Looking for barbell front squat alternatives? If so, you're in the right place.

While they're one of the best exercises for quad development, and have been performed by gym goers for decades, doing them isn't always possible. 

So what happens if you want to work your quads, but can't (or don't want to) do barbell front squats?

This guide shows you 13 of the best front squat alternative exercises, so you can get the benefits of a barbell front squat without needing to perform the exercise.

If you can’t perform a barbell front squat, or simply don't want to, don’t panic... there are plenty of options out there for you.

In the list below, I'll guide you through 13 of my favorite front squat alternatives and show you how to perform each one. By the time you’re done, you’ll have quads thicker than Tom Platz.

1. Smith Machine Front Squat (Barbell Front Squat Alternative)

Man Doing Smith Machine Front Squat Exercise

One popular front squat alternative is the smith machine front squat. It helps support some of the weight on the barbell, giving you a vertical channel for the bar to move along.

As the barbell is fixed, you require less stabilization than you’d need with a free weight barbell. This is useful as you can learn the front squat form without placing yourself in too much danger.

I've used this front squat substitute with clients many times, as they can safely perform this movement by themselves once I've finished training them.

However, one thing you need to be aware of is that the Smith machine front squat moves along a fixed plane, so it doesn't allow your body or joints to move how they want. This may sometimes cause aggravation in your joints. While it doesn't happen often, it's worth taking a note.

If you're unable to perform the Smith machine squat due to limited equipment or lack of access to a Smith machine, there are plenty of smith machine squat alternatives that can effectively target and engage your lower body muscles.


  • Develops quad mass. 
  • No spotter required. 
  • Great for all ability levels.

How to do it: 

  1. Place the barbell across your shoulders, holding onto the bar with a “front rack” position.  
  2. Unhook the barbell.  
  3. Place your feet shoulder-width.  
  4. Bend your knees and lower yourself until your knees reach 90-degrees.  
  5. Push up through your feet, sitting back into your heels.  
  6. Repeat. When you’ve finished, lock the barbell by hooking it back to the smith machine.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't forget to use the safety spotter arms that are usually attached to the rail of the Smith machine. These will add an extra level of safety to your workout. 

2. Goblet Squat (Front Squat Alternative For At Home)

Man Doing Goblet Squats

The goblet squat is a relatively simple movement which requires minimal equipment and a small amount of space.

By performing the goblet squat, you’ll reinforce the upright position you need for the barbell front squat, allowing you to learn the mechanics of the movement without the high learning curve. It's one of my favorite quadriceps exercises to perform in my home gym.

I used this front squat replacement when I used to train in my bedroom as a teenager (all those years ago). Don't underestimate this movement, it's fantastic.


  • Great for beginners. 
  • Suitable for small gym spaces.
  • Develops your quads and core strength.

How to do it: 

  1. Select a dumbbell and hold it with both hands underneath one of the ends (so the dumbbell is vertical).
  2. Place the dumbbell at chest height, keeping your elbows tucked in towards your body, pushing them forward.  
  3. Take a shoulder-width stance with your toes slightly pointing out and lower yourself into a squat.  
  4. When you reach your maximum depth, push through your feet until you’re upright, squeezing the quads and glutes through the movement.  
  5. Repeat for several reps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  •  When you're holding the dumbbell, push your elbows upward as much as you can. Doing so will help you maintain an upright position and allows you to squat with better form.   

3. Dumbbell Squat (Front Squat Alternative With Dumbbells)

Woman Doing Dumbbell Squats In The Gym

This super simple front squat alternative allows you to build the strength to eventually perform the front squat. Plus, it doesn't need a huge amount of space and you can do it almost anywhere. 

As you're using dumbbells (and not a barbell) it's easier on the shoulder and wrist joints as you're not placing as much stress on them. 

In the past I've had to use this front squat substitute with clients as they simply didn't have the mobility to front load a barbell. 


  • Easier on your shoulder and wrist joints.
  • Good for all ability levels. 
  • You can do them anywhere.

How to do it: 

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands, with your arms hanging at your side. 
  2. Lower yourself until your knees are at 90-degrees. 
  3. Pushing through your heels, raise yourself, squeezing the quads and glutes.  
  4. Repeat to complete your set. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you're struggling with achieving a deep squat, try elevating your heels slightly. You can use small weighted plates for this. Doing so adjusts your body position allowing you to reach a deeper squat. 

4. Dumbbell Step Up

Man Doing Dumbbell Step Ups

The simple but effective dumbbell step up is a brilliant single-leg exercise that’s a suitable alternative for front squat. It isn’t overly complicated and is ideal for all experience levels. 

You can pretty much perform this movement anywhere. In the past I've used park benches, stairs, small walls, and any other elevated platform I could find.

So whether you're in a hotel, park, or your garage gym, you'll be able to perform this front squat replacement. 


  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • You can do them anywhere. 
  • Minimal equipment required.

How to do it: 

  1. Select a suitable height for your box or step (don’t go too high to start with).  
  2. Place one foot flat on the box, so your knee is close to 90 degrees. 
  3. Push into your front foot and launch yourself upwards. Keep your foot completely flat. 
  4. Slowly return to the floor and repeat.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try not to assist your working leg with the "resting leg," e.g., pushing off your back foot. This removes tension from the quads and lessens the activation.   

5. Cross-Arm Front Squat 

Man Doing Cross-Arm Front Squat

This front squat substitute is the closest alternative you’ll find. This exercise is perfect if you love front squatting but lack the flexibility in your wrists to get into the correct front rack position.

With this front squat alternative, you get all the benefits of the barbell front squat, such as working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core.

But, having your arms crossed during the front squat makes it much easier to perform. 

This is my preferred method of front squatting. I simply don't have the wrist mobility to achieve the regular front squat arm position, making this front squat replacement ideal. 


  • Less wrist mobility required. 
  • Builds quad mass. 
  • You can overload your legs.

How to do it: 

  1. Place a barbell on a rack and walk up to it.  
  2. Put your arms straight under the bar and line up the barbell with your shoulders.  
  3. Cross your arms in front of you and grip the barbell while pushing your elbows upwards. 
  4. Lift the barbell off the rack and squat as usual. Ensure the arms remain elevated throughout the movement.  
  5. Repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • During the movement keep your elbows elevated high. This will prevent the barbell from slipping downwards and will enable you to achieve a better front squat position.  

6. Front Rack Barbell Split Squat

Man Doing Front Rack Barbell Split Squat In Gym

If you’ve struggled to achieve the “front rack” arm position due to poor wrist mobility, this front squat substitute could be what you’ve been looking for.  

Due to the exercise requiring a lighter load than the barbell front squat, it allows you to get used to the wrist position without heavy loads causing stress on your joints.  

I also recommend using the cross arm position to relieve even more stress from your wrists.

As it’s an iso-lateral movement, it develops the quads evenly without any imbalances occurring, which is common among newbies. 


  • Requires a lighter load. 
  • Can be easier on your wrist joints.
  • Helps solve muscle imbalances.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand in a squat rack and grip the barbell outside shoulder width, placing the barbell across your shoulders at the top of your chest.
  2. Lift the barbell off the rack. 
  3. Take one foot backwards and lower yourself to the floor in a single leg squat position (focusing on loading the front leg).
  4. Ensure your front leg is at 90-degrees and push back up to the starting point.  
  5. Complete a set on each leg. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you're still struggling with using a barbell, try using dumbbells instead. Doing so will allow you to remove even more pressure from your wrists and shoulders.  

Related Article - Best Sissy Squat Substitutes

7. Box Pistol Squat 

Man Doing Box Pistol Squat

Pistol squats are a challenging exercise to master, so I recommend you start with this variation of them.  

The single-leg nature of this movement strengthens your chain of movement and has been proven to increase your overall barbell squatting ability.  

The lower you go during this front squat alternative, the more your quads are activated. Luckily, the box is there to assist you at the bottom of the movement. 


  • Works each side separately.
  • Easier than regular pistol squats.

How to do it: 

  1. Place a box or bench behind you.  
  2. Lift one leg off the floor and place it straight out in front of your body. 
  3. Bend the weight-bearing leg until your glutes hit the bench/step.
  4. At the bottom of the movement, tap the bench/step (don’t place your full weight on the bench). Then push back up to the beginning of the movement.  
  5. Repeat 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Place your arms straight out in front of your body. This helps act as a counterbalance to your movement.   

8. Narrow Stance Leg Press 

Man Doing Narrow Stance Leg Press

If you’re looking to isolate the quads to promote muscle growth and strength gains, the narrow stance leg press is the best front squat substitute for you.  

The narrow foot position uses more quads than a normal or wide position which uses more glutes and hamstrings. This closely mimics the movement pattern of the barbell front squat.  

2001 study showed evidence to support the idea that different foot placement on leg press during leg exercises shifted the load pattern on muscles.[1] 

The narrow stance leg press used to be one of my go-to leg exercises. I still use it as a finisher for my legs, as I find it gives my quads a huge pump.


  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • Strengthens your quads.

How to do it: 

  1. Sit down at the leg press machine. 
  2. Place your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Unrack the leg press machine and slowly lower your knees down to your chest. 
  4. At the bottom of the movement, you should feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings.
  5. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't allow your lower back and hips to rise at the bottom of the movement. If they do, you'll place unnecessary stress on your lower back.  

9. Backward Lunges (Front Squat Alternative For Bad Knees)

Man Doing Backward Lunges Outdoors

Sometimes you might want a change from squats but still want to hit the same muscle groups; this is where the backward lunge comes in.  

It's a simple movement you can perform using body weight or dumbbells and is rather challenging.  However, the backward lunge is excellent for developing explosive speed for sports. 

Got knee issues? This exercise might help.

As you're stepping back during this front squat replacement, it places less force on your knees. If you've suffered from knee pain in the past, it could be an option for you. 

If lunges aren't suitable for you due to a knee injury or discomfort, there are lunge alternatives to target your lower body effectively. 


  • Increased hip flexibility.
  • Improved balance and stability 

How to do it: 

  1. Pick up a set of dumbbells, letting them hang at your side. 
  2. Place your feet hip-width apart.  
  3. Take one leg backwards and lower your knee until you’re at 90-degrees (stop just above the floor). 
  4. Lift yourself back to the start, pushing through your front foot, and swap your legs.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Keep your feet in a hip-width position throughout the lunge, it'll improve your balance. The last thing you want to be doing is lunging on a tight rope.  

10. Front Foot Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat 

Woman Doing Front Foot Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat Routine

This alternative front squat exercise is a personal favorite of mine. It allows you to isolate the quadriceps in an iso-lateral manner, helping fix any muscular imbalances.  

This exercise is easy to perform and doesn’t need a high elevated platform. A small 22lb Olympic plate would be enough to increase the activation in your quads.

The more knee flexion you can create during this movement, the harder the quads need to work. 

It's a pretty straight forward movement that is suitable for all ability levels. I've used this with many clients at the beginning of their training programs.


  • Develops your quads.
  • Suitable for all abilities.

How to do it: 

  1. Place a weighted plate, step, book, etc., on the floor to create a small platform.  
  2. Pick up a set of dumbbells and hold them in each hand.  
  3. Take one foot, place it firmly on the platform and step backwards with the opposite foot. (Your stance length will vary depending on your height, but 3ft is usually enough). 
  4. Bend your knees, lower yourself to the floor, and push slightly forward into your elevated leg. Your back leg will have a slight bend.  
  5. Push back up through your front leg and repeat.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Position your feet in a hip-width position throughout the movement. If your feet are too narrow, you'll struggle to maintain your balance. 

11. Safety Squat 

Woman Doing Safety Squat Exercise

This barbell front squat alternative requires a specialty bar. If you don’t have a safety bar in your gym, this isn’t an option for you; try one of the other exercises on this list.  

If the barbell front squat and high bar squat had a love child, it would be the safety bar squat. It sits high up on the upper traps and is held with your elbows forward, placing you in a more upright position.  

As the exercise emphasizes keeping yourself more upright, it significantly increases quad activation.  

Before you try this front squat substitute, you need to know it's a little tougher than the front squat. My clients often struggle to squat the same weight they would on a regular squat and I believe it's down to the increased upright position. 

If you're new to training, I'd wait before trying this front squat alternative out.


  • Places you in an upright position ideal for training your quads.
  • Allows you to overload your quads.

How to do it: 

  1. Put the safety bar on the squat rack.  
  2. Go under the barbell, place it on your upper traps, brace your core muscles, and lift off. 
  3. Position your feet hip-width apart. 
  4. Push your elbows forward and squat down.  
  5. Return to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you've never used the safety bar before, always start with a lower weight than usual. You can always increase the weight if you find it too difficult. The last thing you want to do is fail with a loaded safety bar on your back.  

12. High Bar Pause Squat 

Man Doing High Bar Pause Squat

This barbell front squat alternative isn’t for the faint-hearted; it’s a notoriously tricky movement to perform; however, it works wonders for your muscular strength and hypertrophy.  

The high bar position forces you to push your knees further forward during the squat, creating more quad activation than regular low bar squatting. 

But, to make the exercise even more difficult, adding a 1-2 second pause at the bottom places tension on your quads for a longer time.  

I recommend beginners skip this one and try another front squat substitute from this list like the dumbbell front squat, goblet squat, or narrow leg press.


  • Great for quad development.
  • Places a lot of tension through your legs. 
  • Ideal for intermediate or advanced lifters.

How to do it: 

  1. Place yourself under the barbell, positioning the bar on your upper traps.  
  2. Place your feet in a hip-width stance and brace your core.  
  3. Lift the barbell off the rack and take two steps backwards.  
  4. Reposition the feet and brace your core. 
  5. Bend your knees and squat downwards.  
  6. Pause for 1-2 seconds, and push back up to the start.  
  7. Repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Have a play with the pause timing. I've tried several time patterns and my quads seem to love the variation in stimulus. I've even worked up to a 10 second pause per rep... but this is extremely difficult.  

13. Zercher Squat 

Man Doing Zercher Squat

Out of all the front squat alternatives on this list, this is by far the most difficult to perform and should only be attempted by experienced lifters.  

This front squat substitute challenges your balance, core, and lower body strength more than any other movement mentioned here. It’s extremely popular with strongmen as it simulates the “picking up a stone” event. 

As the weight rests in the crease of your elbows, it removes the strain on your wrists but places more stress on the biceps and front deltoids. 


  • Increases core activation. 
  • Lower strain on wrists and shoulders. 
  • Suitable for advanced lifters.

How to do it: 

  1. Place a barbell on a squat rack at a height that allows you to place your arms under the barbell.  
  2. Put the barbell in the crease of your elbow and flex both biceps, keeping your fists near your chin. 
  3. Lift the barbell and take two steps backwards.  
  4. Brace your core and squat downwards until the barbell touches your quads.  
  5. Push up to the starting point and repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Feeling tension in your elbow joint or bicep? Feel free to skip this one, it's not for everybody. You'd be better off avoiding unnecessary strains and performing another exercise on this list like the cross arm front squat.

Benefits Of These Leg Exercises Over Barbell Front Squats

All of the above front squat alternatives are perfect for developing the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips, core, and other smaller muscle groups. 

If you’re looking to build explosive power for a sport such as football, then you should try using the backward lunge or the pistol squat, as they’re both fantastic for developing athleticism.

On the other hand, the high bar paused squat is perfect for developing lower body strength and muscular hypertrophy in your legs. I’ve found this movement to be an excellent quadriceps developer, leaving me with DOMS for days.  

However, if you’re relatively new to the gym, you should avoid some of the more challenging exercises mentioned in this guide and build up strength using either the smith machine front squat or the dumbbell squat. Either of these front squat alternatives are brilliant muscle builders and will develop your strength quickly.

The front squat alternatives mentioned throughout this article can be used in conjunction with the barbell front squats. Not only are you hitting the muscles from multiple angles, but it adds more volume to your leg day, which promotes more muscle growth.

What Muscles Do Barbell Front Squat Substitute Exercises Work?

  • Quadriceps
    The quads are the primary muscle targeted during the barbell front squat. They’re the large muscle group located at the front upper part of your leg and are split into four parts, hence the name "quads."[2
  • Glutes
    The largest muscle in the body is the glutes; they're one of the most critical muscles for generating power in your movements. The barbell front squat works the glutes but slightly less than the traditional back squat would, and this is due to the front-loaded position of the barbell. 
  • Hips
    The barbell front squat is predominantly a knee hinge movement; however, your hips are still required for the movement. The adductors and abductors work hard to stabilize the hip joint laterally, while the flexors help move your knees closer to your body as you reach the bottom of the squat. 
  • Hamstrings
    While the barbell front squat primarily targets the quads, your hamstrings are still activated for large portions of the exercise, particularly at the bottom of the movement. If you’re building big quads, you’ll need big hamstrings to even yourself out.[3] Plus, strong hamstrings will make you run faster while preventing injury, which is excellent for sports such as football.

Barbell Front Squat Alternative FAQs

Can you replace barbell front squats with dumbbells? 

Yes, you can replace barbell front squats with dumbbells. However, squatting with dumbbells is much harder to do, and you won’t be able to use as much weight as you would with a barbell.

Can you replace front squats with back squats? 

Yes you can replace front squats with back squats. However, the front squat is a front-loaded movement that places more load on your quads, while the back squat uses less quads.

Why are front squats better for athletes? 

Front squats are  better for athletes as they place less strain on the back due to the upright position. The front squat also has more transferable benefits for sports applications and reinforces optimal movement patterns in athletes. 

Should you squat heavy every week? 

Yes, you can squat heavy every week. So long as you’re following a progressive program and using excellent form, you should be fine. There’s no reason why you can’t squat heavy each week. But, I must add... you should always listen to your body.  


If you’ve wanted to perform barbell front squats but don’t have the equipment in your home gym or simply want to freshen up your workout, now you can. 

Choose 2-3 of these quad building front squat alternatives to your leg workout and grow yourself a killer pair of QUAD-ZILLAS. 

You have no more excuses for skipping leg day. Now go and build some strong, awesome looking legs. 





Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.