3 Jefferson Squat Alternatives for Every Athlete

In an earlier article we discussed the benefits of the Jefferson squat, each benefit unique to the stance, loading, and specific movement of this classic barbell lift. Many lifters may have issues with the Jefferson movement for whatever reason, and coaches and athletes must be able to determine alternative movements to accomplish similar training outcomes.

As coaches, programmers, and athletes, we must understand WHY someone is doing a specific movement (muscle activation, targeting hypertrophy, joint patterning, etc) and then prescribe an alternative movement that accomplished the same goals.

[Not sure how to do Jefferson squats? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Jefferson Squats!]

In this article we will discuss a few exercises that can be performed as alternatives to the Jefferson squat, each highlighting similar benefits and training outcomes.

Benefits of the Jefferson Squat

Below is a recap of the most popular reasons why a coach/athlete would program/perform a Jefferson squat.

  • Increased Glute Development: The wide stance and external rotation of the legs/feet allow for the glutes to be targeted more than a traditional squat or deadlift. This lift is to be done with slow, controlled, focused repetitions and active contractions at the end of each rep.
  • Quad Hypertrophy:  The vertical positioning of the spine often results in more quad engagement, due to more knee flexion and stretching of the quad. Upon the negative aspect of this lift, the load should be shifted into the quads to fully maximize the quad-loading benefit.
  • Vertical Torso Positioning: As discussed above, the vertical positioning of this lift not only can increase ankle, knee, and hip mobility in the squat, it can also work to develop the quads. 

Jefferson Squat Alternative #1: Belt Squat (Varying Stances)

One forgotten benefit of the Jefferson squat is that the load is not supported by the back, decreasing spinal compression, which may be a benefit for lifters looking to decrease spinal loading and/or recovering from injury. Belt squats are often done with a belt and weights, usually attached at hip level dropping straight down under the lifter.

Depending on the goal, lifters can do these with a narrower stance to isolate the quads more, or increase their stance into a sumo variation and include more glute into the squat a well. Both movements should allow for the fullest range of motion, and should minimize any forward leaning of the toros to simulate a true Jefferson squat. It is important to note that this alternative does lessen the need for anti-rotational and asymmetrical strength when compared to the Jefferson squat.

Jefferson Squat Alternative #2: Sumo Stance Goblet/Zercher Squat

If you find that maintaining control of a swaying barbell in the Jefferson squat is limiting your ability to train the glutes and quadriceps maximally, you (1) need to work on doing more Jefferson squats, and (2) can include this alternative exercise to highlight your intended outcomes (glute and quad development). By assuming a similar stance used in the Jefferson squat, you then can hold a load either in the front rack, goblet, or Zercher squat rack position, all assuming a vertical torso and high degrees of knee flexion. The drawback to doing this exercise as an alternative is that you minimize the need for anti-rotational and asymmetrical strength and control.

Alternative #3: Close Stance High Bar Squat

The high bar back squat (unlike the low bar) already targets the quads and glutes to a very high degree. If you make you feet point forward and narrow them up so that they are shoulder width or closer, you can really maximize quad and glute development. Too often lifters fail to allow their knees to bend deeply into a squat, and don’t allow for a good stretch at the end range to really inspire quad and glute development.

For weightlifters, bodybuilding, and even powerlifters who are looking for more quad strength and patterning, this can be a very helpful assistance exercise to aid the main lifts. Like the other alternatives, this is not an asymmetrically loaded movement, not does it stress to a high degree anti-rotational training.

[All split squats aren’t created equal! Here’s what you need to know!]

Final Words

All three of the exercises can be used to increase glute and quad muscular development and pattern a vertical squatting positioning which is helpful for most weightlifters, functional fitness athletes, and general joint and movement integrity. While all of the exercises have failed to capture the asymmetrical and anti-rotational benefits that the Jefferson squat offers, one could simply perform more specific rotational training, loaded carries, and other movements to bring about those specific attributes.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.