Everyone knows the “big three” and no, I’m not talking about the previous trio for the Miami Heat. On a real note, I would guess that almost anyone reading this right now is aware of the three main movements in the bodybuilding and powerlifting world, but for those who don’t, let’s cover them quickly anyway. There is the bench press, the deadlift, and the King of them all and the main focus of our efforts today: the squat.
Those three make up all the competition lifts for powerlifting meets across the world and at the very least, gives people bragging rights around the gym about who has the biggest numbers. Although it truly is one of the best exercises one could do to build a nice set of wheels or really a strong core and body in general, I am going to offer you a few alternatives that can be almost, if not equally, as useful.
This movement is quickly becoming one of the most popular exercises that someone would see when they walk into any LA Fitness or Gold’s Gym across the country. From my own personal experience, I have just found that I simply feel more activation in my quads when I perform this movement so that is really the reason why they have become a staple in my leg routine. Aside from that, there are a few benefits to doing these over the beloved back squat (although, I would never suggest that you should completely get rid of them unless you have an ailment that inhibits you to back squat).
Anyone who conventionally squats on a regular basis knows that when they first started, or even on a regular basis if your form isn’t in check, that loading the bar up on your back can put a lot of compressive force on your lower back. Not only is that unhealthy from an overall standpoint, but it can affect all aspects of your training and I would assume that most of us are in this for the long haul and a bad back or weeks/months off of training due to injury is in no way going to help us reach our fitness goals. In addition, the front squat can be easier on your knees and requires a good bit of flexibility that can translate over to the back squat and make your form that much better. If you aren’t a believer in this movement by now, I really just think it isn’t for you (but I would give it a shot anyway… you never know).
Just the other day, one of my friends saw me doing these at the gym and mocked me asking me why I did “female” movements, for no other reason than most of the people I see in the gym doing these are the ladies. If that’s really the view you take on this movement, I want you to try these on your next leg session and let’s see what you think of them because I assure you the pump in your legs will be crazy, and you’ll make these a staple movement from there on out. As far as the movement itself, it’s very easy for anyone to do; you simply get into your normal squat stance and hold a dumbbell out in front of you – it kind of mimics a front squat. As far as for your grip on the dumbbell, you can either interlock your fingers around the handle or you can place the lower end of your palms around on each side and go that route.
The reason I like this one so much is because of its versatility; you can vary your stance and go wide or narrow or even add pause reps to really feel the burn. This variation is also very good for beginners because it is pretty difficult to have terrible form which makes it very difficult for someone to injure themselves when doing this.
Bulgarian Split Squats or Lunges
I think the main attraction to these as of recently, and for a good reason, is unilateral training; doing this allows you to concentrate on one leg at a time and can ensure that you don’t end up with muscle imbalances down the road. In addition, if it works and is utilized on a regular basis for upper body training, why not take advantage of it for your legs as well? The only drawback to theses is the balance factor; at least for myself and most people that I have talked to, it usually takes a few times to really get the hang of these exercises, but once you do, you can start adding the weight and building a solid set of wheels.
These are also great to do at the end of your workouts because it really targets all areas of your legs and you don’t really need a lot of weight to get the full benefit of these exercises. Overall, they definitely aren’t the most fun exercises to do and you’ll definitely feel some pain when you do them, but if you really want to build some mass to your legs, I would give these a go.
Overall, legs are one of, if not the, most important training days during the week and to ensure full development in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, etc, I would definitely give the above variations a try and mix it up a little bit. As I said before, these are in no way a substitution for the normal back squat, but they can be very effective and offer some new and fun challenges!