While bodybuilders swear by them, barbell squats aren’t the only way to get killer quads. If you want to shape up and strengthen your legs without using the bar, you’ve got plenty of options. Whether you’re at the gym or in your home, you can work the same muscles by using machines, dumbbells or simple body weight. The key is to focus on moves that target the same areas — the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and lower back — and zone in for a great burn.
The best way to get the same results offered by the bar is to perform the same exercise with dumbbells. Because it’s the same movement, the dumbbell squat primarily works the quads while also developing the glutes, calves, hamstrings and lower back. You can either hold the weights at your side or rest them on your shoulders, depending on your comfort level. Just focus on maintaining good form, moving slowly and keeping your core engaged.
By taking the pressure off your back, the leg press machine can be a great alternative to traditional squats. Because you are seated in a machine, your back can rest against a padded support while your legs do the work. These machines can often be found in two locations in your gym, depending on its size: Among the free weights and plates or in the cable weight machine group. If simplicity is your goal, opt for the cable weight machine to avoid having to add the weights on your own.
If you have a medicine ball, pick it up and give sumo squats a try. These are effective squat variations that also work the inner thighs, according to “Shape Magazine.” The main differences between sumo squats and barbell squats are the width of the stance and the depth of the motion. Your feet are positioned wider than hip-width apart with toes pointing slightly outward, and, while holding the medicine ball at your chest, you dip as low as you can before returning to a standing position.
With static squats, you don’t even have to move to get a great lower-body burn. All you have to do is strike a pose and hold it to hit all the same areas of a barbell squat. In fact, you don’t even need weights. Place your hands on opposite shoulders and lower into a squat position the same way you would with a barbell. Instead of immediately returning to the standing position, hold the squat for 30 to 60 seconds. You’ll feel a burn in your quads almost immediately and be able to challenge yourself to increase your time as you get stronger.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.