Richards: Change up your squat routine for impressive leg development (column) |

Richards: Change up your squat routine for impressive leg development (column)

Ryan Richards
Make It Count

For years, the traditional barbell back squat has been labeled the king of all exercises.

And for good reason — this fundamental lift allows for heavy weights to be moved with large muscle groups, and the systemic stress response from back squatting is beneficial for strength, muscle growth and sports performance.

For non-athletes, barbell back squats are great for general strengthening, when needed.

The problem? Back squats are rarely performed correctly, and the technical nuances are often overlooked.


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There are a few common errors that occur during the back squat that can cause injury or minimize the effectiveness of this exercise. Bar placement, head position, depth and hip angle are usual suspects when things go wrong. While back squats are a great movement, try these alternatives.

One of the challenges faced when using the back squat is achieving proper depth. I rarely see a lifter using a full range of motion in this exercise. Often, lifters use too much weight and compromise position instead. A great alternative to the back squat is the Zercher squat; this lift has a built-in depth gauge. Simply position the bar mid chest in a squat rack, and place the bar in the crux of the elbows. Stand up with the bar, step back and squat as usual. The position of the elbows against the abdomen will help with depth; continue the descent until the elbows hit the inside of your thighs. Also, this lift places the load closer to the hips than the traditional back squat reducing spinal shear.


Another challenge with back squats is the need for a barbell, rack and spotter. Dumbbell or kettlebell goblet squats don’t require these luxuries.

Grab a kettlebell and position at chest level, holding the handles like a “drinking goblet,” and squat.

Goblet squats are great because they can be performed by novice lifters, they’re joint friendly and technically easy.

Don’t like squats altogether? Skip them and perform deadlift variations. Single leg dumbbell or kettlebell deadlifts, traditional barbell deadlifts and trap-bar deadlifts are all great alternatives to squats. Even though the deadlift is a different movement entirely, they’re technically easier, and you can build impressive legs along the way.

The longer I’ve coached, the more I’ve relied on deadlift variations as they seem to beat up the body less. They’re also easier to teach and are impossible to cheat. Deadlifts require the lifter to pick a weight up from the floor to an upright position. This either happens or it doesn’t. There isn’t a way to cheat the lift to a standing position.

Try these new exercises out, and your body will thank you. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards is a fitness professional who has been keeping the Vail Valley strong for over a decade. You can find him at or 970-401-0720

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