When it comes to lower body exercises, squats are the gold standard. They help tone and strengthen multiple different muscles in one simple motion, and they can be modified in a variety of different ways. If you’re trying to build muscle in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, then squats are definitely a great exercise to master.
One popular variation of this exercise is the barbell squat.
As the name implies, barbell squats involve placing a barbell on your shoulders as you complete a squatting motion. You can add as much or as little weight as you’re comfortable with. By adding more weight, you can push yourself further and build more muscle in your lower body.
The problem, however, is that barbell squatting involves equipment that may not be available to you if you’re working out at home. These squats require a barbell with weight plates, as well as a squat rack or power cage to help you get the barbell in the correct position.
For many people, bodyweight alternatives may be a better and more accessible option because they don’t require any equipment. If you’re considering calisthenic exercises over weightlifting, here are some bodyweight alternatives that can provide some of the same benefits as barbell squats.
As we mentioned earlier, there is a wide variety of different squat variations that you can complete to help build muscle in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Even with just your own body weight, you have dozens of choices.
The basic squat is your building block for all of the other variations. As a quick refresher, a basic squat involves placing your feet shoulder-width apart and lowering your butt until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
Once you’ve mastered the basic form, you can move on to variations that involve different holds, leg movements, and jumps.
Some popular bodyweight squat variations include:
- Sumo squats
- Pistol squats
- Lateral squats
- Jump squats
- Bulgarian split squats
Check out this video for a look at some of these variations:
No matter what type of squat you’re completing, it’s important to make sure you have the proper form. Squatting incorrectly, even with just your body weight, can lead to problems with your back or knees.
Since the bodyweight squat involves less weight than the barbell squat, you’ll want to complete a higher number of reps to really get a good workout. If you get bored with the same exercise, try completing alternating sets of different movements to keep your mind engaged.
In addition to squatting, you can also try lunging to build up your lower body muscles. Lunges are a simple and effective exercise that tone some of the same areas as squats.
Here’s a look at the proper form for a basic lunge:
Just like with squats, it’s important to keep good form when you’re lunging, so you don’t injure your knees or back. Make sure your front knee doesn’t go too far past your ankle when you dip down. Also make sure to keep your back as flat as possible, not arched.
Once you’ve mastered the basic movement, you can start to increase the level of difficulty. For more of a cardio workout, you can do walking lunges across the room. For more of a balance exercise, try putting your hands up to your ears.
#3 Duck Walks
A third exercise to try is the duck walk. Much like the barbell squat, duck walks work your butt and thighs. But they don’t require any fancy gym equipment.
Duck walks can easily be done in your home or wherever you choose to work out. Here’s a look at how to do them:
Now we’ve said it (more than) once, and we’ll say it again: form is key. You don’t want to put too much pressure on your knees or arch your back. The secret to a good duck walk is to keep your core really tight to help stabilize you as you move.
With just bodyweight squats, lunges, and duck walks, you can get some of the same benefits as you would from barbell squats. And the best part is that you can do them wherever you like.
As we mentioned earlier, you may need to do more repetitions to really feel the burn from bodyweight exercises. But with added repetitions also comes an added cardio workout. In addition to building muscle, you can get your heart pumping and improve your overall cardiovascular health.
While these exercises can be a great substitute for some people, others may feel that they need the added challenge of the barbell squat to reach their desired fitness level.
If you have access to the necessary equipment, then there’s really no need to substitute the barbell squat for anything else. The truth is that there is no direct substitute for the results that barbell squatting can get you. While the exercises listed above may help you move towards some of the same goals, the barbell squats can be more effective.
But why is that?
Essentially, it all comes down to how hard you can push your body. Once you reach a certain level of strength, the resistance from just your own bodyweight is often not enough to get you to the next level of fitness (although a weighted vest can help for some exercises).
When you do weight-bearing exercises like barbell squats, you can actually push yourself further and force your muscles to work as hard as they can. When supplemented with the right nutrition, you can start to build more muscle by pushing your different muscle groups to their limits.
At the end of the day, each person is different and has his or her own unique fitness goals. There are many different roads you can take to get to your ideal physique.
So whether you’re cranking out some barbell squats at the gym or doing some bodyweight alternatives in the comfort of your own home, what’s really important is that you stay safe and stay motivated to reach your personal fitness goals.
Founder of www.calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.