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How Can You Program Without Squats?

I have a bulged disc (L4/L5) and squatting 135 pounds is enough to make it act up. I’m stretching and strengthening the posterior chain and generally doing everything I can find to heal this because squats are my favorite lift and it’s awful trying to figure out a program to do without them, but it’s been years and I need to get into a real program and can’t wait around any longer hoping I’ll be able to squat heavy.

I have a few years of barbell training experience, but all my numbers have gone down to nothing. The only bright side is that I can apparently deadlift without issue. After sticking with a stupid 5x5 for too long I was all excited to do a year or two of 5/3/1, but now without squats I’m totally lost and have no idea what to do.

There has to be something more intelligent than patching together shitty 12 week programs from bb.com. Any thoughts or advice for how I should train for strength would be much appreciated.

1st I would post a video of your squat to make sure you have good form.

If it is an issue once hitting a certain depth then limit your ROM with a box.

Lower body training and substitutes.

Squats are ideal, but not necessary, lower body training is.

I used to have sciatica and I started limiting my squat ROM and now slowly relowering and making sure I dont get butt wink, which is what I am pretty certain caused my sciatica.

I’ve trained around a torn/reconstructed ACL since Oct. I logged everything after surgery here

Not the same situation, but I was also unable to squat (at least one 2 legs) for a while there.

I’d consider single leg training to reduce the load on your back. Reverse bands would also be useful, as they’d lighten the load during the most vulnerable portion of the lift. Chains could have a similar effect too. The prowler would be an amazing movement, as there is minimal spinal loading but it will still hammer the everloving crap out of your legs, especially if you drag it backwards. You could also do belt squats. If you can do partials without pain, do a lot of those.

Really, if there is only 1 movement you can’t do, you’re in an awesome place with your training. There is SO much to do.


Punisher has a great post–plenty of things to do. Also, if the problem is the bar then goblet squats and dumbbell squats held at the side are possible options–if its the compression then that will help, as will zercher squats. If it is something else causing the bulging and pain then changing to those variations won’t help–however: prowler, sled drags, and other options like that are great.

If 135 causes you pain I don’t think reverse bands will help you too much, as that’s about the lowest weight you can handle on a bar.

I would work on the underlying causes.

In the meantime: glute bridges and hip thrusts, GHRs both manual and on the machine, slideboard hamstring curls (one of my favorites along with GHRs for hamstrings with a general prep phase athletic application) are all options for posterior chain work along with the more standard stuff like leg curls and back extensions, good mornings (questionable but if they are pain free then do them), reverse hypers if they are pain free–but play with the execution to see if there’s a best or worst way to avoid.

You also have bulgarian split squats, lunges, reverse lunges, step ups, farmer’s carries, sissy squats, and a whole host of other things you can do for training that don’t require spinal loading.

You also have ways to load them: superset, pre-fatigue, post-fatigue. You don’t have any problem training legs or building more muscle.

Some great advice already here. I’d go for front squats or box squats as a go to; if they’re a no go pick whatever makes the component parts of the squat strong and hit them hard until you’re able to squat again.

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You dont need to squat, here are some ideas:
Weighted step ups
Climbing stairs with weights (my
Sled dragging or pulling.

Really Nice tips dude great helpfull for newbies like me Thanks

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Thanks for the replies guys, I appreciate the input.

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