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:
- Squatting pattern
- Hip hinge pattern
- Horizontal press
- Horizontal pull
- Vertical press
- 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.