Five exercises that are better than squats for stronger legs and glutes

Squats may be king, but there are plenty of other exercises that are just as good as them

Woman doing barbell squat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether performed with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, squats are the OG when it comes to enhancing strength and size in our lower body. This compound exercise hits a multitude of muscles, including the quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings and core. Not to mention it has excellent carryover for athletic performance and everyday activities. 

But despite how beneficial they may be, mastering the squat correctly isn't easy for everyone. It can cause discomfort to certain areas of the body, such as the knees and lower back, plus if performed with poor form, it’s a one-way ticket to a (potentially) nasty injury. Then there’s those who sit the other side of the fence and just don't enjoy doing them, and that’s absolutely ok too!

There are plenty of other squat variations that you could try instead, or you can replace the squat with a completely different exercise that targets the same muscles. These are the five we'd recommend...

1. Deficit reverse lunge

woman doing reverse deficit lunges

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Normal lunges are great, but deficit lunges are even better. It's where you stand on an elevated surface (like a weight plate or a fitness stepper) and then lunge backwards. The increased range of motion adds an extra challenge to your quads and glutes than the traditional lunge and, as it's a unilateral movement (targeting one limb at a time), it's excellent for ironing out any muscular imbalances. Grab two heavy dumbbells and get ready to feel the burn.

2. Step ups

Woman doing box step ups

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Step ups are a seriously underrated exercise, but they shouldn't be. This unilateral movement targets the exact same muscles as squat including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves and core, but focuses on one side of your body at a time. It so versatile too; it can be performed with either a pair of dumbbells, a single kettlebell, or just your bodyweight (use a 1-2-1 tempo if you do this). It can be done practically anywhere too; just use a box, weight bench or even your stairs to step up onto.

3. Leg press

Man doing leg press

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Popular amongst bodybuilders and powerlifters, the leg press is an excellent squat alternative. It targets practically the exact same muscles but is easier to use as you as it doesn't require you to lift and balance the weight, as squats do. As a result, So, you can end up pushing more weight and it's a good option for beginners. It also takes far less toll on your back than the squat, as there aren't any weights placed across it and, instead, you're just pushing the weight up from your feet.

4. Bulgarian split squat

Man doing bulgarian split squats

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There's a reason why people shudder when Bulgarian split squats are in their workout programmes and it's because they're so good. They primarily target the glutes and quads, although you can make this more or less dominant depending on your foot placement. Perform them with a pair of dumbbells if you want to seriously fire up your legs, or focus on time under tension if you're just using your bodyweight.

5. Sled push

Sled push

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Popular in athlete training, the sled push is gaining even more popularity these days, thanks to the likes of HYROX. It helps you build powerful leg drive, strength and size as it targets your glutes, quads, calves and core. Plus, you may even feel your delts and triceps turn on too. It's way easier on your knee joints and lower back, so it's a great one for all ages and, in general, it's adds a fun bit of variety to your training.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.