No More Squats: 7 Effective Lower Body Exercises That Won’t Hurt Your Knees

You’ve heard it before — squats are one of the best exercises you can do for your lower half. They firm up the glutes, strengthen the quads, and provide a decent cardio workout if you participate in the jumping variety. Unfortunately, many squatters have difficulty maintaining the position due to bad knees — and they’re left with painful joints after their workout is through.

If this sounds like you, fear not. There are plenty of lower body exercises that are excellent for those who don’t like to squat but still want to see serious fitness gains. Try out these seven moves instead.

1. Glute bridges

Woman doing glute exercises

Woman doing glute exercises | iStock.com/undrey

Not only are glute bridges great for your behind, but they’re also super effective for your abs. The American Council on Exercise explains you begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your feet should be hip-width apart, toes facing away. You should also work to press your lower back into the floor to engage the abs.

Then, lift the hips upward by squeezing the glutes and keeping that abdominal contraction strong. Slowly lower down to your starting position to complete one rep.

2. Deadlifts

If you want a serious hamstring, back, and glute workout, look no further than deadlifts. To start, Shape explains you’ll want to take a dumbbell in each hand for added resistance (try beginning with a weight similar to what you would use for a bicep curl). Then, keep feet hip-width apart with your palms facing your thighs. You’re going to bend forward with legs straight but knees slightly soft, keeping your back straight by pushing your hips behind you. Stop once your upper body is parallel with the ground, and slowly rise back up to complete one rep.

Want to make this move harder? Try going for a one-legged deadlift using the same technique.

3. Inner thigh circles

Woman doing leg exercises

Woman doing leg exercises | iStock.com/DenizA

It can be tough to work your inner thighs without resorting to a sumo squat position — but that’s what inner thigh circles are for (and they’ll secretly work those lower abs, too). Shape explains you begin by lying on your back on the floor with both legs straightened above the hips. Keep your feet flexed with heels touching, and turn your legs out to 45-degree angles.

To start, lower your legs about 45 degrees to the floor. Open your legs out to the sides as you circle them upwards, and bring them together over your hips to complete one large circle for one rep.

4. Side raises (with a resistance band)

Weights aside, one of the best ways to build strength in your lower body is to employ the help of resistance bands. Redefining Strength explains many exercises that can be done with bands to provide an extra challenge to many simple (but effective) leg moves.

For side raises, simply put the band around your ankles and stand hip-width apart. Then, raise your leg to the side. If you point your foot 45 degrees out from your center, you’ll feel the work in your inner thigh. If you raise directly to your side, you’ll work your glutes.

5. Heel presses

For serious glute work, you’ll have to go back down to the floor for this one. Lie on your stomach with my arms bent and your chin resting on your hands, Shape instructs. From here, bend your knees, flex your feet, and press your heels together. Your feet should be over your knees to start.

When you begin the move, press your heels to the ceiling with the aim to lift your thighs. Then, slowly lower your thighs to the floor to complete one rep.

6. Hip abduction

Woman doing hip abductions

Woman doing hip abductions | iStock.com/Veles-Studio

Your hips can be a tough place to work, so employ this exercise to strengthen this region. Start by lying on your side, ACE explains, and keep your legs extended so you form a straight line. Your legs should be stacked and your feet should lie one on top of the other. You can keep your head supported with your arms here, too.

To start, lift the upper leg off of the lower leg with the knee fully extended. Make sure your hips stay vertical to the floor and your knee of the lifted leg points straight away from you. Slowly lower down to complete one rep — and don’t forget to switch sides.

7. Skater lunges

Skater lunges are an excellent substitute for squats, as they also add a cardio aspect to your routine. Redefining Strength says you’ll want to start by standing on your right leg. When you’re ready to begin, bend the right knee and drive the left leg behind you until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Come back to standing once you’ve gone as far as possible to complete one rep. Continue on the same side without touching the left toe to the floor to challenge your balance, and then switch sides.

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