How to Get Bigger Legs Without Squats [No-Squat Leg Workout]

There are several exercises you can do to build bigger, stronger legs without doing traditional squats. Trap bar deadlifts are the best squat replacement, since they work the same muscles as squats but put far less stress on the knees and back. Combine this exercise with deadlifts, lunge variations, and calf raises for our unique twice-weekly leg routine featuring 10 different exercises.

How to get bigger legs without squats

Are Squats Necessary for Big Legs?

While squats are a great weight training tool, you can build muscle mass in your legs without doing back squats or front squats. Squats primarily work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. There are several other exercises that also target these muscles, leading to muscle growth.

  • You can build muscle mass in your legs without doing squats.
  • Although squats are a great way to work your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, other exercises activate these same muscles.
  • You may want to avoid squats because they cause pain or due to back or knee injury.

Whether you do not want to do squats because of pain, injury, or simply because you dislike squats, you can follow an exercise routine that builds lower body strength without standard squats. The exercise routines below provides you with several alternatives to squats.

10 Exercises for Lower Body Strength Training Without Squats

In order to build functional strength and resist injury, it’s essential to work all the major muscle groups in your lower body. Below, we’ve crafted 2 complete lower body workouts that do not contain back squats or front squats.

You can use this routine in your weightlifting program. Just substitute these workouts for leg days that typically include squats. To get the most from this routine, it’s best to do both these workouts each week. Allow 48–72 hours between lower body workouts. If you do Leg Day 1 on Monday, don’t do Leg Day 2 until Wednesday at the earliest. In between lower body workouts, perform upper body workouts or take a rest day from the gym. 

Leg Day 1

This workout contains lifts designed to hit every major muscle in your lower body, proving that you can build substantial leg muscle without squats. Here’s exactly what you need to do:

Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar deadlift is the best squat replacement exercise you’ll find. Not only does the trap bar deadlift work the quads, glutes, and hamstrings in a manner extremely similar to squats, it reduces shear stress on the knees and helps to prevent back injury. If squats are uncomfortable for you, this is the number one exercise to do instead.

How to do this exercise: Check out this tutorial video.
Sets and reps: 5 sets of 8 reps
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Romanian Deadlift

Because squats and squat-replacement exercises focus more heavily on the quads and glutes than other lower body muscles, it’s essential to target the hamstrings. Romanian deadlifts are an amazing lower body exercise that isolates the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh for increased muscle mass gains.

How to do this exercise: Follow this exercise tutorial.
Sets and reps: 5 sets of 10 reps
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Split Squat

Although “squat” is in the title of this exercise, it has very little in common with the standard squats you’re used to. In fact, this exercise has more in common with lunges than squats, making them a great way to target the quads and glutes without using a traditional squat form. You can perform split squats as a bodyweight exercise, with dumbbells, or with a barbell balanced across your shoulders.

How to do this exercise: Follow this quick exercise tutorial video.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 12 reps.
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Glute Bridge

The glute bridge, as the name implies, targets your glutes. These muscles in your rear are worked during squats, but can be isolated with glute bridges for an intense workout. You may also see this exercise referred to as a “weighted hip thrust” or “hip bridge.” Either way, you will balance a weight across your hips and bring your hips upward to engage the glutes and hip flexors.

How to do this exercise: Follow this exercise tutorial.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 12 reps
Rest: 60 seconds between sets.

Standing Calf Raise

The calves are an essential lower body muscle group that should not be neglected during training. Squats provide minimal work for your calves, so it’s best to target them with calf raises. If your gym has a standing calf raise machine, this is the best way to do this exercise. However, if you want to start out with bodyweight calf raises, you can perform standing calf raises on a set of stairs.

How to do this exercise: Check out this standing calf raise tutorial.
Sets and reps: 5 sets of 10 reps.
Rest: 60 seconds between sets.

Leg Day 2

In order to keep things fresh, Leg Day 2 does not contain any of the same exercises as Leg Day 1. This also goes to show that there is a wide range of exercises that can be used to create a powerful leg workout without a single squat. Here’s how to tackle your second weekly leg workout without squats.


Deadlifts are an incredible compound exercise for building functional strength and muscle mass. Traditional deadlifts target the hamstrings, glutes, quads, core, and back muscles. However, they put more of an emphasis on the hamstrings than squats, so they are not a one-to-one replacement for squats. Deadlifts are, however, an essential exercise. You don’t have to lift big weights. Start with dumbbells if that’s more comfortable for you.

How to do this exercise: Follow this excellent deadlift tutorial.
Sets and reps: 5 sets of 8 reps
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Barbell Hack Squat

To really target the quads and increase lower body muscle, we’ve included the barbell hack squat in this workout routine. Don’t worry, hack squats have very little in common with squats. For starters, instead of balancing the weight across your shoulders, you will be lifting it from the ground. Think of this exercise like deadlifts, except the barbell is behind your legs instead of in front.

How to do this exercise: Follow the tips in this quick tutorial video.
Sets and reps: 5 sets of 8 reps
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Reverse Lunge

You’ve probably done some variation of lunges before. However, we prefer reverse lunges to walking lunges for this routine. Reverse lunges put less stress on the knee than forward lunges, making them great for those who wish to avoid squats due to knee pain. Reverse lunges also put the focus on the glutes, hamstrings, and core, which is a great change of pace after performing quad-focused hack squats.

How to do this exercise: Follow this expert tutorial.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 reps for each leg
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Side Lunge

Side lunges, also known as lateral lunges, are a great addition to a lower body routine because they train the body using lateral movement. This activates the abductor and adductor muscles on the outside and inside of the thigh, in addition to the main lower body muscles. This encourages growth and definition in muscles that are neglected by other exercises. Side lunges can be done with bodyweight, or you can hold dumbbells to increase the challenge.

How to do this exercise: Check out this tutorial video.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 reps for each leg
Rest: 90 seconds between sets.

Seated Calf Raise

To finish off your second lower body workout of the week, train your calf muscles. Seated calf raises are a great addition to your routine because the seated position allows for increased activation of the soleus muscle. This builds stronger, wider calves, resulting in a powerful lower body.

How to do this exercise: Follow this tutorial for seated calf raises.
Sets and reps: 5 sets of 10 reps
Rest: 60 seconds between sets.

Mistakes to Avoid When You Replace Squats with Alternative Exercises

If you want to eliminate squats from your routine for any reason, it’s essential that you do not trade your free movement exercises for machine exercises. Many machine exercises increase your injury risk. Using a leg press, leg extension, or leg curl machine is associated with a higher injury risk than free movements. These machines prevent natural movement because the weight is “on rails.” This also applies to using the smith machine to do squats.

  • Switching from free exercises to machine exercises.
  • Doing smith machine squats or machine hack squats.
  • Replacing squats with potentially injury-inducing exercises such as the leg press, leg curl, and leg extension
  • Training only with isolation exercises

It’s also important to continue doing compound exercises even if you remove squats from your training program. While it’s perfectly fine to have isolation exercises in your lower body routine, it’s essential that big movements, such as deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, and barbell hack squats remain a part of your routine. These exercises are hard, but they train your entire body for strength and balance, which is essential for lifting progression.

Can You Do Leg Day Without Squatting?

It is entirely possible to train your lower body for increased mass and strength without squats. Many athletes avoid squats if they have suffered a knee or lower back injury, but still train to build strong legs, here’s how:

  • Use trap bar deadlifts as a squat replacement.
  • Train your lower body with deadlifts, barbell hack squats, lunges, and split squats.
  • Use isolation exercises such as Romanian deadlifts, glute bridges, and calf raises to target specific muscles.
  • Avoid using leg press machines and other machine exercises, such as leg extensions.

Our twice-weekly lower body workout contains no squats, but will provide excellent results. Just remember to practice proper form and allow for adequate rest after a workout. These rules are essential for building muscle without injury.

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