T Nation

Squat Alternatives

The gyms I have easy and consistent access to either don’t have barbells & squat racks available or they only have smith machines. In general, all I have access to will be dumbbells maxing out at <100lbs each and a pile of plates that I can string together using ropes and such (I’ve started trying that some but need to find a less slippery rope and significantly improve my grip strength).

After reading the various articles here, I’m thinking I should be avoiding using the smith machines as much as possible but that leaves me with severely limited options for heavy leg lifts.

I already do deadlifts, but they really don’t seem to strengthen the back in the same way a squat does (maybe I’m just wrong here).
I’ve been doing Chad Waterbury’s Triple Total Training over the last year or so and had excellent results with it so I’d be most likely to modify it for whatever I need to do.

The full posterior chain activation that you get from the squat is really what I’m looking to be able to duplicate, advice and suggestions are much appreciated.


Ps. “get a new gym” is not an option.

I’ve been one of the Smith haters in the past but I can think of two reasons why I’m changing my mind.

  1. I used to train both with and “with” a bodybuilder. We were the same height and weight but he was so much bigger than me as he was so much leaner. He used the Smith for squats very regularly, he used the 45 degree leg press and leg extensions as well.

I spotted him on regular squats on the VERY rare workout where he did them. He was using between 405 and 500 in his sets for 4-8 reps and like I said, almost NEVER did them.

I wouldn’t get so allergic to the Smith Machine if I were you. I’ve learned that it’s NOT like night and day and I’ve seen with my own eyes how big and strong one can get using it.

  1. The DC Training guys have no problem with them and there’s no lacking for either size or strength in those guys.

Of course if you plan on training for a PL meet, I wouldn’t use it very often but barring that, why not?

Oh, and keep the deads, you can’t give those up! (not that you would).

Single straight leg deadlifts for hamstrings (with DB)

Single leg squats with DB or plates

Bulgarian Split squat with DB’s

Leg press (assuming the gym has one)

Lunges with DB’s (varing stance)

Those are the lifts that I alternate with my lifts that include barbells. And the deadlift should strengthen the back more than the squat.

goblet squats and everything trenchant suggested

sweet. thanks all for the excellent suggestions. I’ve used one-legged squats and actually find they are harder with no weights (less counter-balance help).

My concern about the smith machine is that the lack of flexibility in the motion means I end up having to adjust to the machine instead of keeping really tight form (and hence end up hurting something).
Maybe I’m overly cautious but I’ve found that my upper back hurts more and has spasmed from using the smith machine vs. normal squats.
I’ll try the one-legged options and others and see how those work.

Deadlifts hit your posterior chain pretty hard. If posterior chain is your concern then add romanian deadlifts, snatch grip deads, deads off plates. If you want more quads and can’t squat then use the smith machine. I recently added barbell hack squats to my DC blast and they are quickly becoming one of my favorite leg exercises. Get some straps or hooks for your grip and your legs will burn like crazy.

I think smith squats are something you should do once or twice a week. I do and have seen my quads grow as expected. They are also a good change of pace really from the bulgarian split squat which in my opinion is more about balance then brute strength.

If there’s no squat rack but there are barbells, Sset up a lumberjack squat thing (look it up if you don’t know what it is). Get a barbell, hook it on a wall with a heavy dumbbell so you can rotate it (like for trap-bar rows). Use a bench to hold the weight when you’re about to start a set

Leg press. Makes my legs grow more than anything. If you can find a squat press (its like a leg press) those are the best. I have lower back probs and this takes off all the strain from your lower back that you’d get with a normal leg press. You can really load up the weight and go heavy.

Off coarse you don’t have access to any of this. Maybe you can push trucks and car or something like that.

So if I read this right, there are plates, but no barbells? Buy a barbell, there not that expensive.

i have a smith at home (i dont know what i was thinking when i bought it) and must say i have grown to like it.

At first, i must say i hated it and thought i had made a big mistake (and should a bought a rack). I think if your use to regular squats; the smith just is harder to get use to… but give it a chance and all of a sudden it starts feeling like a squat.

The main thing is that you only have access to a smith; why not use it if thats all you have.

I know you mentioned that you feel it in your back when you use the smith and that you have to adjust the machine; but there is a lot to the form on a smith; you cant really adjust the machine; you have to adjust your form. I can keep my back straight on the smith; but i can also allow my back to bend; its not the machine that causes my back to bend; its my form and even though the smith is a machine; its not going to automatically correct my form. In someways, i think form is even more critical on a smith than a conventional squat-- just something to think about because it seems your putting a lot of time or work on trying to find a squat alternative; and you really already have one of the closest alternatives available-- the smith.

You SHOLD have gone with a rack, BUT i agree, the smith does have its uses.


Throw 3 or 4 45’s on the smith and go all the way down I gaurantee your gonna be cursing Smith for even creating the machine.

And by the way for a home gym the smith is smarter because you dont need a spotter. Thats like a no brainer for me.

Do squats with dumb bells.

Do hi rep until you can hold some heavier weight.

You’re grip and stabilizer will get ridiculous if you could keep steady with hi weight dumbells for squatting.

Why in gods name do you need a spotter in a rack, sparky?