Alternative Exercises For When That Guy Will Not Get Out Of The Squat Rack

Everybody at the gym has their own plan, their own path. In a perfect world, these paths all crisscross and interweave without any collisions. One person hops off the treadmill, another hops on. One person sets down a weight, another picks it up. Record scratch, here's the real world: five different people across the gym are killing time on machines they don't care about, glaring at the guy who won't stop doing curls in the squat rack.

A few truths about this situation, which are meaningless in the moment because you need that squat rack now:

  • He shouldn't hog a specialised piece of equipment for an exercise he can do somewhere else. Neither should you, if it ever gets to be your turn.

  • It's OK to politely ask if he'll be done soon, or if you can work in. He does not have to say yes; that's his choice. You are not obligated to ask; that's yours.

  • You could try going when the gym isn't so crowded, but you still can't guarantee the squat rack will be free.

  • You could tour all the gyms in town, switching your membership to whichever has the most squat racks.

But in the moment, you have to make do. If you can't wait for the equipment you need, there are usually a few other ways to work the same muscles. These may not be quite the same as the workout you had planned, but hey, sometimes it's good to try something new.

So here are alternative exercises for what an informal survey tells me is the most-hogged piece of gym equipment:

  • Front squats, no cage needed. If there's space to set up a barbell on the floor and you know how to clean it (lift it from the ground to your shoulders), you can do squats with the bar resting there instead of on your back. You'll need to use a lighter weight than what you would normally do for a back squat and make sure you stop before you're fatigued so you can safely put the weight down.

    Of all the options, this is the most similar to barbell back squats, but there are still a few slight differences.

  • Goblet squats. Hold a large kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest while you squat. This weight won't be as much as you would have used in the rack, so do more reps.

  • Dumbbell squats or lunges. Hold two dumbbells at your sides. Your grip strength limits you here, so again, go as heavy as you feel comfortable with and do more reps. It can be uncomfortable to hold large dumbbells at your side while you squat, so consider lunges or split squats instead.

  • Leg press or squat machine. There are several different kinds of machines that mimic the motion of a squat and your gym probably has at least one. If you love free weights, you probably scoff at these machines as not functional enough and it's true, they don't work all the same muscles as squats, nor do they challenge your balance and stability as you do it. But it's late, you've got to get home and that guy still won't get out of the squat rack, so you might as well give your quads some kind of a workout.

  • The Smith machine. Same as above: not the same as squatting free weights, but here you are. The Smith machine is the one with a barbell that's fixed on a sliding track. The bar has hooks to position it at whatever height you like to rack your weights and safety stops at the bottom — check where the last person set them, so you don't get a surprise halfway into your first rep.

If those options don't work for you, here are a few others that aren't quite as squat-like, but will still work a lot of the same muscles:

  • Squat jumps or box jumps. It doesn't take much jumping to give your legs a great workout, but jumps do carry some potential for injury (even if you don't fall and hit your shins on that box). Landing from a lot of jumps is hard on your joints and tendons. So if you're accustomed to jumping, jump away! If not, do a few and then finish out your workout with one of the options above.

  • Step ups. With or without weight, step up onto a bench and step back down. Choose whatever height you like (or can find), but knee height is classic.

  • Single leg squats. Now is a great time to work on your pistol squat, since that's a no-weight exercise for most of us. Use a cable machine, suspension trainer, or door frame for assistance.

  • Cardio machines used creatively. Crank up the resistance all the way on a rowing machine and push with all your might. Or snag a stair-climbing machine and do it on an advanced level. Either way, you're aiming to fatigue your legs in a few seconds to minutes, rest a few and try again.

Chances are, at least one of these options will be available to you and will fit your athletic needs for this particular workout. Be smart: don't try an advanced move if you have no idea how to do it. But as long as you can do an alternative move safely, give it a try — who knows, you may even like it better.


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