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Leg Workout Without Squats (Exercises for Killer Legs)

Tracy Thompson
Published by Tracy Thompson | Senior Coach
Last updated: July 25, 2023

Compound workouts like front and back squats are excellent ways for any level weightlifter to increase muscular development and strength.

If you are unable to squat owing to injury concerns (lower back problems or knee pain), lack suitable gym equipment (like a squat rack), or want to add variation to your training, there are many exercises you can perform.

As a certified fitness trainer with over 9+ years of experience, I will provide the best leg workouts and tips for building big legs without squatting.


Quick Summary

  • Lifters can boost their muscle mass without squats using unilateral lower-body workouts (step-ups, split squats, and lunges) and machine-based activities.
  • When performing such motions, the emphasis should be on doing the repetitions in a full motion range with coordination and control of the growth stimulus on the muscle tissues.
  • Using compound movements as the basis of your training regimen can also aid you in developing movement quality and getting the same advantages as squatting.

No Squat Leg Workout for Building Bigger Legs

A person doing leg workouts without squats

1. Leg Extension

Single-joint leg workouts can be an excellent technique to increase leg growth without causing excessive systemic fatigue.

Including leg extensions into a workout regimen may boost hypertrophy by performing higher rep sets with shorter rest periods.

"There's no denying that leg extensions assist in tightening your quads. After all, there aren't many workouts that replicate the solitary squeeze and quads-burn that they're famous for."
- Gareth Sapstead, NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist 

How to perform:

  1. Set the leg extension machine with knees bent at 90 degrees and the pad is on top of your shins near your ankles. Ensure the seat is adjusted to your specifications. Grip the handles on the seat's sides.
  2. Extend your legs, keeping your core engaged until the cushioned roller rises and your legs are straight.
  3. Pause after squeezing your quadriceps.
  4. Bend your legs slowly, resisting the load as you drop them until the plates touch.
  5. Repeat for reps.




2. Leg Press

A person in the gym doing a leg press

The leg press is an excellent machine variation for building bigger legs without doing squats.

Completing the leg press in the broadest range of motion possible while keeping a flat lower back to optimize benefits and prevent undue stress on the lower back and knees is critical.

How to perform:

  1. Sit on a leg press machine and put your legs on the platform before you. Your legs should be spaced around a foot to approximately two feet apart.
  2. Remove the safety bars that are keeping the platform in position. Without locking your knees, push the platform up until the legs are completely stretched. This is your starting point.
  3. Slowly drop the platform as you inhale, until the upper and lower legs create a 90-degree angle.
  4. Return to the beginning position by pushing with your heels and using your quads. Exhale while doing so.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is an excellent lower-body workout for lifters who want to bulk up using barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

Unlike bilateral exercises, the Bulgarian split squat may be performed with smaller weights (ideal for at-home training or while injured) while providing total stimulation to the leg muscles.

How to perform:

  1. Place yourself two to three feet in front of a knee-high platform. Extend the right leg and place the toes on the bench. Toes can be tucked or flat, depending on personal choice. Square your shoulders and hips.
  2. Slowly drop the right knee toward the ground while keeping your torso upright (try not to lean forward). Your front knee flexion should create a 90-degree angle (it may go further depending on the mobility; ensure your knee does not fall inward).
  3. Maintain a uniform distribution of weight over your whole foot. Don't push through the heel or move forward on the toes.
  4. Revert to the starting position by reversing the motion.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.




4. Dumbbell Swing

A person in the gym doing dumbbell swings

Dumbbell swings are a type of dynamic hip hinge activity.

When the dumbbell swings between your legs, hinge or slide your hips backward instead of squatting.

The strength and momentum created by a strong glute contraction and hip snap propel the dumbbell upward and forward in an arc pattern.

How to perform:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in the center with one hand in front of another. Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart.
  2. Push your hips back and swing the load between your legs without curving your lower back and with your knees slightly bent.
  3. When you have the weight behind you, engage your glutes and propel the hips forward to swing the weight to your chest level.
  4. At the apex of the exercise, compress your quads, core, and glutes as firmly as you can. Assume you're in the vertical plank posture.
  5.  Then, swing the weight back between the feet and repeat.

5. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is an excellent hamstring muscle and glute exercise for gaining muscle mass and building bigger legs.

“The Romanian deadlift is beneficial for back leg strength. Consider the weighted lunges: you wouldn't perform it with 400 pounds, but you could execute a Romanian deadlift using that weight.”
- David Kingsbury, Founder & Head Trainer at Opus Fitness

How to perform:

  1. Hold the load (barbell or dumbbells) in front of the thighs and drop to the ground by pulling your hips back.
  2. With a slight knee flexion, lower the weight, maintaining your shoulder blades pushed together and the chest open and broad.
  3. Return to the starting position by thrusting your hips forward when the load is below your knees.
  4. Repeat for reps.




Sample Squat-Free Leg Workout Program

A gym coach writing down something on a clipboard

Follow the following leg routine to build muscles without needing to squat.

After the workout, conduct full-body static stretching for 1 to 2 minutes for every body part, with special time devoted to trouble regions such as the upper back and tight hips.

If possible, have a quality low calorie protein shake containing simple carbohydrates at this time, if not shortly after that, to promote healthy muscle recovery.

The program:

  • 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of leg presses
  • 2 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of Bulgarian split squats
  • 3 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions of Romanian deadlifts
  • 2 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions of dumbbell swings
  • 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of dumbbell lunges
  • 2 sets of 20 to 30 repetitions of leg extensions
  • 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of leg curls




Tips for Building Big Legs Without Squats

A person in the gym working out for big legs

Below are ways to enhance leg growth without performing squats in a leg exercise routine.




1. Embrace Full Range of Motion

A person in the gym doing leg workouts

Lifting in the complete range of motion is essential for a muscular building in both squat-included and squat-free routines.

Increasing an exercise's active range of motion can raise the required muscle force and demand output.

Furthermore, by exercising through the whole range of motion, you preload a significant amount of strain on the skeletal muscles without needing to use as much weight as you would if you were doing partial repetitions, which may help you avoid undue structural stress on connective tissue and the knee joint [1].

This is significant because lifting large loads doesn't always encourage the best muscle growth since the stimulus-to-fatigue ratio is not always as favorable as employing moderate to high loads in a broad range of motion.

2. Work Through a Variety of Rep Ranges

Because you're not doing the basic squat movement, you'll want to make sure you're taxing your body as much as possible by going through many rep ranges.

When most individuals squat, they either perform extremely low reps with heavy weight to maximize strength or ratchet up the rep range, reducing the weight and ensuring growth while invoking metabolic benefits [2].

Use the same method for your other complex lifts.

Pick one compound exercise to go heavy and one to concentrate on higher rep ranges.

This will require you to work throughout all rep and metabolic spectrums, resulting in outstanding results.




3. Alter Your Leg Position

A person doing a leg press in the gym

Altering your leg position on the lifts is another wonderful way to build muscular legs without squats.

Take, for example, the leg press.

Leg press may be performed with various foot placements that target the quadriceps at slightly varying angles.

Turn the feet out to engage the inner thighs more directly.

Turn them in, and you'll feel the fire in the quadriceps sweep.

Use a broader leg position higher on the platform to engage your glutes.

You may also get tremendous outer quad stimulation by bringing your feet together.

While you should not complete all these in a single session, employing these alternatives weekly will ensure thorough leg work.

4. Stick to Compound Lifts

Just because you can't squat doesn't imply you can't benefit from other compound lifts.

Compound exercises demand the use of multiple joints at once and muscle groups [3].

Engaging numerous muscle groups allows you to lift a more significant load, improving muscle growth and strength.

To incorporate leg extensions into your lower body workout, position yourself on the leg extension machine with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your back flat against the seat, grasp the handles for support, and extend your legs until they're parallel with the floor.

Don't forget to include hamstring curls for balanced leg development. Using a hamstring curl machine, start with your feet hip-width apart and curl the weight towards your glutes.

These workout ideas are excellent ways to vary your leg day routine and target different muscle groups, promoting balanced strength and muscle growth in your lower body.



How Can I Train My Legs if I Can't Squat?

If you can't squat, you can train your legs by performing workouts such as step-ups, glute bridges, kettlebell swings, and rear lunges.

Can You Build Legs Without Squatting?

Yes, you can build legs without squatting. You may reach your goal of having enormous legs using various exercises other than squatting.

How Can I Slim My Thighs Without Squats?

You can slim your thighs without squats by performing deadlifts, side leg raises, bridges, good mornings, and wall sits.

Supplementing Your Squat-Free Leg Workout

You do not need to squat to build leg muscles.

Even though squats are regarded as the king of leg workouts, other options are available that hit every lower body muscle.

If you push the exercises outlined in this article as you would while squatting for high repetitions and incorporate these best pre-workout supplements, you will build massive lower body muscles.

Upon testing, clients reported having great strength, focus, and energy levels to complete their workouts.





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