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Substitute For Squats

Dear Nick,

I would appreciate very much if you could answer these two honest questions about training (a substitute to squatting and dips/chins). It will not come as a surprise to you that the so called ‘expert’ personal trainers I asked could not answer them.

Here goes:

1) If one has no means to do free weight barbell squats (i.e. no rack available, gym management bars Zercher squats as unsafe (!?!?), current working weight too heavy to simply clean off the ground and press over head onto traps, etc) how good a substitute are deadlifts, if they are substitute to squats at all?

2) If one can dip body-weight for more reps to failure than one can chin/pull-up body-weight to failure, is this a sign of a muscular un-balance?

I thank you in advance for your time while reading this and look forward to hearing from you.

As always, wishing you all the best.


1) Deadlifts would be an acceptable substitute to regular barbell squatting, but in your situation for muscle building purposes a better alternative by far would be to perform barbell hack squats. Although we are all used to modern hack squat machines, the original exercise simply consisted of holding a barbell behind your back and squatting down low with it. If you are very flexible it will be necessary to use weight plates that are smaller than the regular 45lbs. This movement takes a bit of practice, isn’t suited to higher reps (15 plus) as biomechanics tend to break down, and benefits from the use of lifting straps. There are many substitutes to regular squats – don’t forget dumbell squats can also be very effective for bodybuilding the legs, as are weighted step ups.

2) No – it is a sign that you are normal! The only people I have encountered who can pull up more than they can dip are world class climbers. The rest of us are always better at dipping than chinning, and the normal ratio of dips to chins is about 2.75:1.

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