Guest Post By Eric Cressey
The squat has been hailed as “the king” of all strength training exercises – and rightfully so; it’s a compound exercise that activates a ton of muscle mass and improves lower body strength and athleticism arguably better than any other exercise. The only problem? A lot of people have horrendous squat patterns.
Seriously, some people put a bar across their upper back and immediately start to look like the brutally unathletic kid who always got picked last during the recess football draft during elementary school. No matter how much he liked football, it didn’t matter because his body was fighting him the entire way.
Now, there are a lot of different reasons your squat pattern might be out of whack. It could be a mobility problem, a stability problem, or just a technical flaw. Regardless, you don’t just want to plow through things; you need to earn the right to squat under load. With that said, I want to use today’s article to discuss a five options for replacing squatting in your program without losing out on the ability to really crush your lower body.
Option 1: Use box squat variations.
The great thing about the box squat is that it’s more about sitting back than it is sitting down. As a result, you can get the benefits of axial loading – the bar on your upper back (back squat) or the front of your shoulders (front squat) – without the same hip and ankle mobility requirements.
You’ll build up more of your posterior chain – glutes and hamstrings – with the box squat, but that’s certainly not a bad thing for most lifters!
Option 2: Try axial-loaded single-leg exercises.
Squatting heavy is definitely hard. However, doing really heavy single-leg work can be even more brutal on your lower body because you have to do twice as many sets (left and right). Here’s one of my favorites:
As an added bonus, single-leg work tends to be more spine friendly, for those of you with cranky lower backs.
Option 3: Deadlift more frequently.
If squats are king, the deadlifts have to at least be the heir to the throne, as there are a lot of people who’d insist that lifters actually get more out of heavy deadlifts. And, while they’ll build you up differently than squat variations do, at the end of the day, as long as you’re including a wide variety of exercises in your strength training program, the difference between one squat vs. deadlift session per week will be negligible.
4. Try high-rep goblet squats.
In many cases, giving someone a counterbalance out in front can help them to correctly groove a squat pattern. With that in mind, high-rep goblet squats can be a great finisher to a lower body training session. Try doing two sets of 30 reps, or one set of 50:
You can also do 1-arm KB front squats, where you just hold the KB in the rack position. Doing a set of 10/side can be incredibly fatiguing.
5. Try pistol squat variations.
The biggest concern with poor squat form with a bar on your back is that you’ll go unto lumbar flexion (rounded lower back) under load. With pistol squat variations, you won’t be using much (if any) external loading, so you don’t need to worry about going into a little bit of lower back rounding. If you’re looking for the best replacement for deeper squatting, I think the best bet is the band-assisted pistol squat in the rack, where you use a band as an accommodating resistance. The higher up on the band you hold, the easier the exercise will be.
It goes without saying that the best programs are the ones that are customized to your unique issues – one of which may be an inability to squat. And, just because you can’t squat doesn’t mean that you can’t still get after it in the gym.
If you’re looking for a strength and conditioning program that includes self-assessments so that you can identify your unique needs, I’d encourage you to check out my new resource, The High Performance Handbook. It’s on sale at a great introductory price this week only. For more information, click here.