The front squat is a great exercise that not only builds your legs, but improves your sports performance, posture and strength.
However, it takes some time to learn the proper front squat mechanics and to do it with good technique. Also, a high level of mobility is required as well. Having proper wrist, shoulder and thoracic mobility is important to execute the front squat properly. All of these can be limiting factors to many people.
For whatever reason, if you are not a fan of the front squat, we bring you 11 Best Front Squat Alternatives you can add to your arsenal and achieve the same benefits as with the front squat.
Muscles Used in Front Squats
Front Squats work your legs, glutes, core, and upper back. Compared to back squats, front squats are a lot more quad dominant.
The position of the barbell is different from the back squat. The barbell being placed in front of your shoulders changes the mechanics of the squat.
It forces you to squat vertically instead of doing a hinge-squat, which is often the case when people do barbell squats. This barbell position improves your squat quality and squat depth. Also, it puts less stress on your back and knees.
What Makes a Good Front Squat Alternative
The best front squat alternatives mimic the movement pattern and engages the similar muscles. Since front squat is the more quad dominant leg exercise, good alternative will also activate the quads more compared to other leg muscles.
11 Front Squat Alternatives
1. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is one of the best front squat alternatives. It requires less learning curve than the front squat but has similar mechanics as the front squat.
It is performed by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest. This position, just like the front squat, puts your back into an upright position and allows you to squat deeper and with better mechanics.
However, contrary to the front squat, goblet squat requires less thoracic spine, wrist, and shoulder mobility. This makes it a great alternative for anyone who has a problem performing quality front squat because of less than optimal mobility.
- Grab a single dumbbell or kettlebell with both of your hands. Flex your biceps and bring the dumbbell towards your chest.
- Keep your elbows close to each other and push them forward to protract your shoulder blades. Keep your back upright.
- The cue is to push the elbows slightly forward and the weight upward during the squat. This will keep your back straight.
- Lower yourself into a deep squat, then push yourself up. Then repeat.
2. Zercher Squats
The Zercher squat is quite similar to the front squat. It challenges the quads, forces you to keep the torso upright, and engages the core.
The difference is, instead of holding the bar on your shoulders, you hold the barbell by gripping it with your elbows. This removes the pressure of your wrist and requires less upper body mobility than the front squat.
Go with a lighter weight when first switching to the Zercher squat.
The core strength and balance requirements of the Zercher squat will challenge your muscles quite differently. You can expect muscle soreness the next day. As you get noticeably more experienced with the Zercher squat, add more weight.
- Place your arms underneath the barbell in the crease of your elbows.
- Flex your biceps and bring your fists towards your chin. Keep your elbows close to your body as much as you can.
- Engage your core and keep your back upright. Don’t let the weight pull you forward and round your back.
- Squat down until the barbell touches your thighs. Push with your legs and get back to the starting position. Then repeat.
3. Landmine Squat
For this front squat alternative, you will need a barbell and a landmine setup. If you don’t have a landmine, you can improvise and put the barbell in the corner of a wall.
During the landmine squat, the bar travels diagonally and under the angle. Because of the angled barbell, the ascend of the landmine squat is different. This setup anteriorly loads your squat and hits your legs differently than the regular squat.
As you get into a squat, the anterior load forces you to sit your hips backward and keep your torso upright.
The angled travel of the barbell puts less strain on your knees and your back. Also, it allows you to better control the weight on the way down and use a steady pace.
- Anchor the barbell to the floor and put weight on the other end of the bar.
- Get into a squat stance. Grab the weighted end of the bar with both of your hands. Bend your elbows and rest the bar at chest level.
- Engage your core and drive your hips into a squat. As you get with your thighs approximately parallel to the floor, hold for a second and then push yourself back up. Then repeat.
4. Safety Bar Squat
The safety bar squat is a great front squat alternative. The safety bar handles allow you to hold the bar in front of the body. This bar setup allows you to remove shoulder mobility as the limiting factor in your front squat. Or to be more exact, the lack of shoulder mobility.
Although the bar rests on your back, the weight distribution during the safety bar squat is similar to the front squat. The design of the safety bar loads the body anteriorly just like the front squat. This allows better pelvic and torso position and better quad engagement.
All of this makes the safety bar squat a great front squat alternative.
- Place the bar on your back and place your hands on the front handles of the bar.
- Get into a squat stance and keep your elbows forward.
- Keep your chest up and your torso upward and get into a squat. Then push with your legs and get back up. Then repeat.
5. Cross-Arm Front Squat
One of the closest alternatives to the front squat. The only difference is the arm position and that you are holding the bar differently than in the regular front squat. This cross-arm hand position eliminates the wrist and upper body mobility being the limiting factor of your front squat.
- Get the barbell on the front part of your shoulders just like you would during the regular front squat.
- Bend your elbows and cross the forearms one on top of each other and grab the barbell with an overhand grip.
- Get into a squat stance and keep your elbows parallel to the floor. You should keep this elbow position as much as possible during the whole squat.
- Lower yourself into a squat. Make sure your arms are parallel to the ground and your back upright. Then get back to the starting position.
6. Belt Squat
The similarity of the belt squat compared to the front squat is the weight being distributed more evenly over your center of mass. This even weight distribution is even more significant in belt squats.
This kind of direct weight distribution over your center of mass improves your squat technique, squat range of motion, and eliminates any pressure on your back.
To do the belt squat, you will need either a belt squat platform in the gym or a dip belt and two improvised elevated platforms. These improvised platforms can be either two benches or two aerobic steps.
- Load the dip belt with desired weight, or if you’re doing it on the belt squat machine, attach the belt to the desired resistance.
- Get into a squat stance on the platform. Brace your core and get into a squat. As your thighs get at least parallel to the ground, push yourself to the starting position. Then repeat.
7. Narrow Stance Leg Press
The leg press is a great machine-based exercise to build your legs.
It puts a lot of emphasis on the quads, which makes it a great front squat alternative. The reason why you should use a narrow stance instead of the wider one is that the narrow stance activates more quads. This makes it closer to the front squat muscle activation.
The great thing about the leg press is that it is beginner-friendly. Much more than the front squat. This makes it a great alternative for building the legs if you’re a novice lifter. Also, there is no need to stabilize the weight, which allows you to control the movement more easily. This is great for everyone who is either new to lifting or has prior knee issues.
- Sit in the declined leg press. Rest your back on the padded support and place your feet at the weighted platform.
- Place your feet slightly narrower than your hip-width to activate more quads. Make sure the position is comfortable before you start with the lift.
- Lower the weighted platform until your knees are slightly less than a 90-degree angle. Don’t go too low because it could cause rounding in your lower back and put too much pressure on it,
- Push the platform up by extending your knees. Then repeat.
Single-Leg Front Squat Alternatives
8. Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
The split squat is a great single-leg exercise to build your legs. The foot elevation further emphasizes the quad activation.
The elevation doesn’t have to be drastic. The elevation of even just a few inches drastically increases quad activation. The key part of making this exercise effective is pushing the front knee forward. This will create greater knee flexion and better quad activation. If you want to make this exercise more challenging, grab a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
- Get into a split squat stance. Put the front foot on the elevated surface. Something elevated like an aerobic step will do the job.
- Lower yourself by pushing the front knee forward. Most of the weight should be on your front leg and the back knee should only slightly bend.
- From the bottom position push yourself up and then repeat.
9. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the better single-leg front squat alternatives. The setup is similar to the elevated split squat. The difference is that the non-working leg is elevated. The working leg is placed in front of you, while the non-working leg rests behind you on the elevated surface. This can be the bench, box, couch, etc.
Depending on the strength level, Bulgarian squats can be done bodyweight or weighted. To make the Bulgarian squat more challenging, grab dumbbells in your hands or place the barbell on your shoulders.
To activate more of the quads, the setup is very important. If you stand too far away from the bench, it will work your glutes more. If your goal is to activate the quads, step closer to the bench. However, don’t stand too close cause this could stress your knees too much. Make sure whichever position you chose feels comfortable.
- Place one foot in front of the other. Put the back leg on the bench and rest it there. Your weight should be on your front leg.
- Lower yourself into a deep lunge. Make sure you feel the front leg doing most of the work.
- As you get to the bottom position, push through your front heel to get up. Then repeat.
10. Dumbbell Step-Up
To perform this exercise, you will need a box, bench, or some other elevated surface.
The factor you need to consider is the height of the surface you step onto. The optimal height is when your knee is at approximately 90-degree when you place your foot on the surface. This is one of the more interesting front squat alternatives. To make it more challenging, do it with a pair of dumbbells in your hands or with wearing a weighted vest.
- Place your foot on an elevated surface. Make sure your foot is flat on the surface. Push your foot into the surface and feel your quads activate.
- Without the help of your back leg, push with the front leg and lift yourself up. Your knee should be fully extended at the top position.
- Return to the floor and repeat.
11. Backward Lunges
The backward lunges are a great exercise to build your legs. Also, it is a great starting point before jumping to other, more advanced, single-leg exercises. For example, the backward lunges are easier than Bulgarian split squats.
This makes them a great alternative for everyone who are trying to build the strength for more advanced exercises. You can make this exercise more challenging by placing dumbbells in your hands or putting a barbell on your shoulders.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Take one of your legs backward. Lower the knee of your back leg until it almost touches the floor.
- Make sure your body weight is mostly on your front leg. By pushing with your front leg, lift yourself up. Then repeat. You can do one leg at a time or alternate them after each rep.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is front squat harder than back squat?
A front squat leaves less room for compensations than a back squat. And this makes it is harder.
Also, the barbell is less stable in front of your body. This requires more work from your body to stabilize the weight. Also, the front squat engages less hips and glutes. This means your legs will have to do more work, and you will be able to lift less since more is demanded from your legs.
There are many ways to build great quads, and the front squat is only one of them. Which one is the best, depends on your goals, gym equipment, strength level, and your body’s mechanics.
However, even though there are numerous ways to build the quads, if the main reason you are avoiding the front squat is the lack of mobility in your body, you want to deal with that problem first. Avoiding the front squat because of the lack of mobility can be counterproductive and doesn’t solve the core issue.
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