3 Squat Variations For Lower Body Training
If you go to the gym I’m sure you will have performed some variation of a squat in your weight training routine. Squats are a popular beginner exercise for lower body training as they target the glutes, quads and hamstrings. It’s also a functional exercise that is performed in many daily activities — anytime we bend down to grab something.
Despite being such a popular lower body exercise, squats are not always ideal. In fact, I have many other exercises I would encourage prioritising over squats, especially for people who are new to exercise and weight training.
What’s Wrong With Squats?
Why do I prefer other lower body exercises over the squat? Despite appearing to be a fairly straightforward exercise, it’s actually quite difficult for many people to perform correctly and safely. This is exaggerated further for barbell back squats where weight is loaded onto the spine.
There are many squat faults that often go missed such as a ‘butt wink’. This happens when you bend your knees and there’s too much extension in the lumbar spine and pelvic rotations. It shifts the weight heavily to one side of the hips when coming out of the bottom of the squat and can cause you to injure a muscle.
Due to the load on the spine with weighted squats, any deviation from a fairly neutral position in the squat can lead to wear and tear or injury on the discs and joints of the spine.
Squat Variations You Can Try
I have several lower body exercises that I prefer to do over squatting and often prescribe them to my patients. Check them out below!
The Bulgarian split squat is more of a modified lunge than a squat. This is a great exercise for activating the gluteus maximus (butt muscles) as well as the hamstrings, without allowing for as many of the faults we see in squatting.
Another advantage is that it targets each side individually, focusing on the front leg. It is an extremely functional exercise and one I believe should be used first as a way of creating single-leg strength before moving into barbell squats.
Romanian deadlifts or RDLs are a hinge movement and a great way of strengthening the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. They teach the body how to hinge around the hip and when performed correctly are a great exercise for strengthening the posterior chain muscles. There are two variations of this exercise, the normal Romanian deadlift and a single leg squat variation as shown in the illustration above.
It’s important to maintain a neutral spine when performing this exercise. This avoids placing pressure on the joints and discs but overall it is a fairly straightforward exercise for people who are new to strength-focused exercises. Start with light dumbbells and watch your form the mirror until you get the hang of this exercise. This is one of my favourite exercises and a great alternative to squats.
The leg press machine is a brilliant way to strengthen the lower body without the extra load of using free-weight squats. The seated position stabilises the spine and the weight is easily controlled using the machine. This gives you all the benefits of squats without the added risk of injury from poor form.
It is also a safe way of starting to use heavier weights in lower body training as you get stronger and more confident. Eventually, you can test variations using this machine such as single-leg press or banded leg press to target different muscle groups in the hips and lower body.
Give These Beginner Exercises A Try
Next time you want to train your lower body, consider swapping out the squats for alternative exercises like the Bulgarian split squat, Romanian deadlift and leg press.
Whether you are experienced in weight training or just getting started, these exercises are well worth giving a try. They will reduce your chance of injury and focus on targeting your quads hamstrings and glutes.
If you would like advice to avoid injury whilst training at the gym or need assistance with a sports injury, feel free to get in touch or book an appointment with my Brisbane CBD chiro clinic Dynamic Chiropractic. I would be happy to help!
Miki is registered with the Chiropractor’s Association of Australia and holds a B.Chiro, BPhEd (Exercise Prescription).