Exercise Substitutions List – Squat Substitutes

by James Kerrison on November 12, 2010

Squats are a great lower body exercise but sometimes you will need an exercise substitution to replace it with. This may be because of an injury to your knee or lower back or just for variation in your workout.

The exercises are all very similar in movement, but these squat substitutes will work your lower body and core muscles just a little differently than regular barbell squats.

In no particular order:

  • Regular Step Ups (12-18 inch height)
  • High Step Ups (24 inch plus height)
  • Static Lunges / Split Squat
  • Forward Lunges
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Walking Lunges
  • Jumping Lunges (Alternating or same leg for reps then switch)
  • Power / Squat Jumps
  • Rear Foot Elevated Lunges / Bulgarian Split Squat (12 inch box should be plenty)
  • Front Foot Elevated Lunges (6-12 inch box should be plenty)
  • 1 Leg Box Squat (work your way down from the 24 inch box)
  • 1 Leg Assisted Squat (TRX is handy for this)
  • TRX Balance Lunge
  • 1 Leg Deadlift
  • Hip Raise / Hip Extension
  • 1 Leg Hip Raise / Extension
  • Goblet Squat (Dumbell or Kettlebell)

Each of these exercises has the potential to make your workout a challenge. The high step up for instance generally get your leg through a fuller range of motion than you would do with regular squats or step ups. If you add a little weight to this (even as little as 10kg) and some high repetitions (anything above 12 reps each side) and you’ll get a great workout for your legs.

Any of the single leg variations can be done one of two ways. You can alternate the leg you are using (for example you would do 8 reps with each leg alternating for a total count of 16) or you could do 8 repetitions on the left leg and then 8 repetitions on the right leg. Each of these variations will make the exercise substitution give you a different workout.

The other variation you can use, which is often overlooked is the weighting and position of the weight. Take lunges again for example you can hold onto dumbells or kettlebells at arms length or in the top, rack position. If you get to a weight that is too hard to hold onto (and your arms give way before your legs) then you might want to use them in combination with a weight vest or even look to using a barbell on your upper back.

If you are looking for a squat substitute because you are carrying an injury (get it checked out first by a physio/doctor etc first) have a play around with the different variations before you give up. I have had a client that was pain free doing alternate lunge jumps (a very challenging exercise) but couldn’t do any of the ‘easier’ options such as static lunges or step ups. Now I’m not saying that you should train with reckless abandon with no regard to your safety, but in a controlled environment, within your own limitations, give things a go. If you can sit up and down in a chair, get in and out of a car, and walk up or down steps, then there will be an exercise substitution available for you!

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