth deeper than parallel. This means traveling past the knees with your hips. Speaking of the knees, those should point only slightly outward. Be careful not to allow too much outward rotation.
- Once you’ve reached depth, be sure your back has remained straight. If you’re leaning forward and your chest is caved in, your form is wrong.
- Drive the weight back up to finish the movement. Repeat as desired.
2. Zercher Squat
The Zercher squat is awkward but it works. The barbell is held in the creases of your elbows rather than being supported by the chest. It's not recommended for everyone because it is uncomfortable, however this discomfort can be mitigated by using a bar pad.
The form can be odd, so here’s a good breakdown:
- Stand much in the same way you would for the above goblet squat. If you have a squat rack or power rack, you can use it to help you load the barbell onto the crease of your elbows. However, if you don’t, squat down and lift the barbell from the floor onto your thighs. Then, weave your arms through the hole between your legs. The barbell should now be in place and you can bring your forearms up to your chest.
- Stand up and you’re ready to begin the movement. Be sure your stance allows your elbows to clear your knees, otherwise, they can hit or scrape each other.
- Before squatting, brace the core and check in with your posture. Then, proceed as normal.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
A favorite for building the glutes is the Bulgarian split squat. These are another movement with difficult form, but once you get them down get ready to see amazing results.
- To do a Bulgarian split squat, choose a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. If it is your first time, we recommend one of the latter two.
Next, find a weight bench or something comparable. Stand in front of the bench with your back to the bench. Place the top of your left foot on the bench. Your front leg should be slightly out in front of you.Test the comfort of the movement by going into a squat with just your bodyweight.
- Your right leg should form a right angle with the floor and your back leg should form a triangle shape. Maintain a slight forward position with the hips.
- If this is comfortable, you can move forward with weight. However, if you experience any discomfort, check in with your posture before blaming the odd foot positioning. If discomfort persists, try changing the position of your feet. Be sure your right knee lines up with your ankle for the best support.
Bulgarian split squats aren’t easy, but the best way to tackle them is to just do them. Your form will get better, but avoid adding heavy weight if you aren’t confident with the movement.
4. Hack Squat
There are many definitions of hack squat floating around in gym discourse. In order to save you the confusion, hack squats generally refer to a squatting machine. This is not the Smith machine, which you’re probably familiar with, but a different machine that may resemble some sort of Medival torture device.
All jokes aside, the hack squat is an amazing way to get a great lower body workout in.
To do a hack squat:
- Locate the hack squat machine. Not every gym has one, but you’re looking for something with a large padded back and shoulder rests that resemble the safety squat bar.
- Get into the machine with your back snuggly against the pad and shoulders pressed into the shoulder pads. Position the feet depending on your desired area of activation: lower on the footrest for quads and higher on the footrest for glutes.
- If this is your first time using the hack squat machine, assume the standard stance of a narrow hip-width foot positioning in the middle to upper portion of the footrest.
If you’ve ever done a few sets of lunges you know they are no joke and you can basically plan on not being able to use stairs the day after. Often forgotten about and neglected, lunges are an amazing addition or alternative for any lower body routine. And the great thing? The form is relatively simple.
To do a lunge, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Next, step out in front of you with one foot, allowing the knees to bend into the lunge. Keep your front knee aligned with your ankle to form a 90-degree angle
Maintain good posture throughout the movement. To come back to the starting position, simply stand up straight again.
6. Leg Press Machine
Hack squats aren’t the only machine that is amazing for your lower body. Leg presses are another great way to work on your legs.
While machines have their drawbacks, you can use the position of your feet to change your targeted muscles. Another plus is that form is simple, so you can really pack on the weight.
The leg press machine typically requires a position in which you are laying down. There is a large foot pad to place the feet on. Simply push the pad up and drop the safety bars on either side. This will allow you to move the pad in a controlled manner down towards you.
Next, press the footpad back up. Although you’re lying down, be sure to engage the core and pay attention to the compression on your back. There really isn’t much else to it!
7. Smith Machine Front Squat
Smith machines are a good tool to utilize when you’re feeling unsure or timid in both strength or form. They can also be a lifesaver if you don’t have a gym buddy to spot your big lifts. The Smith machine really allows you to play around with what feels best for your body without the added pressure of controlling a barbell.
Like most squat variations, front squats can easily be done on the Smith machine.
Here’s how to do it:
- Position the bar so it is at your chest. Be sure to set the safety bars up, as well.
- Next, walk up to the bar and let it sit on your chest. With your hands at your shoulders, grab the bar underneath. Your elbows should be pointed outward in front of you. You can also cross the arms over top the bar if you feel that the other hold strains your wrists. Still point the elbows out.
- Move your feet underneath the bar and shoulder-width apart. Brace the core and straighten the back, then begin the squat.
- Aim for a deep squat before driving the weight back up. Be sure to maintain good posture throughout.
8. High Bar Back Squat
If you really like your back squats, high bar squats are a great front squat alternative. Simply place the bar on the trapezius muscle and go to town.
9. Single-Leg Squat
Single-leg squats, also known as pistol squats, are incredibly difficult if you don’t already have some established lower body strength and mobility. However, if you can do single-leg squats, you have the potential to further your gains tremendously with this leg exercise.
A single-leg squat requires stability as much as strength. To begin, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Next, lift one leg out in front of you, simultaneously squatting with the other leg. It is best to have a buddy spotting you as the potential to land on your you-know-what is high.
Squeeze the core and maintain a good, stable posture, slowly lowering yourself down. Once you’ve reached a good deep squat, power up through the leg to stand up.
If you are looking for a front squat alternative that is completely squat-free, you can try deadlifts. Deadlifts are a popular compound lift that promotes lower body strength, much like squats.
You’re also going to get a good back workout, as well. While deadlifts cannot completely replace squats, they can be a good option if you cannot perform squats for any reason.
- To do a deadlift, place your barbell on the floor and stand behind it. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly under the barbell. In a squatted position, grab the barbell comfortably. Most people like a grip that is just beyond shoulder-width and overhand.
- Start the lift by slowly driving the weight up your body. Be sure to engage the core and keep the chest up and out with the shoulders back. At the top of the movement, do not allow your lower back to tilt too much, but do allow for a slight squeeze in the glutes.
- Slowly return the weight to the floor.
Last Thoughts on Front Squat Alternatives
Front squats are a great exercise for building lower body strength. Whether you want to boost your endurance, build muscle and explosiveness, or up your game in your CrossFit exercises, front squats can help you get there.