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9 Front Squat Alternatives You Should Try Now

I love front squats – I think they’re one of the best and most effective exercises of them all. The movement pattern balances functionality, athletic carryover and excellent strength and muscle building capabilities.

But front squats aren’t for everyone. 

A lack of upper back and shoulder mobility, previous injury, grip issues and the like can make barbell front squats impossible for some, so what do you do if you can’t front squat?

In this article I’m going to show you front squat alternatives that will give you the same benefits without forcing you into a movement pattern or positions you struggle with. In my many years as a personal trainer and weightlifting coach, I’ve used these exercises time and again with people I’m coaching to achieve excellent fitness results. 

These exercises will all be possible for people training in a home gym. You will be able to do them with a standard home gym set up – you won’t need to buy any specialist equipment!

Why bother with front squats?

In a world where we have all kinds of squat patterns available to us, what’s the fuss over front squats? How different are they from other kinds of squats?

From a leg training point of view, in truth they’re not that different. Their benefit comes from other points though – they help to protect the back more than back squats or safety bar squats. The same research suggests they also help with knee extensor development.

The front squat is an excellent back exercise too – research shows us that the movement strengthens the back even at lower weights. This means that post injury, or when you’re not especially strong you can still strengthen your erector spinae muscles without lifting weights that could put you at risk. It’s a classic ‘more bang for your buck’ exercise.

Finally, the front squat is an excellent sport-specific movement. In sports like American Football, Rugby, Wrestling, weightlifting etc, you have to be strong against a load pushing from your front, and front squats develop this kind of strength perfectly. It’s a different strength requirement to having a load on your back.

What stops people from front squatting?

In almost all cases it’s an issue with mobility. Our ability to achieve the ‘rack’ position required for front squats is usually compromised by one (or a combination of) movement issues in the shoulders, lats (latissimus dorsi muscles in the back) or thoracic (upper) spine.

The rack position is fundamental to good front squatting – it keeps the torso up, removes pressure from the shoulders and allows you to achieve excellent squat depth. Here’s one of my clients displaying a perfect rack position, allowing him to execute the front squat perfectly. 

Note the upright torso, the high elbows (parallel to the floor) and the deep squat…

The movement issues that make this position impossible for some people can stem from a number of sources. 

In the case of lat stiffness it’s usually simply tight muscles. When you stretch them frequently they will allow you to achieve the right position. In the case of shoulders it can be from previous injuries to the clavicle (collar bone) or shoulder surgery. With the thoracic spine it can be a combination of lack of movement which stiffens the back, or previous injury.

The good news is that even if you can’t achieve the perfect rack position for a front squat, I’ve got plenty of alternative options for you…

Front squat alternatives

I’m going to run through different alternatives to the front squat. The first couple are going to be variations on the front squat with a different grip – this may allow you to still perform the exercise despite movement issues.

After those I’ll show you front squat alternative exercises that replicate the benefits without forcing you into uncomfortable (or impossible) positions.

Cross grip front squat

If you can’t achieve a rack position, try this movement before giving up on front squats – if your limitation is through tight lats (you’ll know if that’s the case because you won’t suffer discomfort trying to achieve a rack position, you just simply won’t be able to do it!), this could be the answer.

I use this grip with clients who are building up the flexibility in their lats. It’s a sturdy grip and achievable by most people.

Equipment needed for cross grip front squats:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates

How to do cross grip front squats:

  • Take the bar on your chest, with your upper arms elevated so they’re parallel with the floor
  • Bend your elbows and cross your hands in front of your chest, allowing you to hold the bar with an overhand grip
  • Your right hand should be positioned in front of your left shoulder and vice versa
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Cross grip front squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Spinal erectors

Double kettlebell front squats

Front squatting with kettlebells is another alternative to the barbell front squat that many people might be able to manage. It’s a much easier grip to manage than with the barbell front squats, but you can achieve a lot of the same benefits from the exercise. 

The double kettlebell front squat can be held in a rack position without needing too much mobility across the shoulders. It allows you to hold the weight in a solid position, brace the core and tap into the benefits of the exercise without needing to adopt a position you can’t reach.

Equipment needed for double kettlebell front squats:

  • Kettlebells

How to do double kettlebell front squats:

  • Lift the kettlebells to chest height, with them resting on the outside of each forearm
  • You can keep elbows high and out to the side, or resting in front of your chest – whichever is most comfortable
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Double kettlebell front squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Spinal erectors
  • Shoulders

Goblet squat

The goblet squat is a classic front squat pattern without the need to challenge mobility much. I like it as a beginner front squat and feel it challenges the core a lot as well, thanks to the odd-object nature of the weight in front of the body.

Given the movement is performed with a single kettlebell, the weight is light enough for anyone of any ability to perform the movement, allowing them to focus on perfect form before progressing to heavier versions of the front squat pattern. 

Equipment needed for goblet squats:

  • Kettlebell

How to do goblet squats:

  • Tightly grip the kettlebell on the round section at chest height
  • Hold the kettlebell in front of you, keeping the bell steady throughout the movement
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Kettlebell goblet squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Shoulders

Rear foot elevated split squats

The rear foot elevated split squats allow for great squat depth, plus the single-limb nature of the exercise reduces strength imbalances between limbs. It’s a great way to focus a lot of work on the glutes, taking weight off the lower back.

This is an exercise that will really challenge you, so start lighter than you think you’ll need to and build up from there.

Equipment needed for rear foot elevated split squats:

  • Weight bench
  • Dumbbells

How to do rear foot elevated split squats:

  1. Place the back foot on the bench behind you and hop your front foot ahead
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  3. Keeping the chest up throughout, bend your back knee towards the floor and lower the front thigh until it reaches parallel to the floor
  4. Drive front foot into the floor and stand back to the start position
  5. Repeat as many times as required.

Rear foot elevated split squats muscles worked:

  • Quads and hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core

Dumbbell box step ups

The step up is a similar exercise to the rear foot elevated split squats in the sense that it is a unilateral exercise, forcing each leg to work on its own. This helps to strengthen the core too. The other benefit is that you challenge your grip (if the weight is heavy enough).

Dumbbell box step ups are a really tough exercise and will challenge you from a cardio point of view too.

Equipment needed for step ups:

  • Box or weight bench to step on
  • Dumbbells

How to do step ups:

  1. Place the front foot on the step 
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  3. Step up onto the box by pushing up through the front foot – don’t cheat by springing off the floor using your bottom foot
  4. When both feet are on the box, lower the back leg down slowly and under the control of the front leg
  5. Repeat as many times as required per leg

Step ups muscles worked:

  • Quads and hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core

Kettlebell goblet forward lunge

Just like the goblet squat, the goblet lunge is a perfect front-loaded introduction into the exercise. It doesn’t require much mobility, but the weight being in front of the body requires more stability through the torso than standard dumbbell lunges would. 

I like the goblet forward lunge for clients because it requires the kettlebell to be kept stable in the center of the body, making the core work more. Given it’s an alternating single-leg exercise, the centre of gravity is constantly shifting slightly – this is different from a dumbbell lunge where the weight is balanced on both sides, thus removing an element of difficulty.

Equipment needed for kettlebell goblet forward lunge:

  • Kettlebell

How to do kettlebell goblet forward lunges:

  • Tightly grip the kettlebell on the upward diagonal of the handle section at chest height
  • Hold the kettlebell in front of you but close to your chest, keeping the bell steady throughout the movement
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and lunge under control on one side
  • When the back knee almost touches the floor, bring it through to the front for the opposite leg lunge
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Kettlebell Goblet forward lunges muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Shoulders

Weighted vest squats

This might not seem like an obvious front squat alternative, but it follows a very similar movement pattern and the demands on the body are almost identical given there’s a significant front-loading from the vest. 

The weighted vest is a great way to add resistance to an exercise without requiring much in the way of technique – it’s a very simple exercise, made challenging by the vest, not the technique.

Equipment needed for weighted vest squats:

  • Weighted vest

How to do weighted vest squats:

  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Weighted vest squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core

Zercher squats

Zercher squats are something I rarely programme for my clients – not because I don’t think they’re good (they’re excellent), it’s just the pressure on the elbows past a certain weight point can be very uncomfortable – enough to make them a no-go for many.

Zercher squats are praised for allowing you to achieve excellent squat depth, so if you want an exercise to help you out of the hole when squatting, this could be for you. They’ll also light your core up!

Equipment needed for Zercher squats:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates
  • Rack

How to do Zercher squats:

  • Rack the bar at abdomen height, low enough to loop your arms underneath, but not so low you have to stoop too far under
  • Take the bar in your elbows, securing it close to your abdomen
  • Brace your core tightly – this is important to protect the back
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Cross grip front squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Traps

Spanish squats (with kettlebell)

This is my go-to exercise for clients suffering with any kind of muscle-based knee pain. It’s an exercise that loads the quads without stressing the patellar tendon, which allows the person to squat pain-free. It’s also a great way to build up front-loaded quad specific strength.

Spanish squats need a band and an anchor point. In this instance I suggest you use a kettlebell for the additional load.

Equipment needed for kettlebell Spanish squats:

How to do kettlebell Spanish squats:

  • Secure the resistance band around an anchor point
  • Stand in the band, then move backwards to create a lot of tension in the band
  • Tightly grip the kettlebell on the round section at chest height
  • Hold the kettlebell in front of you, keeping the bell steady throughout the movement
  • Keep your chest up, your core tight and slowly lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (or lower)
  • Ensure the knees don’t cross over the toes
  • Pause and drive back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Kettlebell Spanish squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Shoulders

Front squat alternatives – the bottom line

My take on front squats is that if you can do them, you should be doing them – they’re an excellent exercise and one that has huge physical benefits. That being said, there are plenty of people who can’t do them.

Thankfully squat patterns are abundant, so use any of these 9 front squat alternatives in your training and you’ll enjoy all of the benefits with none of the discomfort.

by Steve Hoyles
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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