13 Barbell Front Squat Alternatives (Substitutes For Mass)

If you’re looking for one of the best exercises for quad development, then you’ll love the barbell front squat.

However, what happens if you can’t perform the barbell front squat in your home gym? 

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, 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 

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.

How to do it: 

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

2. Goblet Squat 

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.

How to do it: 

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

Suggested Equipment - Best Cheap Adjustable Dumbbells

Goblet Squat

3. Dumbbell Squat 

This super simple front squat alternative allows you to build the strength to eventually perform the front squat. 

Read More - Do Squats Make You Shorter?

How to do it: 

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

4. Dumbbell Step Up

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. 

How to do it: 

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

Garage Gym Pro Tip: 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.  

Read Also - 10 Effective Step Up Alternatives

Dumbbell Step Up

5. 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. 

How to do it: 

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

6. Front Rack Barbell Split Squat

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.  

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

Find Out More - Difference Between Split Squats & Lunges

How to do it: 

  • Stand in a squat rack and grip the barbell outside shoulder width, placing the barbell across your shoulders at the base of your neck. 
  • Lift the barbell off the rack. 
  • Take one foot backwards and lower yourself to the floor in a single leg squat position (focusing on loading the front leg). 
  • Ensure your front leg is at 90-degrees and push back up to the starting point.  
  • Complete a set on each leg. 
Front Rack Barbell Split Squat

7. 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. 

How to do it: 

  • Place a box or bench behind you.  
  • Lift one leg off the floor and place it straight out in front of your body. 
  • Bend the weight-bearing leg until your glutes hit the bench/step.  
  • 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.  
  • Repeat 

Garage Gym Pro Tip: Place your arms straight out in front of your body. This helps act as a counterbalance to your movement.  

Suggested Equipment - Best Plyometric Boxes For Home Gyms

Box Pistol Squat

8. 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 foot placement during leg exercises shifted the load pattern on muscles. 

How to do it: 

  • Sit down at the leg press machine. 
  • Place your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart. 
  • Unrack the leg press machine and slowly lower your knees down to your chest. 
  • At the bottom of the movement, you should feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Repeat.
Narrow Stance Leg Press

9. Backward Lunges 

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 bodyweight or dumbbells and is rather challenging. However, the backward lunge is excellent for developing explosive speed for sports. 

How to do it: 

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

Related Article - Best Substitutes For Lunges

backward lunges

10. Front Foot Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat 

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. 

How to do it: 

  • Place a weighted plate, step, book, etc., on the floor to create a small platform.  
  • Pick up a set of dumbbells and hold them in each hand.  
  • 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). 
  • Bend your knees, lower yourself to the floor, and push slightly forward into your elevated leg. Your back leg will have a slight bend.  
  • Push back up through your front leg and repeat.  
Front Foot Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat

11. Safety Squat 

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.  

How to do it: 

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

12. 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.  

How to do it: 

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

13. 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. 

How to do it: 

  • Place a barbell on a squat rack at a height that allows you to place your arms under the barbell.  
  • Put the barbell in the crease of your elbow and flex both biceps, keeping your fists near your chin.  
  • Lift the barbell and take two steps backwards.  
  • Brace your core and squat downwards until the barbell touches your quads.  
  • Push up to the starting point and repeat. 
Zercher 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."  
  • 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. 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 use dumbbells for squats instead of using a barbell. 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.

I always recommend mixing barbell and dumbbell work together. Heavy goblet squats have a significant impact on your quads' muscle growth. 

Can you replace front squats with back squats? 

The front squat is a front-loaded movement that removes much of the stress placed on the lower back. If you find back squats aggravate your lower back, replacing them with front squats could be a good solution.  

However, be aware that the front squat primarily targets your quads and requires less glute and hamstring activation. 

Why are front squats better for athletes? 

Front squats are athletes' preferred variation as it places 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. 

Also, the movement requires more core activation; working the core effectively is a significant issue for athletes and massively dictates their athleticism.  

Should you 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.  

I currently squat twice per week, one heavy and one lighter day. It works for me, but I’ll lighten the load a little if I’m feeling sore or tired. 


Conclusion

If you’ve wanted to perform barbell front squats but don’t have the equipment in your home gym, now you can do the next best thing and train one of the 13 alternative front squat exercises.  

This guide gives you everything you need to take your leg development to the next level. You have no more excuses for skipping leg day. Now go and build some strong, awesome looking legs. 

Last Updated on May 9, 2022