The barbell front squat is one of the safer squat variations because it places less strain on the back. Yet, balancing the bar on the front of the shoulders also really limits how much weight you can squat during the exercise.
So, we’re going to go over seven alternatives for when the barbell front squat just isn’t cutting it anymore.
Table of Contents
1. Goblet Squat
Let’s be honest – Overloading the bar during a barbell front squat can cause the bar to dig into your shoulders or your wrists to begin aching. That’s why the goblet squat is the perfect alternative.
With the use of a single dumbbell (or a kettlebell) clenched in front of your chest and a greater focus on your squat technique, you can improve your squat form and get some much-needed front-loaded squats into your workout.
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- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a single dumbbell grasped in both hands in front of you.
- Keeping your back straight and looking forward, lower yourself until you reach about a 90-degree angle in both of your knees
- Use your feet to push up off the floor and return to your starting position.
2. Crossed-Arm Barbell Front Squat
One of the biggest complaints about performing heavy barbell front squats is that they hurt the wrists. That’s because both wrists are forced into an awkward backward position that most people just aren’t used to.
With the crossed-arm barbell front squat, you’re basically doing a regular barbell front squat. The only real difference is that your arms will be crossed in front of you and will be securing the barbell from above (rather than below).
- Balance a barbell on your shoulders (like a regular barbell front squat), but cross your arms across your body so that you’re gripping the barbell from above with each hand.
- With your feet about shoulder-width apart, begin to drop down to about a 90-degree angle in your knees.
- Push up off of the floor with your feet to return to your starting position.
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3. Bulgarian Split Squat
When you max out your front squat and can’t load the bar any further without causing pain, it’s time to find another exercise. One of the best ways to do this is by transitioning to single-leg squat exercises.
The Bulgarian split squat allows you to target one leg at a time, so there’s no need to put any extra strain on your shoulders by attempting to balance even more weight. Plus, you can do this exercise with a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or a medicine ball (and you need a bench too!).
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- Grasp a dumbbell, medicine ball, or kettlebell in your hands in front of you while standing in front of a bench while facing away.
- Balance the toes of one of your feet on the bench behind you and take a step or two out from the bench.
- Use the front leg to squat down until you reach a 90-degree angle.
- Return to your starting position.
4. Hack Squat
So, you do barbell front squats because they aren’t as tough on the back, but now they’re becoming a little hard on your wrists and shoulders as well. Sometimes, it’s best to stick to the basics and revert to using machines.
The best part about the hack squat machine is that it guides you through the squatting motion. That makes it much easier to keep proper form from start to finish and avoid “cheating” to pump out those last few reps.
- Place your feet about shoulder-width apart on the machine’s platform.
- Release the latch on the machine to allow the weight to become usable.
- Lower yourself down into a squat position at about a 90-degree angle in the legs.
- Push up off the platform and return to your starting position.
5. Dumbbell Squat
You might think that only the newbies at the gym use dumbbells for leg exercises, but that’s simply not true. The dumbbell squat is a great way to target your quadriceps and glutes while also working on your forearm strength.
This exercise only requires the use of two equal weighted dumbbells. The movement might be a little awkward when you move up to the heavier dumbbells, but it’s a great place to start if you’re not yet ready for the front squat.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart with one dumbbell in each hand and your arms relaxed.
- Lower yourself down into a squat position until your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
- Apply force against the floor with your feet and return to your starting position.
6. Zercher Squat
When you want to hit even more muscles on leg day, think about adding the Zercher squat to your routine. By gripping the barbell in the crooks of your elbows rather than on your shoulders, you can also work the trapezius and biceps a little bit.
The Zercher squat definitely isn’t for everybody, especially if you’re looking to lift heavy. It can be uncomfortable to support the barbell in your shoulder crooks, an area that tends to be a little weaker than your shoulders and back.
- Approach the squat rack and grip the barbell in the creases of your elbows.
- With your arms fully flexed, allow yourself to sink into a squat position while not extending past a 90-degree angle.
- Extend your legs and return to your starting position.
7. Weighted Step-up
When you’re simply out of options or limited in equipment, the weighted step-up might very well be the best at-home alternative to the barbell front squat. That’s because all you really need are some type of weight (dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, etc.) and a step.
What’s great about the weighted step-up is that you can somewhat personalize it to your own needs. You can change the height of the step to better target the quads and glutes, just like if you were doing a deeper squat.
- Hold some sort of weight in your hands and grasp it close to your body, standing in front of and facing a bench or step.
- Plant one leg on the step in front of you.
- Push up off the step (or bench) and bring your second leg up onto the bench.
- Step back down with the opposite leg and allow the other leg to follow.
- Alternate legs between reps.
Front Squat Alternatives Conclusion
Though easier on the back than other variations of squats, the barbell front squat can be a little painful on the shoulders and wrists. Before you completely remove front squats from your routine, consider the alternatives that use different equipment and target additional muscles.