Barbell Front Squat Alternatives and Variations for Leg Workout Routines

As an exercise, the squat improves balance and performance, can prevent orthopedic problems early on, and aids in muscle development. However, sometimes you might want to find an alternative exercise for squats to change your workout, these are called barbell front squat alternatives and variations.

A barbell front squat is highly effective at improving muscle tone, strength, performance, and posture. It places a heavy focus on the quadriceps, which are the muscles on the front of your thigh. Athletes that require stamina and strength in their legs will often perform front squats.

The barbell front squat is a difficult compound exercise to master because it requires significant mobility. Fortunately, there are several front squat alternatives and variations that will provide similar benefits, but in a more user-friendly way. Whether you are an Olympic lifter, an aspiring athlete, or a bodybuilder, these exercises will help lighten the load.

1. Elevated Heels Front Squat

The elevated heels front squat is a good alternative exercise for the front squat that works your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It’s ideal for anyone who struggles to do a full squat and wants to build muscle. However, powerlifters would be better off with a different exercise.

One common mistake lifters make with this exercise is lifting their heels. If your heels are properly elevated on weights or in squat shoes, you won’t need to raise them any further. If you want to avoid feeling like you need to lift your feet, you can invest in some squat shoes with elevated heels.

Although the elevated heels front squat can be a great alternative to the barbell front squat, it has its downsides. In particular, the exercise puts more stress on your knees and less emphasis on your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, otherwise known as your posterior chain. 

2. Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a beginner-level front squat alternative that works your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, along with your core, forearms, biceps, and shoulders. This front barbell squat alternative is excellent for anyone who wants to build muscle or perfect their form. It also works as a great warm-up exercise for all skill levels.

Goblet Squat
Goblet Squat

The goblet squat will be a solid substitute if you don’t have a barbell handy for your squats. One of the main benefits of the goblet squat is that it helps you perfect your squat form by forcing your body into the appropriate chest-up position that a squat requires.

Two of the most common mistakes with the goblet squat are leaning forward as you lower into the squat and angling your knees inward. However, with proper practice, you’ll be able to perfect your form in no time.

If you want to add to your workout a bit, you can elevate your heels, as you would during the elevated heels squat, to put some more pressure on your quads.

3. Offset Kettlebell Front Squat

The offset kettlebell front squat is a barbell front squat alternative that targets the quadriceps and works your abdominals, calves, glutes, hamstrings, and obliques.

This front squat alternative is great for beginner lifters who want a more challenging goblet squat alternative. In this variation, you’ll hold the kettlebell in one hand off to the side of your body. Hence, the offset aspect.

If you don’t have access to a kettlebell, you can substitute a dumbbell instead. However, you should consider lowering your weight by about 30% to compensate for the change in position.

4. Band-Resisted Front Squat

The band-resisted front squat is a variation of the barbell front squat that works the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. In this variation, you’ll swap out a barbell or dumbbell for a resistance band that loops under your feet. It’s a good choice for beginners who haven’t mastered barbell squats.

If you’re comfortable with the barbell front squat, you shouldn’t have any trouble with this. It’s an ideal exercise because it doesn’t require any equipment aside from a resistance band, making it easy to do anywhere.

The main differences between band-resisted squats and weighted squats are that bands provide variable resistance throughout the exercise, emphasize downward movement, and allow you to be more explosive on your upward movements. 

5. Zercher Squat

A frequent favorite of Strongmen, the Zercher squat is the hardest front squat alternative you can try. It’s an “odd lift,” which combines multiple exercises into one. Like the front and goblet squats, the barbell will go across your front instead of your trapezius muscles.

However, unlike any other squat, you’ll bend your arms and place the barbell in the bend of your elbows. You’ll use a fairly wide stance for the Zercher, so take some time to find what feels best. When you squat, you’ll want your elbows to be inside your thighs and knees, not on top or outside.

If the barbell slips, hurts or just feels awkward in your arms, you can put some padding around it for a bit of added comfort. Regardless, this exercise will feel off, at least at first. Before you attempt the Zercher, though, you should try to master the front squat and deadlift.

6. Safety Bar Squat

The safety bar squat offers a unique benefit to lifters who have damage to their rotator cuffs and tendonitis because it requires you to use an alternate front squat grip. Whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or Strongman, you’ll be able to increase your strength while reducing the likelihood of injury using this specialty bar.

Safety Bar Squat
Safety Bar Squat

This barbell squat alternative is one of the best alternatives on this list because you can use the safety bar to perform nearly any exercise. It’s not a specific exercise so much as it’s a way to make more exercises accessible to more lifters.

That said, the bar’s position in any exercise will cause the lifter to tilt forward a bit. In fighting against that tilt, you’ll be working the muscles in your upper back in a way you can’t with the other exercises. At the same time, you’ll reduce stress on your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.

Balance can be an issue with the safety bar. The best way to counteract any balance issues is by bracing your core correctly and remembering to breathe. 

7. Narrow Stance Leg Press

The narrow stance leg press is a machine-based alternative to the barbell front squat. It’s suitable for all skill levels and a great way to build your lower-body strength. Like the barbell squat, the narrow stance leg press works your quads. It’s also a great choice as a belt squat alternative.

To do the narrow stance leg press, you simply lay down on the machine and place your feet shoulder-width apart (or a bit closer together, if you’re more comfortable). Be sure to do the full press to get the full benefit of this exercise.

An important thing to remember is that this is a narrow-stance exercise, so don’t spread your legs further apart than your shoulders. Do your narrow stance leg presses in 3-4 second intervals for best results.

8. Box Pistol Squat

The box pistol squat is an excellent barbell front squat substitute if you’ve never done any type of pistol squat, or single-leg squat, before. It’s a versatile alternative to the barbell front squat because it works most of the muscles in your legs, including your obliques. 

Since mastering the pistol squat can be difficult due to stability requirements, the box pistol squat can build you up to the level of stability you’ll need to do the single-leg squat. 

If you’re aiming to improve stability, boost hip control, and correct a side-to-side strength imbalance, the box pistol squat will help. If you need a bit of assistance when starting out, you can briefly touch your heel to the floor during the squat. However, remember not to place your full weight on the box or bench when you squat.

9. Dumbbell Step-Up

As a barbell front squat alternative, the dumbbell step-up is a good choice if you want to boost your deadlift strength, increase stability, and improve hip and knee strength. In addition to working your core, the dumbbell step-up will put your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves to work.

It’s important to remember to use a box that’s at least 8-inches tall. You’ll be able to increase the box’s height, but that’s where you want to start.

If you find yourself rounding your back or standing on your toes at all, take a moment to correct your stance, as those can put unnecessary stress on your shoulders and knees. 

Also, if you notice your lower back straining as you move, consider checking your box height. It shouldn’t be any higher than midthigh, although if you’re just starting out, you’ll want it to be lower.

10. High Bar Pause Squat

The high bar pause squat is a good barbell front squat alternative that focuses significantly on the quadriceps and trapezius muscles. It also puts less strain on the lower back, so it allows you to target your workout without hurting your back.

Because the pause squat is one of the most challenging squats to master, you’ll need to work up to it from other exercises. However, if you’re hoping to increase muscle strength in your core, back, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, this exercise is a great choice.

Also, be aware that your lifting weight should decrease. If you’re using your standard squat weight and are struggling, look at reducing your weight by about 10%. 

Another common mistake is not pausing long enough. To take full advantage of the high bar pause squat, and count to two once you’ve reached your squat.

11. Cross-Arm Front Squat

If you want an alternative to the barbell front squat that doesn’t deviate too much from the original, the cross-arm front squat will do nicely. It works all the same muscles, but it puts less pressure on the wrists, requiring less mobility.

The main thing to remember with this exercise is to keep your upper arms parallel to the floor. Fixing this mistake can help keep the barbell on your shoulders.

If you’ve chosen to switch to the cross-arm front squat because of poor mobility in your wrist, you should try to find a good routine that will help correct the problem. 

12. Front Rack Barbell Split Squat

The front rack barbell split squat is a single-leg alternative for the front squat, which means the bulk of the movement will be coming from one leg instead of being evenly divided between both. It focuses on the front rack position when the barbell rests across your collarbone and shoulders.

This alternative front squat exercise is for experienced lifters and can take some time to master. However, it’s a great alternative to the barbell front squat because it isolates your leg muscles, tests your balance, and lets you build strength using less weight.

One common mistake is putting your legs one in front of the other, leading to balance issues. Instead, make sure your front foot is slightly to the side. Your hips should be moving straight up and down, so if they’re not, take a moment to readjust your stance.

13. Front Foot Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat

The front foot elevated dumbbell split squat is similar to the front rack barbell split squat. It’s a solid alternative to the barbell front squat because it isolates your quads and allows you to practice your balance. 

In this variation, your front foot should be elevated on a block, weight, or another object, with your other leg behind you. If you’re struggling with balance or grip using dumbbells, you can swap out for a barbell instead, which will give you a better front squat alternative grip. Or, if you have one available, you can use a weight vest.

What to Know About Barbell Front Squat Alternatives and Variations

Squats are one of the most beneficial exercises you can work into your lifting routine. Below you’ll find a few more facts about the barbell front squat variations described.

What to Know About Barbell Front Squat Alternatives and Variations
What to Know About Barbell Front Squat Alternatives and Variations

Which Barbell Front Squat Alternative Is Beginner Friendly?

The goblet squat is one of the best exercises for beginners because it helps you perfect your squat form while building muscle. In addition, you can use it as a jumping-off point for other, more complicated exercises.

Which Barbell Front Squat Alternative Is Better for Legs?

If you want one of the best legs exercises, the box pistol squat is a great option because it targets most of the muscles in your lower half. It’s also a good Smith machine front squat alternative.

Which Barbell Front Squat Replacement Exercise Is Better for Quads?

The narrow stance leg press is an ideal replacement for the barbell front squat if you’re looking for the best quads exercises. The narrow stance provides more benefits than a wider stance when building quad strength.

Which Barbell Front Squat Substitute Is Better for Strength?

The Zercher squat is a common strongman exercise because it combines several exercises into one. It builds strength, stamina, and balance.

When Should an Athlete Use the Barbell Front Squat Alternative for Exercise?

Lifters who struggle with mobility in their wrists and elbows are the most likely to benefit from barbell front squat alternatives. If you fall into that category, you should try some of the available alternatives.

What Are the Advantages of Substituting the Barbell Front Squat?

The advantage of using one of the alternative exercises for front squats listed here is that they provide similar benefits to the barbell front squat but make it easier for lifters who might struggle with standard front squats due to shoulder and wrist pain. 

Which Barbell Front Squat Alternative Is Safer Than Regular Front Squat?

The safety bar squat is the safest alternative to the barbell front squat. It allows lifters better mobility while taking pressure off of critical areas.

Can Barbell Front Squat Alternatives Replace the Barbell Front Squat?

Many barbell front squat alternatives offer the same or similar benefits as the barbell front squat. Although not all alternatives will be adequate replacements, most will do the job.

The barbell front squat is a powerful exercise to incorporate into your lifting routine. However, it’s not for everyone. If you need a barbell front squat alternative, the options listed here will do the trick.

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