No matter how good you are at any given thing, there’s always room to get better.
And when it comes to squatting, accessory exercises are one of the best ways to get the most out of every rep and hit your target numbers faster.
The following 15 squat accessory exercises will help you take your squat gains even further, helping you lift bigger weights and be more comfortable under the bar.
And it doesn’t matter what your favorite squat variation is, whether you prefer the front squat or the back squat, the following 15 squat accessory exercises will help you improve on your 1RM.
By bringing in a few of these exercises you can strengthen some of your weak links as well as getting yourself back out of the sticking point at the bottom of a deep squat.
Squats are one of our primary exercises, one of the 5 big lifts.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need some accessory work to smooth out those muscular imbalances that might be causing issues with hip mobility.
We’ll look at movements that will improve single leg strength as well as some fun body weight assistance exercises.
One glaring omission from our list though is the leg press.
And while this is a good exercise for building big quads, there are more valuable exercises that will help improve overall strength in the lower body that will go a long way towards smashing a new max in your squat numbers!
When looking for effective squat accessory exercises, it’s important to remember that nearly every movement can be translated to work on squat form.
These two-dozen movements all have their own individual purposes and nuances—whether focusing on mobility, posterior chain strength, or hip stability—but they all share a foundation in improving your squat performance in some way.
They target your hamstrings and glutes, which are both major players in a huge squat.
What’s more, these movements isolate these muscles, allowing you to get way stronger on them than you could with straight leg curls or stiff-legged deadlifts—both of which also involve other muscles like your lower back.
I have personally seen people use GHRs to help them break records in their squats.
And if you want to take things even further, try banded GHRs instead of just bodyweight for added resistance.
The hip thrust is an exercise that stimulates muscle growth in your glutes by isolating them and forcing them to work hard.
It also improves the performance of other glute-intensive exercises, like squats and deadlifts.
For these reasons, it’s a fantastic addition to any strength training routine.
They’re simple: Lay on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Place a barbell across your hips (you can use plates for more weight).
Drive through your heels as you squeeze each butt cheek as hard as possible to lift hips off ground—imagine trying to break glass with your butt—until you’re standing straight up.
Lower down as slowly as possible; squat back down if you must.
One of my favorites for squatting, split squats are especially great for adding mass to your quads.
Start in a lunge position with a dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your shoulders.
Squat down and back up, trying to keep your back upright at all times.
As you get stronger, add more weight to make it even more challenging.
Make sure to use both legs equally during these.
Because they isolate each leg individually, they can help build symmetry throughout your body.
Because they’re unilateral (one-legged), focus on pushing through your heel while maintaining good form throughout.
Start with 3 sets of 10 reps on one leg, then switch to the other leg.
After you do that 2-3x, feel free to start over or do 3 sets total per leg instead if 1 set was too easy or too hard for you!
Lunge exercises are good for developing strength and balance.
The lunge strengthens your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles in addition to stabilizing muscles in your hips and core.
You can perform a lunge with dumbbells or a barbell.
Place one foot forward while keeping your torso up, on top of your front leg.
Then lower yourself down until both knees are bent at 90 degrees.
If you choose to use weights while performing lunges, start out by holding 5-10 pounds in each hand while getting used to these movements on an empty stomach before adding more weight.
Lunges should be done two-three times per week for best results.
When you move on to more challenging lifts, box squats are great accessory exercises.
They help with your transition from squatting for higher reps to heavier sets of fewer reps by reinforcing your form under fatigue.
Just set up as you would for a regular box squat, but don’t unrack it—just sit back onto it and perform your set of squats.
Afterward, unrack, rest for one minute and then repeat another two or three times.
The single-leg squat is a great way to make your regular squats better.
Performing them will help strengthen all your leg muscles, particularly your inner thighs and glutes.
Pistols force you to focus on stabilizing one leg at a time, which helps improve balance and coordination.
They’re also great for developing upper-body strength since you need to hold yourself steady with only one arm at a time while you perform them.
Because your quads and glutes play such a huge role in proper squat form, it’s important to build up those muscles with extra exercises—and box jumps do just that.
By jumping on top of a sturdy surface and then quickly lowering yourself back down into a squat, you’ll enhance your explosive power and work out several muscle groups at once.
Go as high as you can on each rep for maximum results.
Farmers’ carries are an old-school exercise that has experienced a resurgence in popularity recently.
They’re exactly what they sound like—simply carry heavy weights for long distances.
To perform, pick up one weight in each hand, lift them above your head, and walk for as long as you can or until failure strikes.
Lifting two kettlebells at once creates increased resistance, so you can work with heavier weights to get stronger faster.
If using dumbbells instead of kettlebells is more your style, go right ahead; there’s no wrong way to do farmers’ carries!
Like normal squats, goblet squats require a barbell and a squat rack or something similar.
There’s a slight difference in that you’ll be holding a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands at your chest.
Hold it straight up so it’s resting on your sternum and take a big breath as you lower yourself to full depth.
Pause for one second before pushing back up to full extension.
This is one rep.
Try doing 3 sets of 10 reps for 3-4 workouts per week if squatting isn’t already part of your workout routine.
A Zercher squat involves holding a barbell in front of your body at arm’s length while resting it on your forearms, which are bent and parallel to one another.
This variation allows you to make use of some incredible stabilizing muscles like your core and upper back while focusing on building strength in your legs.
This is an excellent way to really increase your leg size, especially in comparison with conventional squats.
The distance between your feet also forces you to engage more stabilizer muscles than you would otherwise.
If you want bigger quads and hamstrings, give these a try!
If you need to take a quick break between sets of squats, paused squats are an excellent choice.
A paused squat will give your body time to adjust to lower weight loads before pushing on.
It also allows you to work on perfecting your form with heavier weights than you could otherwise handle safely.
To do paused squats, simply hold onto a barbell or rack for several seconds before slowly lowering into position and pushing up through a full range of motion.
Try doing them once per week as an extra-strength training workout.
You can also perform paused squats after warm-up sets or during rest periods in order to build more muscle quickly.
Start with eight reps at 50 percent of your one-rep max (one rep maximum), increase weight by five pounds each set, and hold each rep for four seconds before attempting a new set.
You’ll know it’s time to switch from pause squats to regular squats when you’re able to increase your reps without sacrificing form at all.
If you want to build strong legs and glutes for squats, look no further than kettlebell swings.
Just like their barbell counterpart, these go great with back squats.
They’re easy to learn (just like regular swings) and give you a huge bang for your buck—in terms of both calorie expenditure and pure training effect.
Simply hold a kettlebell by one handle in each hand at arm’s length next to your sides, hinge forward from your hips so that you have about 45 degrees between your torso and thighs, drop down as if sitting into a chair until you feel the tension in your hamstrings or lower back (this is where form can break down), and then explosively extend through those hips and knees.
You should end up standing tall with weights overhead; finish by lowering back down into that swing-like position.
If you’re not taking your squat to new levels, it’s because you haven’t incorporated tempo squats into your workout regimen.
These accessory lifts help strengthen your quads and glutes while also teaching proper balance.
Start with a 25-pound bar for a few sets of 8-10 reps each week.
Or if you’re already squatting serious weight, try adding a 25-pound plate on each side as an alternative approach.
Once you master these slow squats, move on to high-rep front squats (with lighter weights).
Tempo squat workouts can be done without a spotter—and that means more time under tension and better gains.
The barbell row is a great accessory exercise for improving your back squat.
It’s also considered one of the best exercises for building bigger traps.
A few sets of these on the upper-back day will help build that thick, powerful-looking neck you’ve always wanted.
If you’re looking to maximize every rep, make sure to use an overhand grip.
And if it hurts your wrists or elbows to go heavy with rows, try using dumbbells instead.
Deadlifts are already one of the best strength-training exercises out there, but by adding deficit deadlifts to your workout you’ll be able to strengthen your posterior chain—your glutes and hamstrings—even further.
Place a box in front of you so that it’s between knee and chest height when you squat down; grab some weights, step back on top of that box, then pull those weights up with controlled precision.
When it comes to working out, most of us have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a primary exercise.
For example, when you go to work on your chest, you’re going to be doing bench presses.
When your target muscle is your back, you’ll be pulling an exercise that focuses on building strength in that area of your body.
But what about exercises that help make other movements stronger?
These are known as accessory exercises.
Simply put, they strengthen whatever muscle group they assist. In terms of squats, they can include any combination of leg curls, glute-ham raises, and extensions, Bulgarian split squats, or step-ups with resistance bands added to increase intensity.
By themselves, these movements aren’t squat variations but they do help increase levels of muscular endurance in your quads and glutes.
Combined with squats and deadlifts, though, there isn’t much that can stop you from adding weight each time you hit the gym…unless injuries force an end to all that.
You might have seen people in the squat rack with no shoes on.
So is this approach good for lifting heavy weight or just a barbaric approach to lifting? Both approaches to squatting have their advantages.
Using shoes allows you to lift more weight while no shoes let your feet spread wider for more stability.
Shoes protect against weights sliding around while lifting without them makes lifting heavier weights possible.
Ultimately, try both approaches and figure out what feels best for you.
You’ll probably discover that some exercises work better with one approach than another.
For example, doing squats in sneakers has its benefits but it can also increase discomfort if done incorrectly; using flat-soled shoes instead will reduce strain on your knees significantly.
However, choosing running shoes or cross-trainers may make squatting easier as well by creating a natural heel/toe angle that doesn’t require additional effort to maintain balance.
In fact, squatting shoes are available if wearing conventional gym footwear isn’t an option.
Regardless of which method you choose though, start slow with lighter weights so you can feel comfortable with each movement before adding more weight gradually over time until eventually reaching your maximum strength levels safely.
Listen to your body: Often overlooked during exercise programs is listening to our bodies when things aren’t feeling right.
If everything hurts after just one set of squats, something isn’t quite right somewhere along the line.
If you’re coming to squat for your first time, chances are you’ll experience three common weak points along your journey.
In fact, I would venture to say that 95% of all lifters make these same mistakes when squatting.
Here they are.
Too much lower back involvement in a squat — Fixable by strengthening and mobilizing your posterior chain and glutes.
Too little knee bend — Fixable by improving mobility and increasing squat volume with high box squats or short ROM lifts such as goblet squats or pistol squats.
Poor squat technique — This is harder to fix if you were not coached from day one on how to squat correctly.
There are many reasons poor technique develops including poor flexibility, long limbs versus short limbs, bad habits picked up from sports or other areas of life (think carrying groceries), and so on.
A coach should be able to help out here but sometimes it takes years before bad habits present themselves—making it hard to correct them at the right time.
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