Can I Make Gains Without Back Squats?

There's no such thing as a mandatory lift, unless you're a competitive lifter. But there's no doubt that the back squat is a great exercise. It belongs to the category of the "big basics" that should be the meat and potatoes of a training program.

Squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, row, and pull-ups are your money lifts and they've stood the test of time. Barring injury, you can never go wrong with using them... but they're not necessary to build a good physique.

Now, the key movement patterns SHOULD all be trained in a program. They are:

  1. Squatting pattern
  2. Hip hinge pattern
  3. Horizontal press
  4. Horizontal pull
  5. Vertical press
  6. Vertical pull

But it doesn't mean that you HAVE to do the back squat. It means that you ought to train the squatting pattern, which has a multitude of varieties. Here are a few:

People with long legs relative to their torso, especially if their tibias are short relative to their femurs, will have a hard time getting anything out of the back squat when it comes to leg growth. But front squats, especially with the heels elevated, or Zercher squats, can be a solid option.

Can you achieve good size without any form of free-weight squatting? Sure. Bulgarian split squats and machine hack squat will work well if you're strictly interested by leg size.

But I still believe that you should train the squatting movement pattern with a variation that suits your type and then complement the session with the split squat and hack squat machine.

Related:  Question of Strength 50

Related:  Squats for Those Who Can't Squat