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If you’re trying to build a better set of legs or gain functional power as well as size, you know you need to put a lot of focus into your lower body training. Let’s face it, leg days can be brutal. After a heavy set of any compound exercise, you may feel as though you’re about to lose your pre-workout meal, and the effects of a solid training session can be felt for days. But, when you’re trying to improve your lower body, those intense training sessions are a must. Building a strong lower body will provide you with a solid foundation upon which you can then focus on improving the rest of your physique.
Chances are you’ve heard that ‘squats are king’ when it comes to lower body training. If you want to get big, strong legs, squats are the only way to go.
However, what if you can’t squat? What if you’re suffering from an injury that limits your ability to squat? Or, what if you simply don’t have the range of motion to squat effectively? Or perhaps your biomechanics prevent you from executing a squat correctly?
If any of these situations apply to you, don’t stress. All hope is not lost! You can still get a great workout in and build powerful legs without doing a squat. To show you how, here are a few programming tips and a sample leg day to follow. Let’s get to work!
Just because you can’t squat doesn’t mean you can’t perform other compound lifts and reap the benefits. These are the money-makers as far as your workout goes – the exercises that deliver the most bang for your buck. Compound exercises are those which require more than one joint and muscle groups to execute. The recruitment of multiple muscle groups allow you to lift more weight total, which then translates to superior strength progression.
What are some good options to include? Try the leg press, hack squats, sumo squats (if you are able to do that variation of squats), as well as walking lunges. All of these have the body perform a very similar movement pattern to that of true squats, so they’ll produce similar benefits.
Because you aren’t doing the primary movement of the squat, you’ll want to ensure that you’re challenging your body optimally by working through a variety of rep ranges. When most people squat, they’ll do either very low reps using heavy weight to build maximum strength, or they’ll crank the rep range up, lightening the weight and ensuring that they’re maximizing hypertrophy while evoking metabolic effects.
Employ this same strategy with your other compound lifts. Choose one compound lift to go hard and heavy on and another to focus on higher rep ranges. This will have you working across all rep and metabolic spectrums, producing excellent results.
Another great tip to build powerful legs without squats is to alternate your foot position on your lifts. Take the leg press for example. You can do this exercise using a wide array of foot positions, which will target the quads at slightly different angles.
Turn the feet out and you’ll hit the inner thighs to a larger degree. Turn them in and you’ll feel the burn in your quad sweep. Use a wider stance leg position that’s higher up on the platform and your glutes will be called into play. Alternatively, move your feet together and you’ll get great outer quad stimulation as well.
While you definitely shouldn’t do all of these in a single workout, using these options week to week will ensure comprehensive leg work.
Finally, since you won’t have the stress of squats being placed on your body during leg day, feel free to up the frequency of your training slightly. Training more frequently is one of the best ways to kick-start strength and size gains, so don’t be afraid to try three lower body training days per week if you have time.
Just remember that not all three sessions should be maximum intensity sessions. Do one where you focus on heavier lifts for less reps, another where you focus primarily on quad building movements, and a third in which you focus on the glute and hamstring muscles. Some sessions should include higher reps, or slower movements as other ways to boost the intensity without needing to go heavy.
This will give you great balance throughout your workout week and since all muscles are called into play with each workout you do, you’ll still be seeing great progress through a higher stimulation frequency.
Ready to see how to put this information into action? Check out this squat-free leg building workout program.
1. Leg Press
2. Leg Press (with close stance)
3. Leg Press (with feet high up on platform)
4. Walking Lunges
5a. Leg Extensions: 4 sets of 15 reps
5b. Hamstring Curls: 4 sets of 15 reps
|4 Sets (Each)||15 (Each)|
Position yourself in a leg press machine and place the feet in the center of the footplate, about hip width apart.
Keeping the lower back pressed into the pad, press the platform away from the body, pushing through the center of the feet, and release the lock function. Continue pushing until legs are extended, pause, and then lower back to the start. Be careful to not lock the knees out at the top of the movement.
*Note for variations of this exercise, adjust the position of your feet on the platform as desired.
Stand in an upright position with a weighted barbell across your back, or holding dumbbells in your hands.
Keeping the back upright, step one foot forward about 2-3 feet and then slowly bend both knees as you lower yourself down through the movement. Pause when you’re at the lowest position and then press up. Step the back leg forward and continue on with the next rep repeating the movements on the other side.
Sit in a leg extension machine with the feet hooked under the foot pad, back flat against the back pad.
While relaxing the rest of the body, contract the quads and extend the leg. Pause at the top of the exercise and squeeze the muscle to really feel the contraction. With control, lower the legs back down to the starting position to complete the rep.
Sit in a hamstring curl machine and place the legs on top of the pad, with the lower calf resting on the pad.
Keeping the back against the back pad, contract the hamstrings and curl the feet towards the seat. Pause when your knees are as bent as they can go, and then slowly return to the starting position to complete the rep.
When you find yourself in a situation where you’re unable to squat, don’t feel as though your leg training sessions are pointless. You can still build size and strength with a variety of other exercises, focusing on the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, all the major muscle groups of the lower body. Make use of the tips provided, and give the sample workout a try. You may find a new way to target your quads that works optimally for you.