How to Attack Leg Day When You Can’t Squat
Tell me if this story sounds familiar:
Your boss has decided to be a giant turd sandwich this week, and:
- Filled your calendar full of pointless meetings
- Stuffed your inbox full of reply all emails
- And continues to make the same stupid (unfunny) joke for the umpteenth time
All of this makes your week seem longer than usual, and if you had it your way, when you woke up tomorrow, it would be Saturday.
But that’s not happening.
All of this would be okay. Except that it’s Tuesday. And Tuesday is leg day. And who the hell likes leg day anyways? Crazy people, that’s who.
So now on top of all the shenanigans you’ve had to deal with at work, you still have to deal with fucking leg day. Oh, but wait. It only gets worse.
After sitting through three asinine meetings, and fighting the urge to roundhouse kick your boss in the teeth after he—yet again—hit “reply all” instead of reply, you finally trudge your way (through the rain) into the gym. For leg day. But when you get to there, every single squat rack is full.
You ask everyone in the rack how much longer they have, and you get the same reply: “I have like, uh, three sets left.”
At first, you wonder if this is some nightmare. Lines for the squat rack? What kind of weird alternate reality did you traipse into?
Ain’t Nobody Got Time to Wait for a Squat Rack
There’s a problem, though. You have no time to wait around for a squat rack to clear out. There’s a crucial Carolina game on tonight, and you have to get home and watch it. Oh, don’t like college basketball? Fine. You need to get home and watch The Bachelor. Whatever.
And then it dawns on you. Like a bright, warm, and cozy ray of sunshine, your next thought turns this dreary, gray, drag of a week on its head.
Oh, and trust me, I know what you’re thinking too; because I’m a wizard. And no. The answer is no.
You can’t skip leg day.
Every time you skip leg day, you kill a hobbit. And those are not alternative facts — it’s science. Humans skipping leg day is the number one killer of hobbits everywhere. (The Nazgul are a close second)
So, no, you can’t skip leg day.
“Most” people would skip leg day. But since you’re not a hobbit murdering psychopath, what do you do?
For one, you sub in one of the kick ass exercises below. And two, you smile the entire time you’re sweating and setting your legs, hamstrings, and glutes on fire because you saved a hobbits life.
If you’re looking to place more direct stimulation on your quads, the leg press should be your go-to way to train. That doesn’t mean the leg press is better than barbell squats — it means it’s different.
- Less pressure on your spine/upper back from the weight
- Can usually move more weight than squats alone
- Less stressful on your CNS
- Far easier for tall(er) people who have long femurs
- Great for pump work and partial reps
- Better option for people who have low back pain (see below)
- (stupid) People on the internet will make fun of you [Bro, do you even lift?]
- Letting your knee move beyond 90 degrees on the leg press, can, if you use too much weight, cause back pain as you’re likely to round your back and bring it off the pad
- Depending on your gym, they may only have a machine and not a free weight version, thus limiting the weight you can move.
[On the above “con,” if this is the case and you’ve tapped out the max weight, switch to doing one leg at a time on the leg press to keep your leg gains progressing]
Sure, the leg press isn’t going to work as many muscles as a squat; namely your upper back muscles or erectors. But it’s the best way to hit your quads, hamstrings, and glutes when the squat rack is full.
Besides barbell squats, this is hands down my favorite leg exercise. Not only does it crush your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, but the goblet squat (like the barbell front squat) lights your anterior core on fire. And stronger anterior core muscles help prevent injury and aid in reducing back pain.
It’s also the best exercise for teaching proper squat mechanics — chest high, neutral spine, sitting your hips between your legs. And for most people, it feels more natural than placing a barbell on their backs.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Fact: the best lifts in the gym are named after European countries?
Bulgarian Split Squat
German Volume Training
Lithuanian Lateral Raises
Croatian Chest Flys
Okay, fine. I made the last two up. But when it comes to building strength, burning calories, and making you feel like a badass, there’s nothing better than Bulgarian Split Squats. Or as I like to call them: “I fucking hate yous.”
They suck at first. But when it comes to burning a ton of calories, challenging more small stabilization muscles, and building stronger, more badass glutes and quads, there’s abso(g)lutely nothing more kick ass than Bulgarian Split Squats.
DON’T DO IT. Get back here. Do not hit the little “x” on your browser window.
Look, I get it: lunges suck. They’re the second worst thing in the world behind burpees, and Nickelback. Ok, so they’re the third worst thing in the world (Nickelback takes that crown).
Still, when it comes to improving balance, coordination, strength, and swimming in a pool of sweat, there’s nothing better than lunges.
Squats are performed in one plane of motion. Lunges and lunge variations can take place in all three planes of motion (transverse, frontal, and sagittal).
*Don’t worry. Those planes aren’t super necessary to know. But sometimes I like to use all the fancy stuff I learned while studying to get my certification. Don’t hate.*
The movements we make in our everyday lives don’t ask us to move in one direction. We move up, down, forward, backward, and to the side. And to build strength in all the muscles of the hips and legs, you need to do more than moving up and down in a squat.
Lateral Lunges, Goblet Fireball Dodgers, and Reverse Lunges are some of my favorites to program for clients.
Especially, reverse lunges. They’re one of the best ways to target your glutes and hamstrings; and if you sit for hours on end during the day, these muscles are usually pretty weak. And reverse lunges make them stronger.
Every step you take is (for a split second) a single leg movement. Think about that. When you walk, for a brief moment all your weight is balanced on one leg. And where else do you place all your weight on one leg? Walking up stairs, duh.
And since I’ve already covered why single leg movements are absoGLUTEly the best thing ever, there’s no better way to train your legs (and your bodacious backside) than with step-ups.
Every training modality works with step-ups: bodyweight, dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, sandbags, or carrying groceries up a few flights of stairs.
You can use step-ups to train for power, strength, or, use them as I do with many clients, as a metabolic fat-burning finisher.
Set a timer for 2-3 minutes, and start with your body weight, or 5-15 pound dumbbells, and step-up continuously until the timer ends.
If you’ve got a little energy left in the tank at the end of a workout, or want to feel your heart beat through your chest, try and see if you can get through 2-3 three minute sets of step-ups. Oh, and be a good gym patron and clean up the swimming pool of sweat that’s collected beneath you.
Hobbit Lives Matter
It bears repeating: if all the squat racks are full, do not skip leg day. Or Hobbits will die. And if you think you’re having a bad week at work, think about how much worse the week is going to be for some Hobbit if you skip leg day.
And because I’m a supporter of Hobbits and all that they do, I want to help keep as many of them alive as possible. So I’ve created a leg day workout you can grab below. Please, help me save as many Hobbits as possible. Grab the free workout, and together, we can keep the Hobbits safe.
By Fitmo Coach, Robbie Farlow
I am a gamer and for years, I gave up my pursuit of health and fitness. My body became like the unplayed games on my shelf, forgotten and unused. I had zero confidence, my stomach was beginning to ooze over the top of my pants, and I felt like a stranger was looking back at me in the mirror. Then I realized that I could accomplish these goals if I turned the process into a game and made it an adventure that played out like games that I spent hours pouring into. I’m now an online personal trainer and I see my role as your sidekick. A companion who assists and helps make your quest easier to complete.
Learn more about Robbie, and working with him via the Fitmo app here.