I often start panicking that all the squat racks are taken before I’ve even left home.
Unfortunately, I go to a commercial gym which only has one squat rack.
Yes, I know I could go to a “better gym”, but hey, this one’s close to home, I know where everything is, and I feel comfortable there.
However, this doesn’t stop me wondering whether I’m going to get a chance to squat on “leg day”.
So, I’ll introduce you now to the things that I do if I’m faced with the lack of an available squat rack when I do get to the gym.
Here’s the Main Things You Should Do if All the Squat Racks Are Taken
Ask how many sets they have left. Ask to “jump in” if possible. Work to progressively overload with goblet squats. Do the same with Bulgarian split squats. Use a variety of unilateral leg exercises to stimulate new muscle growth. Don’t sweat it, move on, and work another body part.
8 Alternatives to Barbell Back Squat Infographic
Don’t Be Shy, Just Ask!
I know getting access to a squat rack will largely depend on the time of day and how many people are using it.
However, many of us tend to look over at a packed squat rack, tut to ourselves, then either settle for some low-intensity cardio, work a different body part, or simply go home.
But, in truth, it’s highly unlikely that a gym is that packed that you can’t at least “work in between sets”.
Then again, you can simply just ask how many sets they have left.
What I have found over the years is that someone who is training seriously wants to get in and then get out.
So, they’ve got their head down, earphones in, and their workout intensity is high.
These kinds of people are “my tribe”, those who are similar to me.
And with that being the case, I know myself that I don’t like to hog machines, so I’ll usually only have 2-3 sets left to perform.
And I have no qualms about letting someone work in with me.
That said, the only time may decline is if there is a vast differences in the weights the two of us are going to use.
No-one wants to be chopping and changing weights in-between every single set.
Plus, if people are simply mucking about, chatting with friends, and throwing in the occasional set, they are still likely to vacate the squat rack fairly quickly.
Basically, don’t be scared to ask, don’t fear rejection, as the vast majority of the people in the gym are pretty understanding.
Try Heavy Goblet Squats
Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking – “Goblet squats aren’t the same as performing heavy back squats”.
I get it, you’re not going to be shifting anywhere near as much weight.
But please, hear me out first.
I will say that goblet squats are responsible for completely transforming my physique.
Firstly, the legendary Dan John, who appears to be the person who brought the goblet squat to the fore, once stated, “The goblet squat is the single best lifting movement of all time”.
So, who are we to argue with Dan?
Plus, I recall Dan once stating that until you can do 25 straight reps of goblet squats with a dumbbell equal to 50% of your body weight, you have absolutely no right to barbell back squat.
Personally, I think he’s right, and being able to perform goblet squats with that amount of weight for 25 reps will definitely improve your overall squatting skills.
In fact, once you achieve this you should find that your barbell back squats significantly improve in terms of technique and weight lifted.
Next, the goblet squat workout that transformed my physique.
I believe I first read this from BJ Gaddour, although I can’t be certain, but it involved doing high- rep goblet squat sets at the beginning of your workout.
Basically, you were looking to hit 100 reps, 3-4 times a week.
So, this would involve squatting with lighter weights, although you can mix up the rep and set schemes.
Personally, I usually did very heavy goblet squats for 20 sets of 5 reps (this was actually my entire workout), medium-weight for 10×10, and a light weight of 5 sets of 20 reps.
I did this over a 4-week period, and kept my other leg work to simply performing deadlifts, hip thrusts, and walking lunges.
But, as I say, the physical transformation I saw was remarkable.
Dan John Teaches His “Goblet Squat Drill”
Try Unilateral Leg Exercises
Okay, I initially want to say that there is no single exercise on the earth that is completely irreplaceable.
And of course, squats are included in this.
Look, if you’re training something like Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5×5 training protocols then the idea is to use very specific exercises.
Your aim is to become strong and more efficient at performing those exercises.
So, if the squat rack isn’t available, well then, that obviously sucks.
However, one training session isn’t going to make you or break you.
Therefore, simply because you couldn’t use the squat rack for one session, or perhaps even an entire week, won’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.
Plus, I truly believe that working the muscles slightly differently can produce new gains.
I’ve always been a fan of unilateral training, and some of the single-leg exercises out there are phenomenal.
Let’s take Bulgarian split squats as an example.
Now, I know most people will believe that you can’t compare Bulgarian split squats to back squatting.
However, you have the opportunity to test single leg strength, work the muscles from a different angle, while also testing your coordination and balance.
Plus, I can guarantee that most of us are unable to perform a decent 5×5 of Bulgarian split squats with the heaviest set of dumbbells in our gym.
So, there is plenty of room for progressive overload.
Furthermore, let’s not forget that Bulgarian split squats completely remove the strain from your lower back.
And I know that many of you have felt back pain from regular squatting.
Additionally, I believe that they will build more functional strength, and Bulgarian split squats will also improve athletic performance.
You’ll generally only be able to lift the same amount of weight as you would with front squats initially.
So, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement and weight progression.
Some other favourite unilateral leg exercises of mine include walking lunges, reverse lunges, and steps ups.
I will also say that performing unilateral leg exercises can help to even out any muscle imbalances, typically from years of heavy squats and deadlifts.
Seriously, try them, you’ve got nothing to lose, and a lot of untapped muscle to gain.
Top 5 Unilateral Leg Exercises
Train Another Body Part
I have already touched on this, although I guess it’s only applicable with certain training splits.
Therefore, a strength-training regime, which solely focuses on the big compound lifts could cause issues.
However, if you’re training something like a bro-split then you’ll no doubt have the opportunity to train a different body part.
I know this doesn’t provide a leg-training solution, but sometimes this is just the way it is.
If you’re heading into a packed gym, and the equipment you want isn’t available, it’s usually best to find an alternative.
Plus, if you really want to hit your squats at some point during the week it makes more sense not to fatigue your legs beforehand.
That’s not to say that you can’t get an awesome leg workout following everything I’ve already mentioned.
But, if you feel you have to barbell back squat, then you’ll need to do something different on the day the squat racks aren’t available.
Of course, it’s annoying, but that shouldn’t stop you getting in a great workout.
Finally, if the squat racks being busy is a regular occurrence, then you may need to find a different time to come to the gym.
I know this isn’t always possible, but in truth, there’s always a solution if the squat racks aren’t available.
Look, I get it, I really do.
Not having access to the squat rack sucks.
And I’ve been there time-and-time again.
However, I’ve learned to not let it affect me, and I typically always have a few alternative exercises in mind.
That said, first things first, if all the squat racks are taken, simply ask the questions
“How many sets do you have left?”
“Would you mind if I jumped in?”
At worst, you’ll get a NO, but it’s not the end of the world.
But, in my experience, most people are only too willing to accommodate others.
Sure, you’ll get the occasional idiot, but they are typically few and far between.
Alternatively, as I’ve mentioned, get to working on your goblet squats, Bulgarian split squats, and the wide variety of unilateral leg exercises.
And as a last resort you always have the option to train a different body part.
Basically, it’s one day and only one training session, so don’t let it negatively affect you.
And understand that one day in the grand scheme of things doesn’t make it a big deal.
Next, while I’m on the subject of squat racks, I have recently answered the question about facing in or facing out in the squat rack.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.