10 Squat Alternatives To Hit Every Lower-Body Muscle at Once

Photo: Getty Images / Antonio_Diaz
As beneficial as squats may be, some folks either don’t love performing them or they don’t have the range of motion to perform them safely and effectively.

With that in mind, bande founding instructor Amanda Jenny's top 10 squat alternatives deliver the burn you need to make leg day the best workout of your week.

10 squat alternatives to work your lower body

1. Hip bridge

You know the people who are laying down and seem to be humping the air at the gym? They’re performing one of the best squat alternatives—hip bridges! According to Jenny, this movement is great for working your glutes and hamstrings.

To properly perform a hip bridge, she says to lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart. “Lengthen your arms by your sides and you should be able to graze the back of your heels,” she says. “Lift your hips in the air as far as you can go with your ribs knitted in and your core tight, control your hips back down to the mat.” That’s one rep. PErform as many as feel comfortable for your body. That said, three sets of up to 12 reps is ideal.

How to do a bridge, the right way:

2. Single-leg bridge

Once you master a hip bridge, it’s time to make it more challenging. And, according to Jenny, a single-leg bridge is the perfect next step.

To perform the movement, you follow the same instructions as a regular hip bridge, only this time you do so with one leg lifted straight into the air, rather than with your foot planted down. “Press into your supporting heel and lift your hips in the air as far as you can go,” Jenny instructs, reminding us to keep your core tight during the process.

3. Side-lying leg lifts

Here we have a move that that's relic of the '80s yet totally relevant today. Despite its retro nature, it has modern benefits. Namely, Jenny says that it strengthens your abductors, including both your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

“Lie on your side with your spine parallel to the long edge of your mat,” says Jenny. “Pike your legs forward to the top corner edge of your mat. Lift your top leg to hip height. Lift up a few inches and then return to hip height.”

To make it more challenging, she says to place a resistance band around your thighs, just a few inches above your knees.

4. Clamshells

Here we have another squat alternative that’s been around for decades. Like a lying leg lift, clamshells work your abductors.

“Lie on your side with your spine parallel to the long edge of your mat,” Jenny instructs. “Bend your knees and kick your heels slightly toward your glutes. Squeeze your heels together. Lift and lower your top leg without losing connection at your feet.”

Again, to level up the movement, she says to place a resistance band around your thighs, which will put more pressure on your glutes while opening.

5. Reverse lunges

Looking to target more than just your glutes? Jenny says that reverse lunges are a great squat alternative, as they work your booty, as well as your hamstrings, core, and quads.

“Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart,” she says. “Step backward and bend both knees until both legs make a 90-degree angle. Drive through your front heel and return to the starting position.”

You can perform this movement for reps or time. Either way, it will give you the booty burn you’re looking for.

How to do a reverse lunge:

6. Side lunges

Moving in a different direction, Jenny says that side lunges are another solid squat alternative for targeting your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and, bonus, inner thighs.

Again, she says to begin by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart. “Step out to the side and bend the leg you’re stepping on,” she says. “Straighten your opposite leg and keep the majority of the weight over your bent leg. Press off your primary foot and return to the starting position.”

When performing this movement, just be sure to push your hips back to keep your weight evenly distributed, which will help keep pressure off your knees.

7. Deadlifts

You can perform this squat alternative with a barbell or with dumbbells in each hand. For accessibilities sake, Jenny shares how to perform the movement with free weights.

“Hold a weight in either hand and place your arms in front of your thighs with your palms turned towards you,” she says. “Soften your knees and reach your hips back in space as you bend at your waist and reach the weights towards the floor. Engage your glutes as you return to standing.”

Performing this movement will strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, hips, core, and back. In that way, it’s not only a squat alternative but an optimal full-body exercise.

8. Single-leg deadlift

If you want to focus on enhancing your balance, consider single-leg deadlifts.

Jenny says to begin the same way you would a traditional deadlift, only just before beginning, lift one leg.

“Bend and lift one leg so your knee is raised in front of your belly button and you’re balanced on the opposite leg,” she instructs. “Begin to hinge your torso forward as you extend your lifted leg long back behind you, reach your weights towards the floor. Stop when your head and your heel are in one horizontal line. Drive through your standing heel and return to the balanced position.”

The beauty of this lift is that in addition to all of the formerly mentioned benefits of deadlifts, working on one leg helps target your calves, too.

Learn to do a single-leg deadlift:

9. Weighted kick-ups

Some squat alternatives can even work your upper body. Case in point? Weighted kick-ups. According to Jenny, these side lifts help to work not only your core, hamstrings, and glutes but your upper body, too.

“Come to all fours,” she begins. “Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Place a weight behind your knee and kick your heel towards your pelvis to lock the weight in place. Raise your thigh away from the floor while engaging your core. Squeeze your glutes at the top and then control your leg back down to the starting position.”

10. Foldover

This barre-inspired movement is a killer for your core and glutes.

To perform it, Jenny says to place your hands (palm over palm) on a stool or stable chair and then place your head on your hands. “Walk your legs back until your head is in line with your hips,” she says. “Lift one leg straight back behind you and soften your supporting leg. Lower your back leg until your toe taps the ground and then lift it up to your highest point where you feel your glutes engage.” When performing this move, it’s imperative to keep your core tight and your back uninvolved. Oftentimes, folks will overextend their lower back to lift their leg, but this movement should be focused solely on the glutes.

And there you have it, 10 squat alternatives that you can perform from just about anywhere. Whichever movements you choose to incorporate into your routine, Jenny says that they’re safe to perform daily or at whatever frequency feels best for your body.

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