There’s a giant misconception in the strength world, and it sings to the tune of “you have to back squat to get stronger legs”.

Not true. You do not need to load weight on your back to get stronger.

It’s not that back squats are bad, they’re great. It’s the fact that most people aren’t capable of performing them without putting their body in harm’s way.

Any lift or exercise you see in the gym was made up by somebody. The big three lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) were all made up. They’re not “natural” movements.

So, in order to perform them optimally, there are some prerequisites you’ll need to check off first.

  1. Thoracic mobility: Back-loaded movements require a certain degree of extension in the upper back. If you’re hunched forward with an excessively rounded upper back, loading weight behind your neck should be your last priority.
  2. Shoulder mobility: In order to grip the bar behind you and squat through a full range of motion, your shoulder mobility better be up to par.
  3. Core engagement: Your core’s main function is to stabilize the spine while your outer extremities are in motion. You have to engage your core when doing back squats, or all that weight is going to sit directly on your spine. Not good.
  4. Healthy spine: An excessive kyphotic posture or scoliosis certainly wouldn’t warrant back squats. If you’re uncertain about whether your spine is ready for the task, see a chiro (a good one).
  5. Glute engagement: In addition to a strong core, your glutes are another primary supporter of the spine. If you have trouble engaging your glutes, don’t add a bar to your back and expect things to get better before they get worse.

So, avoid (at least for now) back squats if you:

  • Have pre-existing or ongoing shoulder injuries/mobility issues
  • Spine issues (consult with your chiro)

There’s no point in writing a post about why back squatting is a no-no for some lifters without offering a solution. So, I’ll give you three.


Landmine variations are awesome, and I suggest you start doing them more often. Their versatility and scalability are enough justification to add them to your programming.

Plus, you can load heavy weights to your squats without putting your spine in shitty, vulnerable positions.

Why you should do it:

  • Weight distribution. With the weight hanging between your legs towards your centre of mass, the load is off your spine.
  • Weight capacity. You can still add a ton of weight to this squat variation and reap the strength/hypertrophy benefits. The only limiting factor will be your grip, which you can easily overcome using straps.

How to do it:

  • Place a barbell in the landmine handle or in the corner of the gym if you don’t have a landmine attachment.
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Grip the sleeve of the barbell with both hands.
  • Squat up with the bar and squeeze your armpits together to maintain back engagement (imagine you have oranges under your pits and you’re trying to make juice…but for the love of god don’t drink it).


I used to have really shitty knee pain for years, mainly from weightlifting.

I should have done more foam rolling, I should have focused more on recovery, and I shouldn’t have maxed out my squat so often. And to make things worse, I took my road bike (the bike with really skinny wheels) down a gravel hill and sent myself flying over the handlebars, landing directly on my shitty left knee.

You live and you learn.

This squat variation was a staple in my workouts to get myself used to squatting again.

Why you should do it:

The bands help guide you through the movement and maintain a vertical shin, alleviating any stress in the knees.

Note: Your knees will shift forward when you squat normally, and that’s fine. But if you’re coming off an injury or have shitty knees to begin with, this is a useful tool to get used to the squat pattern without putting yourself in harm’s way. Overtime, once you start building your strength back up, take the bands out and progress to box squats and free standing squats.

How to do it:

  • Set a couple of bands up around a squat rig at knee-height.
  • Back up so there’s tension created in the bands (you should feel them pull your knees forward slightly before you start squatting).
  • Sit back into your squat try to maintain a vertical shin angle.


No, goblet squats aren’t just for the pathetically weak and undertrained fitspo models you see demoing in the back of Tae Bo DVD’s.

They’re brutal. Particularly if you do them right.

The 3-2-1 variation means a 3 sec eccentric (lowering), 2 sec isometric (pause at bottom), and 1 sec concentric (standing) phase.

Why you should do it:

·Weight distribution. Front-loaded movements put less strain on the spine and more emphasis on the core. For someone who wants to do loaded squats sans the spinal repercussions, goblet variations will be your friend.

Scalability. Whether you’re learning the tricks of the trade or are a banged-up lifter, goblet squats offer an arsenal of variations for you to choose from.

How to do it:

  • Have a heavy dumbbell (or two) in a goblet position (in front of your chest).
  • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width, slightly angled out.
  • Push your hips back and squat down to full depth (3 sec lowering).
  • Pause at the bottom for a 2 sec count.
  • Drive through your heels and stand back up for a 1 sec count.


Back squats are an amazing tool to build raw strength and dense muscle. But as with any lift or exercise, it’s not the movement itself that it makes it “bad”, it’s how it’s being performed. And who’s trying to perform it. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for some people.

In the meantime, use these joint-friendly variations to keep your body out of harm’s way while reaping the strength and muscle-building benefits of the squat.





Then take this free gift now. Seriously, take it. HURRY.