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Equipment swap: squat rack

Timing is everything when you’re fitting in a training session before work, between meetings, or on a lunch break. So when the equipment you need is taken, it can really throw a wrench in your plan. That’s why Furthermore introduced Equipment Swap, a mini-series that offers alternative exercises when your fitness tool of choice is unavailable.

“The squat is the most functional movement you can perform in the gym,” says Brian Robbins, a Tier 3 trainer at Equinox Darien in Connecticut. It mimics sitting down and standing up, and works your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core.

The squat rack may be your go-to tool when executing this movement, but you can also do other exercises to work the same muscles. You’ll actually benefit: When you do the same moves all the time, it stalls progress, Robbins says.

On days the rack is occupied, he recommends performing two to three of the below exercises instead. Explosive, plyometric variations improve speed and power while single-leg and isometric squats hone the all-important stabilizer muscles. Instead of adding weight by loading a barbell on your shoulders, the below moves use other forms of resistance like medicine balls, bands, and the ViPR to build strength.  

Weave these substitutes into your routine and you’ll have a stronger squat when you finally get under the bar.

Assisted squat jumps with TRX

Targets: Lats, glutes, quads, hamstrings.

Stand with feet hip-width apart, hold the TRX straps at shoulder-height, and lean back slightly so the TRX takes some of your weight. Lower into a squat, slowing extending the elbows to keep tension in the straps. At the bottom of the squat, with arms extended diagonally in front of you, explode into a jump by driving through the heels and rowing the straps toward the body. Lower back to the floor, gently pulling on the TRX to help you land lightly on your feet. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10, resting 30 to 90 seconds between each set.

Increase the challenge:

Perform single-leg squats with the TRX, then single-leg squat jumps with the TRX. Complete 3 sets of 10 on each side.

Squat jumps with resistance

Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings

Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Loop a long resistance band around your waist or fasten it to a weight belt and secure the other end to a sturdy object behind you so there’s tension. Lower into a squat while swinging your arms behind you to create momentum. Then, swing arms forward and overhead, drive through your heels, and jump as high as possible against the band’s resistance. Land softly for one rep. Do 3 sets of 10, resting 30 to 90 seconds between each set.

Increase the challenge:

Choose a band with stronger resistance or decrease the distance between the band’s fixed points.

Jump slams with medicine ball

Targets: Shoulders, lats, core, glutes, quads, hamstrings

Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, holding a 10-pound medicine ball in front of chest. (Increase the weight if that feels too easy.) Squat down, then explosively drive through your heels to jump as high as possible with legs extended. As you jump, bring the medicine ball above your head. At the highest point of the jump, engage core and swing arms downward to forcefully slam the ball into the floor between your feet. Lightly land back in a squat. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10, resting 30 to 90 seconds between each set.

Increase the challenge:

Add resistance with a heavier ball.

Alternating ViPR scoop to front-loaded squat

Targets: Shoulders, lats, core, glutes, quads, hamstrings

Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, holding a 10-pound medicine ball in front of chest. (Increase the weight if that feels too easy.) Squat down, then explosively drive through your heels to jump as high as possible with legs extended. As you jump, bring the medicine ball above your head. At the highest point of the jump, engage core and swing arms downward to forcefully slam the ball into the floor between your feet. Lightly land back in a squat. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10, resting 30 to 90 seconds between each set.

Increase the challenge:

Add resistance with a heavier ball.

Weighted wall sit

Targets: Core, glutes, quads, hamstrings

Stand about two feet from a wall, facing away from it and holding a 25-pound weight plate. (Increase the weight if that feels too easy.) Bend knees and sink into your hips so your back is against the wall, with quads parallel to the floor and shins parallel to the wall. Rest the weight plate on quads and engage core and glutes. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Do 3 reps, resting 30 to 90 seconds between each.

Increase the challenge:

Perform the exercises on a single leg, with the other leg extended straight out in front of you, as high as you can maintain. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds on each side.

Landmine squat

Targets: Core, glutes, quads, hamstrings  

Position a barbell against a pivot point on the floor so you can move one end in multiple directions, or use a landmine if one is available. (Once you perfect your form, you can add weight plates to the open end and secure them with clips.) Hold the barbell with both hands about a foot in front of the center of chest, then lower into a squat, pressing hips backward. Lower as far as you can to the floor without breaking form, keeping in mind the lower you go, the closer the bar will get to your chest. Pause, then press through the heels to return to start for one rep. Do 3 sets of 10, resting 30 to 90 seconds between each set.

Increase the challenge:

Hold the end of the barbell with both hands in front of one shoulder, keeping it there through the entire exercise. Complete 3 sets of 10 on each side. (Use significantly less weight than you would holding the barbell in front of your chest.)