Exercise Substitution: The Back Squat

Monday July 15 2019
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Finding a certain movement too hard? You may need an exercise substitution. When it comes to your training, there are certain movement patterns that are essential and must be trained. These movement patters make up the foundation of almost all human movement. Building a training program around them will lead to not only great success in the gym, but also better aging and quality of movement for life. What are these movement patterns you ask?

  • Squatting
  • Pushing/Pressing
  • Pulling
  • Hinging
  • Lunging
  • Rotation/Anti-Rotation
  • Walking/Jogging/Running

These are you essential movement patterns, and they must be trained if you want to be a healthy, strong, and vibrant human being. Notice, however, that I said “movement patterns” and not “exercises”.  The squat, for example, is a movement pattern NOT an exercise. There are countless variations and ways to train the squat movement pattern, but not all of them are suitable for every”body”.

For one person, a barbell back squat might work well, and feel amazing. For someone else, the barbell back squat might be disastrous – BUT that doesn’t mean that person can’t train their squat. They just have to find a suitable variation that meets them where they’re at, one that suits their fitness level, injuries, and abilities at this time. This is what we would call an exercises substitution.

An exercise substitution allows us to continue to train the essential movement pattern, without abandoning the movement pattern.

So – for example, as stated above, the barbell back squat doesn’t work for you. For whatever reason. Perhaps is the compression on the spine, and you have a back or neck injury. Maybe you lack the mobility in the shoulders to hold the bar correctly. Or, maybe you just don’t have access to a bar bell at the moment – what would be a suitable exercise substitution?

Goblet Squats: 

The goblet squat allows you to perform the squat movement pattern without loading up the spine with the same sheering force and compressive load as the barbell back squat – yet, it will still train the core to a high degree. It also removes the need for a barbell, as it can be done with a dumbbell or kettlebell. The front loaded position, with the weight held in front of the chest, allows for those who have shoulder issues to perform the movement without added stress on the shoulder joints. It’s also a more “natural” movement, as squatting up and down while holding something in front of you happens often.

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How to perform the goblet squat? 

  • Select a weight that you could comfortably squat for your prescribed set and rep scheme
  • Cradle the weight in both palms, under the chin, and keep the weight close to the chest at all times throughout the movement
  • Set the feet up at a comfortable squatting width apart for your unique anatomy. This will vary from person to person.
  • Take a breath in, engage your core, and begin to squat down. Keep the weight close to your body, this will avoid excess load on the spine and shoulders.
  • Do not relax at the bottom of the squat, maintain tension
  • With core engaged, breath out, press through the heels, and begin to stand up out of the squat


Keep in mind, the goblet squat may work wonders for you … or it might not be the right exercise for you at this time. Remember, it’s an exercise and like any other it’s not suitable for everyone.

If you’re unsure of what exercise might be the right substitution for you, or you have questions about your squatting technique, set up a meeting with one of our Wynn Fitness Trainers. They’ll help you understand your body a little better, and get you squatting in no time – with a variation that works for you and your needs.

In the next few weeks we’ll be looking a exercise substitutions for a handful of common exercises. Stay tuned to our blog to learn more!






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