3 Back Friendly Barbell Squat Alternatives

Looking back over 30 years of training with weights I can truly say that it’s not the age, it’s the mileage that has taken a toll on my body. Many days, weeks, months, and years of toiling away in the gym for hours and hours (and not to mention the years of competing) will make anyone take stock of what has worked, what hasn’t, and especially what needs to change. Here I’ll briefly outline 3 back friendly barbell squat alternatives I use to keep the fires going. But first, let’s back up a bit.

Are you like me? All through my teens, twenties, and thirties I squatted. It was and still is the granddaddy of lower body development. It increases strength, muscle mass, and is one of the most functional exercises ever developed. But over time you may find that your lower back (specifically the lumbar) gets aggravated. You see, I loved to squat deep – very deep. It allowed me to go more moderate with the load (I never was a heavy squatter) and really pound the legs. But the wear and tear has caught up with me and now I like to perform a few squat alternatives instead.

Now, this isn’t to say I’ve given up squats. It’s just that I’ve given up heavy squats and prefer these alternatives instead. Added bonus: these exercises are unilateral. Meaning: they work one leg at a time for more balance in strength. And believe me, we all have a weaker side.


3 Back Friendly Barbell Squat Alternatives

  • Dumbbell Bulgarian split squat
    These are performed with one foot elevated behind you on a bench and the other firmly planted out front. Hold a pair of dumbbells to your sides, back straight, head up, and lower your body until your front knee forms a 90 degree angle. Return to the start without locking your knee.
  • Barbell Bulgarian split squat
    Use the same technique as above only this time place a barbell across your back. This is one of my favorite versions due to the fact that it almost forces you to keep your back straight.
  • Smith machine Bulgarian split squat
    Again, same technique as the other, but this time use a Smith machine. Why? It will allow you to go heavier since you don’t have to worry about balance. If you do be sure to include some free weight days as to shore-up any strength imbalances.

There you go, short and sweet. Try these 3 versions out. The more you balance your strength the more you’ll develop overall lower body stability and muscle mass. And try this lower body workout for a change.

Happy lifting.

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