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5 Ways To Squat Without A Barbell

BY Jayden Pollard

Squats are a staple in most training programs. But what if you don’t have access to a barbell, or you’re dealing with an injury? Make sure to mix these five barless squat alternatives into your programming.

Squats Are a Fundamental Strength Movement

Squats hold a special place in many athletes’ hearts. Love them or hate them, squats are known for building muscle, boosting whole-body strength, and exposing holes in your mobility. They’re an essential movement for the human body.

While the classic back squat takes center stage, there are a lot more squatting variations to explore. From the front squat for hitting depth to the Zercher squat for those without a rack, and the SSB (safety squat bar) for optimal stimulus-to-fatigue ratio, each offers unique benefits.

These exercises are highly recommended for everyone to learn, but they typically require a barbell. What if you find yourself without one? Or what if you just want to try something new?

Let’s look at 5 of the best ways to load a squat without using a barbell.

A Note on Barbells

You may want to try squatting sans barbell for various reasons — injuries, fatigue, limited equipment access, or even just training novelty. Whatever your motivation, you can still build leg strength without using a barbell.

However, incorporating barbell work into your routine will significantly enhance your leg training. While the following 5 barless squat variations are excellent, let’s not forget the unmatched benefits of the standard barbell back squat.

Pros of Squatting With a Barbell

The classic barbell back squat remains unparalleled, as it has so many benefits: 

  • Builds lower body muscle and strength development, focusing on glutes and quads
  • Enhances hip, knee, and ankle mobility
  • Boosts overall athletic performance through stability and balance improvements
  • Facilitates progressive overload and performance tracking

These unique advantages of the barbell squat cannot be fully replicated by other squat variations. So, before completely abandoning the barbell squat, consider it irreplaceable.

Try These Barless Squat Variations

1. Goblet Squats

Great for beginners, goblet squats are performed with either a dumbbell or kettlebell. They’re a fantastic option for those lacking mobility or strength for barbell squats. They’re also useful if you have minimal equipment access (or just need a break from barbell squatting).

Goblet squats are most effective when done for moderate to high reps, being sure you hit depth every time. While they may not match the efficacy of back squats, they offer a viable alternative, especially when paired with other exercises on this list.

If you’re a beginner using these to build a base level of strength and mobility, switch over to back squats when you can to see faster progress on your posterior chain strength and power.

2. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats stand out as one of the most effective and challenging exercises on this list. I believe they’re the only exercise on this list that match barbell squats getting the right training stimulus.

  • Significant lower body strength and size gains.
  • Enhanced stability and mobility, rivaling traditional back squats.
  • Solid athletic carryover.

Additionally, Bulgarian split squats offer grip training and unilateral leg work, making them ideal for addressing imbalances. These are an excellent squat alternative that, when combined with other exercises on this list, make barless squatting a viable option.

3. Belt Squats

Belt squats offer another excellent option for squatting without a barbell. By loading weight via a belt around your hips, these squats isolate your leg muscles without compromising form.

You won’t be able to cheat the movement by leaning forward, you’re only able to squat the weight up. With minimal stress on the joints and lower fatigue compared to traditional squats, they’re perfect for leg hypertrophy and strength gains.

While a belt squat machine is preferable for safety and efficiency, a DIY setup can also yield impressive results. Though you may want to use lighter weight and higher reps if you’re doing the DIY version.

4. Machine Hack Squats

Hack squats, typically performed on a machine, serve as valuable leg accessory work. While not as effective as barbell squats for primary leg movements, they excel at targeting your quads for hypertrophy.

Since the machine does most of the work for you, hack squats lack the stability and balance-building components of barbell squats. For strength athletes and those of us seeking overall athletic development, I’d advise combining hack squats with other exercises like split squats and belt squats.

If you want to use your training for some aesthetic purposes, hack squats are a solid choice as an accessory piece for some serious leg burn.

5. Sissy Squats

Sissy squats, a top-tier bodyweight squatting option, are particularly beneficial when your equipment access is limited. You can even do them with a heavy backpack and get enough of a training stimulus. 

Though they may seem less taxing than barbell squats, they demand significant mobility and a base level of strength. Reduced joint stress, amazing quad growth, and a great stimulus-to-fatigue ratio are a few of the most notable benefits.

By incorporating sissy squats with targeted glute and hamstring exercises, you can net substantial gains in leg power.

Whatever Your Style, Be Sure to Squat

While nothing quite compares to the classic barbell squat, these alternatives offer valuable options for diversifying your training program. 

So, whether you’re facing a setback, injury, or simply seeking a change of pace, these squat variations ensure you can still make leg and glute gains.

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About Jayden Pollard

Jayden Pollard is a passionate powerbuilder (powerlifting bodybuilder) with a background in strength training and team sports like basketball and wrestling. He’s an experienced fitness blogger with experience writing about a variety of health and sport topics.

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