Last week I was weaving my way through a crowded gym floor while training a client when I overheard a couple of guys in the squat rack lamenting the pain they were putting themselves through. Typically that’s par for the course, since squats are a painful exercise that can test your manhood from time to time, when one of them caught my ear.
“My knees are absolutely killing me. I can feel them popping and cracking every single time I do a rep.”
But yet the guy kept on squatting, and with a significant amount of weight on his back, with no signs of slowing down and saving his knees. Unfortunately, this scene plays itself out in gyms across the world every single day. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Squats are commonly known in the lifting world as one of the best exercises out there for building overall size, strength, and athleticism. For good reason, too. They’re a great full body tool, and something that everyone should try to master.
That being said, they’re not for everyone.
For some people squatting can be more trial and tribulation than muscle building tool. This is for a number of reasons. Some people just have bad squatting leverages. For example: someone with extremely long femurs (your thigh bone) have trouble hitting depth in a squat.
Others have unique hip structures, and the way their femur inserts into their hip socket prevents them from comfortably hitting depth in a squat.
Some people lack the necessary ankle, hip, and back mobility to squat comfortably, while other people have bad lower backs that feel like hot hell fire every time they drop down into a squat. It could be thanks to degenerative discs, years of wear and tear on the lower back, or any number of issues.
For others their knees might not allow them to squat thanks to previous injuries to tendons and ligaments inside the knee, which just so happens to be one of the most injury prone joints in the body.
You get the point. There’s a multitude of reasons why people can’t squat. Sadly, most of those people who deal with these issues are told by the Internet that they’re cheating themselves if they don’t squat. They’re missing out on precious muscle, and even get their manhood called into question. All because they can’t perform one exercise.
That’s not the case though.
Squats are a great tool. But they’re not the only tool. In fact, plenty of people have gotten extremely strong, athletic, and ripped without doing a single squat.
Hell, one needs to look no further than 6x Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates. Yates was known for his massive legs and shredded physique, and he’s also very well known for never performing a single squat.
If you happen to be one of the people who can’t squat due to injuries, mechanics, or just hates squatting, then I’ve got the perfect workout that will help you build massive legs, serious athleticism, and a physique worth showing off.
Before we get any further, it’s necessary to preface this by saying that some people who experience pain during a squat may experience pain during one of these movements. If you fall into that category, then don’t bother doing that movement. There are plenty of awesome leg exercises out there, and if you need help finding one that suits you don’t hesitate to shoot me a message.
The ultimate squat free leg workout:
A1. Leg extensions: 3 sets of 15 reps.
*These typically don’t cause as much knee pain for most people who struggle with squats, whereas for some people they feel even more pain due to the shear force placed on the knee joint. As with any exercise, if you’re feeling knee pain then back off. No exercise is worth injury.
A2. Lying leg curls: 3 sets of 15 reps.
*Leg curls are an awesome hamstring dominant exercise that keep your knees and lower back from taking any of the stress they experience during a normal squat.
Superset leg extensions and leg curls, going from one exercise immediately to the next, resting 60 seconds between each round. This is a pre-exhaust superset, which means you’ll be fatiguing your legs before starting the bulk of the working sets. Pre-exhaust sets are an excellent way to stimulate growth, and especially useful when removing exercises like the squat.
B1. Barbell romanian deadlift: 3 sets of 8 reps – 2 seconds on the way down, 2 seconds on the way up.
*Romanian deadlifts are one of the best hamstring and glute developers out there. If done correctly, but pushing your hips all the way back and loading the hamstrings and glutes then you shouldn’t experience any lower back pain at all. Keep a slight bend at the knee, keep your abs tight, and keep your shoulder blades pulled together.
Don’t perform any exercise along with Romanian deadlifts. Rest 90 seconds between each set, and choose your weight wisely. You should feel a big stretch in the hamstrings, and no pain in the lower back.
C1. Reverse lunge: 4 sets of 8 reps per leg.
*Reverse lunges are a common replacement exercise for people who experience knee pain, since they tend to place more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes vs. the quads. The key to getting the most out of this is after you’ve stepped back into the lunge exploding forward with as much force as possible to recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibers possible.
C2. Leg press: 4 sets of 12 reps – 2 seconds on the way down, explode up.
*Leg presses are a tried and true alternative to squats, and many people who experience knee pain during a regular squat find that they’re able to leg press pain free. The big downside to leg pressing is that it can place stress on the lower back, so if you experience that one way to prevent it is by performing leg presses one leg at a time.
Superset the reverse lunges and leg presses together if your gym setup allows. Go from one exercise to the next, resting 90 seconds between each exercise.
D1. Stationary bike with moderate resistance: 15 minutes.
*The stationary bike is an often forgotten leg builder, but it does wonders for quad development. It’s an excellent low impact way to build serious quad strength, along with helping you get some extra cardio in. Choose a moderate resistance level. You should be sweating by the end of it, but not completely gassed like after a high intensity training session.
Unfortunately I never got a chance to go lay some wisdom down on those guys that day in the gym, because I was in the middle of a session. But you better believe next time I see them I plan on telling them exactly why they don’t need to be squatting, and hopefully saving their knees in the process. Hopefully this article did the same for you.