Even though you’ll religiously see people preaching that you must do squats, or squats are the best way to build your lower body…it’s simply not always the case. People with pre-existing injuries, joint pain in the back, knees or hips, or even if you just aren’t a comfortable squatter…these are all reasons why squats aren’t for everyone. Here’s 3 alternatives that will give just as good a results as squats in the gym.
This one probably seems a no-brainer..because it is. Leg press is designed to work the full lower body without the need for any spinal compression or as many niggles to your joints. It’s a lot safer to use and will allow you to progressively overload on the weight you use over time, without worrying about needing a spotter or safety rack. The other great thing is that there’s multiple different leg presses in gyms from decline ones, horizontal presses, squat machines etc. They’re all great and because of the isolated movement you can build serious leg power and muscle.
Although you can change your feet positioning on a leg press to vary the results you get (I.e. higher placed feet for more hamstrings and glutes, or lower for more quads), the leg press will primarily hit your quads/thighs. This is why leg extension is such a great thigh exercise in the gym. You can isolate your quads only, taking your hamstrings and glutes out of it…so this is a fantastic way to grow and strengthen that area if it’s an area of concern for you. Again, it’s safe, easy to use and because it doesn’t use multiple muscle groups at once, it’s not such a drain on your central nervous system like big lifts like squats are. Want more lower body balance? You can also isolate with leg curl for hamstrings too!
This is one of those exercises that has massive benefits but you rarely see people doing anymore. Step ups allow you to load weight while basically using your thighs to step up to an upright position. You can do this by holding dumbbells at your side (for those looking to get away from the spinal compression of a back loaded barbell), as a body weight exercise (although overloading weight over time will yield better results)…or if you have no back concerns you can do this with a barbell across the top of your back. Tiny step ups may not stimulate your legs as much as deep squats, so challenge yourself with the height of your step up without sacrificing form. We also recommend doing all reps on one leg before alternating, that way you’re correctly overloading one leg at a time for better results.
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