The back squat is known as the classic weight lifting exercise. No other exercise works as many muscle fibers as efficiently as the back squat. With just this one weight lifting exercise you work your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, lower back, upper back, and abs.

Using all of these muscle groups creates a positive hormonal response that can cause the rest of your body to grow as well. Because of this the back squat rightfully deserves its place as king of the muscle builders.

But sometimes we need some variety in our training program. Whether it’s because we’re bored with our current plan, want to target a specific muscle group, or need to work around an injury, sometimes back squats aren't an option. For these situations there are some great alternatives to the classic weight lifting exercise:

Front Squat

The front squat is the like the sister of the back squat. Its execution is very similar, except that the bar is in front of the head instead of behind it. Make sure the bar rests on the front of the shoulders and that the weight is not simply supported by the hands, or you will be limited in the amount of weight you can use. You can have the fingers under the bar with the elbows pointed straight out in front, or simply cross the arms over the top of the bar. Either variation is fine as long as the weight is stable and relatively comfortable.

The advantage of the front squat is that the body is forced to maintain a very upright posture in order to avoid dropping the weight. This means you won't be able to use as much weight as with a back squat, but you’ll put more targeted stress on the quads, and less on your hamstrings and glutes.

Zercher Squat

This is one of the least often used, but one of the most effective squat variations. To perform this weight lifting exercise, begin standing with your arms at your sides and your elbows bent to 90-degrees (like the mid-point of a biceps curl). From this position put the bar in the crooks of your elbows and clasp your hands together in front of you. If the bar is hurting your elbows (and it will if the weight is heavy enough) then you can place a thick towel or other padding between the bar and your skin.

From this position you simply squat down until the bar touches the tops of your legs and then stand back up. This is a tremendous weight lifting exercise for the lower and upper back, as well as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Split Squat

This variation is very similar to a lunge, and is often referred to as the Static Lunge. Whatever you call it, it’s a tremendous weight lifting exercise for the legs. Set-up with one leg 2-3 feet in front of the other. From this position, squat down by bending the knees of both legs until the knee of the rear leg touches the floor and then stand back up. This can be done with a bar on your back or dumbbells held at your sides. Don’t change legs or bring the feet together until you have completed your set, otherwise you’ll be doing a lunge.

The leg in front will bear most of the weight, but the rear leg also gets a good workout. Because of this, make sure to rest sufficiently before changing legs.

Use these variations in conjunction with a well-designed training and nutrition program and you will begin building muscle in no time!

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