The transformative power of the deadlift and front squat make them great leg exercises. Their explosive nature forces the body to maintain thoracic extension. This contributes towards strengthening of the scapula abductors and improvement of posture. This in turn, translates to a more efficient and stable force for all resistance movements.
That’s great. So we do deadlifts and we do front squats. However, sometimes we have no way to be able to do the front squat. An example of this would be if we own a home gym without any squat rack or power rack. If this is our setup, we will need an alternative movement to replace it.
What’s as Effective as the Front Squat?
The front squat is a very powerful movement. It’s hard to think that there would be any exercises that could replace it without hindering the quality of the workout. However, there is definitely one movement that provides similar benefits without the need of a rack.
The goal is to enter into rack position without needing a rack. This isn’t easy for us to do, but we can accomplish it if we perform the following movement: the power clean to split squat.
This is another exercise that is taxing on execution power. This comes from the thoracic extension. It is difficult to perform the split squat with the front whole. This isn’t a movement that requires a whole lot of weight. Let the contraction speak for itself.
It starts as a power clean and then turns to a split squat once in rack position. The split squat exercise puts primary focus on the quadriceps, but also activates the glutes, inner thigh, and calves. It also has the hamstrings as dynamic stabilizers.
Are There Any Other Options?
There is always another way to train legs. However, there are very few movements that execute as effectively without the need of a rack. The power clean to split squat eliminates the need for a rack without hindering the quality of the movement. All the power benefits are still there.
Of course, this isn’t a primary size builder. The back squat is the powerhouse of building muscle. If we are in a position where we can’t do either, then we may want to construct a leg workout with movements like the power clean to split squat, walking lunges, and stiff-legged deadlifts.
We can also use weighted lunges to replace front squats if we are more concerned about putting on size than actually improving explosive strength. Walking lunges with two dumbbells are pretty effective. A great thing about this exercise is that all energy is spent on the contraction. There’s no burning out due to having to get the bar to rack position through a power clean or having to hold the bar up. Of course, barbell lunges (behind the back) are more effective but are not an option if we don’t have a rack.
Can’t We Just Buy a Rack?
A used squat rack or power rack shouldn’t run too much. While this is region-dependent, we should be able to score a rack for under $100 if we look around. Heck, some people are even building their own racks. This is something that can be done in many different ways, but we have to be careful as it’s extremely important for the rack to be sturdy with the weight on it.
I Have a Smith Machine, Can I Use it to Front Squat?
My personal opinion on the smith machine isn’t a good one. There really are problems with squatting in the smith machine. While the front squat is a bit different than the back squat, these problems remain a concern. While the front squat may have less back-related complications, the smith machine forces a fixed range of motion and eliminates stabilizers from the movement.
Aside from that, front squatting in the smith machine eliminates balance control, prevents strength gains, and hinders muscle growth.
Simply put, to improve explosive power and leg strength it is essential to use truly effective movements like the front squat. However, in the event that this movement cannot be completed for any reason, the power clean to split squat serves a great alternative. This way we still get the benefits of the squat and we get the full control and performance improvements as a result of using free weights.