Hate Doing Squats? 7 Exercises That Work Just as Well

Every exercise has its big “it” moment, and squats have been having that moment for a very long time. And why shouldn’t they? Squats are great for toning your thighs and calves, engaging your core, and of course, giving you a nice backside. But let’s be honest — squats have kind of worn out their welcome.

Here are seven exercises that work just as well as squats, from tricky leg lifts to low-impact floor work.

1. Side kicks

women in an exercise class doing high kicks

Their workout is so good, they won’t have to do squats later. | iStock.com/dolgachov

This kickboxing-inspired exercise is noticeably great for working out your legs. And like squats, it will also engage your core, given you’re able to maintain your balance. Start by standing up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands placed on your hips. Transfer your weight over to your left leg as you kick your right leg out to the side and up toward the ceiling. Keep your abs sucked in towards your spine as you slowly lower your leg back to the starting position for one repetition.

Start by doing 10 repetitions for each leg. Take a cue from Livestrong.com and warm up with a light cardio workout before performing this exercise.

2. Curtsy lunges

woman doing lunges with weights in a gym

With an exercise this good, you might never go back to doing squats. | iStock.com/milanvirijevic

Start standing up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your posture straight and your abdominal muscles engaged, cross and step your left foot behind your right and bend both knees into a lunge. Press down into the floor as you lift back up for one repetition. Start with doing 10 repetitions, then switch to do the same with your right leg.

Use this easy-to-follow video from Health.com as your guide.

3. Single-leg deadlifts

This rendition of a dancer’s arabesque requires balance, so you will get an added core and back workout in addition to working your legs and glutes. Stand on one leg with your other leg pointing directly behind you. Keep your core engaged as you hinge forward from your hips, lifting your arms in front of you as you lower. Bring your arms back to your sides as you lower your leg back to the ground and return to center.

Try doing 10 repetitions on each leg. This exercise can be performed with weights — like in this video — but is still effective without them.

4. Bridge with leg extension

woman in a bridge pose on the ground on a yoga mat

This exercise is a great replacement for squats. | iStock.com/undrey

This exercise probably makes you think of retro ’80s workout videos full of spandex. Put all of that aside, and this hip-thrusting workout remains a great alternative to doing squats. Following the user-friendly instructions from Muscle & Fitness, start lying on your back with your knees bent at 90-degree angles and your feet planted on the ground about hip-width apart. Engage your abdominal muscles and squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips up to the ceiling. Keep your hips lifted as you extend your right leg out in front of you. Return your foot back to the ground and repeat with the left leg.

Start with doing 10 repetitions on each leg before lowering your hips back to the ground.

5. Bear planks

woman practicing yoga on her yoga mat

Bear planks challenge your core and your lower body. | iStock.com/fizkes

This isn’t your everyday hum-drum plank exercise. Bear planks are a great full-body exercise that puts extra emphasis on working your lower half. Using this video as your guide, start on all fours. With your core engaged and your weight forward onto your hands, fold your toes under and lift your knees just an inch off the ground. Maintain this position while you switch stepping each foot backward. Start by doing this exercise for 30 seconds before returning your knees to the ground. Work your way up to one minute.

6. Fire hydrant leg extensions

The fire hydrant move is great for targeting your gluteus muscles. Add a leg extension to it, and you have an exercise that works your entire leg — and engages your core, just like squats do.

Start on all fours, keeping your abdominal muscles sucked in and engaged. Starting with your right leg, open your hip and lift your bent leg up to the side, just like a dog at a fire hydrant. With your leg raised, point your foot and extend it directly behind you, then return back to a bent leg position for one repetition. Start with 10 reps on each leg, working up to three sets of 10.

7. Rainbows

Of all of the alternatives to squats, leg rainbows are probably the most low-impact. But don’t be fooled — your muscles will definitely burn after you do this floor exercise. Start on all fours, keeping your abs engaged so your back won’t arch during the exercise. Keeping weight on your hands, extend your right leg directly back behind you. Raise your leg up and move it from side to side behind you in an arch pattern (hence it being called a rainbow).

This video from Health.com serves as a good visual guide. Start by doing 10 repetitions on each leg, working up to three sets of 10.

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