Spend any time around a hardcore bodybuilding gym, or scope out the muscle magazines, and you're likely to hear or read the phrase "squats are king."
Translation: If you're serious about size, you must slide under the bar and drop into the hole. A lot. But are squats really 'all that' when it comes to building prodigious pins, or can you get by without them? That's the question this article seeks to answer.
The question is not rhetorical. Some gym-goers have legit reasons for ditching this move like a bad date. Perhaps squats make their knees snap, crackle and pop. Maybe inflexibility prevents them from achieving a full range of motion. And, let's face it, some people just don't like squatting, and never will. For them, the move feels like some sort of medieval torture technique.
Whatever the case may be, these people would like to rid squats from their workout, but still get results. So is it possible?
Hearing The Arguments
Are squats a requirement for growth? The answer is no. While there's definitely no denying that squats offer numerous advantages to the muscle mass seeker, there are three requirements for building muscle tissue:
- An overloading stimulus (i.e. more weight on the bar)
- Enough rest to allow re-growth to occur
- Consumption of more calories than you burn daily
Get these three requirements in place and you'll see results regardless of the absence of squats from your leg regimen. But it's not easy to build nice quads with a squats-free workout. You need to know what you're doing.
The following guidelines will ensure that you're doing what it takes to build a solid set of wheels, without having to squat a VW bug.
Guideline 1: Perform Both Quad- And Hamstring-Dominant Movements
To build lower-body mass effectively, you should perform exercises that will target both the quads and hamstrings together.
Yeah, I hear what you're saying: This is where squats really shine. While the squat is primarily considered a quad-dominant activity, it also zaps your hammies. Because squats utilize so many muscle fibers at once, the exercise evokes its legendary growth response.
However, if you omit squats from your routine, focus on other movements that activate quads and hams to a similar degree. (Otherwise, you'll need to superset two exercises to target these opposing muscle groups separately.) For example:
- The leg press is similar to the squat; it serves as a good direct replacement.
- Lunges are also a good choice, but they hit quads more than hamstrings. So if lunges become your primary movement, pair them with stiff-legged deadlifts, which are more hamstring/lower-back dominant.
- Step-ups are another good lower-body mass builder. They can be adjusted, targeted. To hit the quads, use a lower step and lean forward slightly, thereby placing more emphasis on driving your body up through your toes.
For more of a hamstring focus, use a higher step and emphasize driving up through your heels.
Note: Performing an even (same number on both legs) number of sets for both quad- and hamstring-dominant exercises will help prevent muscular imbalances from developing.
Guideline 2: Use Other Means To Fully Activate Your Glutes
To be successful in your squat-free lower-body mass-building quest, do exercises that allow you to work through a large range of motion. Full ROM will work the greatest number of muscle fibers and emphasize the glutes, which are important for complete leg development.
During squats, a high degree of glute activation occurs when you're at the lowest point of the rep and exploding upward. To achieve the same benefit without doing squats, you'll need to mimic this movement with a different exercise.
Single-leg split squats and single-leg deadlifts are excellent replacements. When performing these exercises, lower yourself all the way down. Then emphasize the contraction of the glutes as you accelerate up to the standing position.
Guideline 3: Perform A Range Of Rep Ranges
Incorporating a variety of different rep ranges into your mass-building lower-body workout is another effective way to grow without help from the almighty squat.
Perform the key compound exercises I mentioned above using a slightly lower rep range than normal, but with as much weight as possible. Then add in a few sets of isolated leg extensions and hamstring curls with lighter weight and more reps to finish off the workout.
Doing this will completely deplete muscle glycogen and promote muscle definition.
If done right, this workout can allow you to say "see ya" to squats without sacrificing results in the process. Below you'll find a sample squat-free lower-body mass-gaining workout: