For lifters with mobility restrictions or those who have tight elbows or knee pain, lumberjack squats can be a joint-friendly squat alternative to add to your workout routine.
So what is the lumberjack squat? Lumberjack squats require you to hold the barbell in front of you using a landmine attachment or by wedging it into a corner of the gym rather than placing the weight on your back. With no load on your back, lumberjack squats remove the spinal compression and added joint stress found in back squats.
In this article, I’ll break down the lumberjack squat. I’ll delve into its purpose, how to do it, why we should do it, and the common mistakes I see lifters make with this exercise.
Let’s get into it.
What Is The Lumberjack Squat?
Unlike a traditional squat where the barbell is loaded on the lifter's back, the lumberjack squat fixes one end of the barbell unloaded into a corner on the floor or in a landmine attachment. You hold the loaded end in front of you, similar to how you would in a goblet squat.
Not all gyms feature belt squat or hack squat machines, so for lifters looking to relieve spinal compression or suffering joint pain, the lumberjack squat offers a great alternative where the required equipment is widely available in most gyms.
If you have a lower body injury, check out my guides below for leg exercises you can do that don’t involve the hamstrings, glutes, ankles, or hip flexors:
Lumberjack Squat: Muscles Worked
The muscles used in the lumberjack squat are:
The front-loading of the lumberjack squat means both the quads and the core are required to work extra hard to maintain stability, particularly in the concentric (ascending/hip extension) phase of the exercise.
One consideration with the lumberjack squat is the leverage factors mean that the load is greater in the bottom position compared to the top position.
As the lifter drives upwards, the arc of the bar means that some of the weight is taken by the mount being used, reducing the load being held by the lifter. As they lower back into the squat, the bulk of the load is once again placed on the lifter.
This makes it a useful glute exercise as it loads the bottom of the squat where the glutes play their biggest role. It does, however, mean the load on the quads is less, affecting hypertrophy and strength development in these muscles.
The adductors and calves are activated as secondary muscles, supporting the quads and glutes throughout the movement. They help stabilize the knees, stopping them from splaying outwards as you lower into the squat.
How To Set Up The Lumberjack Squat
The lumberjack squat requires a barbell, a bench, some plates, and an attachment to fix the barbell into the floor. A landmine attachment is often recommended here (the hinged device often found on the floor next to the free weights in a gym).
If your gym doesn’t have a landmine attachment then you can use either the center of a plate or the corner of the gym, so long as the gym's wall is robust enough to withstand repeated strikes from a barbell.
The Importance Of The Bench
While the lumberjack squat can be done without a bench, I’ve found using one can be a game-changer for this squat variation.
The setup takes a little longer, but the bench allows you to set your body position before lifting, lift a more demanding weight, and makes it easy to add and take weight from the bar.
The height matters, too. For the most part, a standard bench height will work but for taller lifters or lifters who struggle to get depth on the squat, it may be worth piling a few plates on the top of the bench.
The height should be enough so that you can get into the squat position and lift the weight while maintaining a neutral spine.
Step 1: Set Yourself Up
Fix the unloaded end of the barbell into whichever attachment you have chosen, then rest the loaded end on a bench set to the appropriate height.
To set your squat stance, stand feet shoulder-width apart and establish a stable base.
Lifters who are new to the lumberjack squat may take a few attempts to get the right distance between themselves and the bar. Taller lifters might need to be further back from the bar as your hips will shift further back as you squat.
Step 2: Get the Grip
Cup both hands underneath the end of the barbell with the fingers stacked over the top.
The barbell should be glued to your chest, much like the kettlebell would be in a goblet squat, and your elbows should be tucked in.
Step 3: Drive the Bar Up
Once set, brace the core and ensure your back is flat. Get underneath the bar and drive upwards to standing.
You’ll probably find you’re at a slight angle rather than completely upright because of the arc of the bar.
At this stage you can try moving closer or further away from the bar. If you start with a lighter weight, you can try a few reps and find at which distance you feel most stable while ensuring that the exercise is loading the hips.
Step 4: Begin the Eccentric Phase
Lower the barbell towards the bench, hinging at the hips and lowering yourself into a squat position.
Keep the core braced and spine neutral as you perform the reps. This is where the lack of spinal loading will enable you to perfect your squat form.
Go as low as your standard mobility allows. Hips parallel to the floor is a good guide.
Step 5: Drive Back to Standing
Once at the bottom of your squat, before the barbell touches the bench, drive yourself back up to a standing position.
Extend the knees and drive the hips forward as you would in a traditional squat.
At this stage, you’ll find the front-loaded position works the core extra hard as you try to maintain balance and stability.
7 Benefits Of The Lumberjack Squat
Now that we know how to do the lumberjack squat, let's take a look at the benefits of this squat variation.
The 7 benefits of the lumberjack squat are:
- Increases glute strength and hypertrophy
- Joint and spine friendly
- Promotes good squat form
- Build confidence on more traditional squats
- Train deeper squats
- Increases core strength
1. Increases Glute Strength And Hypertrophy
The lumberjack squat will engage the glutes over your quad and hamstrings. The increased load at the bottom of the squat means your glutes are working overtime to hold the weight and prepare you for the upwards drive.
The front-loading means the quads are working hard, too. But as I mentioned earlier, the arc the bar takes removes some of the weight from the quads as you drive upwards. Therefore, the lumberjack squat is primarily best for building strength and size in the glutes.
2. Joint And Spine Friendly
As the weight is not loaded on your back, the lumberjack squat removes the spinal compression and stress to the knees and hips that accompany back squats.
The front-loading of the barbell allows the lifter to squat with a more upright torso, placing less strain through the low back.
You’re also forced to sit back in this exercise by the natural arc of the barbell. This means your glutes and hamstrings take most of the load, relieving the knees from the weight.
Lifters with shoulder pain may prefer lumberjack squats over other squat variations, too. By holding the barbell in a goblet position, the shoulders are put into a very strong and secure position without them having to demonstrate any serious levels of mobility.
For other squat variations you can do if you’re suffering from lower back pain, check out Which Squat Is Best For Lower Back Pain? (5 Examples).
3. Help Promote Good Squat Form
Lumberjack squats are an easily accessible movement that teaches the correct squat form.
The arc of the bar during the descent forces the lifter to sit back, shift their weight onto the heels, and maintain a vertical torso. This teaches and reinforces good squatting technique, building that mind-body connection as you translate the movement to barbell squats.
4. Build Strength And Confidence On Front Or Back Squats
The lack of spinal compression and ease on the joints means lumberjack squats safely allow for additional loading to the movement.
Taking heavier loads through the squat movement can help lifters build strength, confidence, and mobility before dealing with front squats and back squats.
The only equipment required for the lumberjack squat is a barbell, a bench, and something to wedge the unloaded end of the barbell in.
All this equipment is readily available in almost every gym (even landmine attachments are pretty popular), so nothing is stopping you from doing the lumberjack squat.
This makes it a more accessible squat alternative than belt squats or hack squats for lifters with lower back or joint pain since not all gyms have belt squat or hack squat machines.
6. Can Train Deeper Squats
The lumberjack squat is an effective squatting variation that can support lifters looking to get more depth in their squats.
The lumberjack squat can act as a quick hack if you lack mobility in the bottom of a back squat or find it difficult to bring the hips below parallel.
Being a front-loaded variation, the lumberjack squat moves the line of force more in line with the knees. This means the hips and ankles don’t need as much flexion. Thus, there’s less restriction on the lifter’s squat depth.
Looking for other ways to improve your mobility for back squats? Check out How To Increase Hip Mobility For Squats (13 Drills To Follow) and How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats: 13 Exercises.
7. Increases Core Stability
The front-loaded nature of the lumberjack squat can increase the stabilization of your core muscles, targeting the abdominal and erector spinae muscles.
These muscles prevent your spine from rounding and the pelvis going into an excessive tilt. The front-loading means they have to work hard to prevent this so you can execute the movement effectively.
Common Mistakes In The Lumberjack Squat
There are a few mistakes you should watch for when performing the lumberjack squat.
1. Going Too Heavy
It can take a little bit of time to find the right setup including distance from the barbell, bench height, and getting a strong grip.
Trying to do this when overloading the weight is near impossible and risks serious injury. When trying the lumberjack squat for the first time, start light and build the weight up once you have a comfortable and stable stance.
2. Not Securely Mounting The Bar
A key aspect to performing the lumberjack squat correctly is having a secure mount for the barbell. Not all gyms have a landmine attachment. If you are required to improvise, make sure you use a mount that is secure and won’t move.
Plates are a widely used alternative. Just be sure to pick one that’s heavy enough and won’t move. Using the corner in a gym is another option, but it can be a bit risky as the barbell can easily put a hole in a weak wall.
Lumberjack Squat vs Other Front Loaded Squat Variations
The lumberjack squat is one of many front-loaded squat variations that lifters turn to as an alternative to the back squat.
Let’s take a look at how these variations compare with the lumberjack squat.
Compared to lumberjack squats, front squats have much more quad activation because they require a more upright torso and the load is increased at the top of the movement. However, lifters doing front squats may find limitations with mobility and joint pain that you don’t get in the lumberjack squat.
The front squat requires good ankle, hip, wrist, and shoulder mobility. If you have poor mobility in any of these areas, check out Front Squat Mobility: 17 Must-Do Exercises.
This variation is nearly identical to the lumberjack squat, only without the bench.
The lack of a bench means the lifter has to deadlift the weight off the ground before starting, limiting the load they can safely put on the barbell.
The goblet squat is an effective glute exercise that can help lifters work on their mobility and core stability while squatting.
However, because the weight is added using a kettlebell or dumbbell held at the chest, the forearms and biceps are forced to take some of the weight, limiting the load that can be used.
The Zercher squat is a tough squat variation that sees added activation in the quads and core. It requires you to hold the barbell in the crook of your elbows rather than placing it on your back or the front of your shoulders.
It’s an odd lift and is primarily used by Strongman athletes as the movement and technique replicates the lifts used in competition.
Who Should Do The Lumberjack Squat?
The lumberjack squat is best used as a pain-free alternative to back squats. For lifters who struggle with joint pain or discomfort from the spinal compression found in back squats, the lumberjack squat is a suitable alternative that can work the glutes and utilizes the same movement pattern.
For lifters who struggle with mobility at the bottom of their squat, the lumberjack squat can be used as a way of getting more depth to maximize glute activation. The lack of flexion required in the hips and the ankles means that less mobility is needed to get low in this variation.
Finally, lifters who are looking for a suitable alternative to the hack squat or belt squat might find the lumberjack a more accessible solution. Likewise, those who want to up the weight on goblet squats will find lumberjack squats useful as the arms don’t take any of the load.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Need a Bench To Do Lumberjack Squats?
You can do a variation called landmine squats which involves deadlifting the bar straight from the ground, but starting from a bench is a game-changer for lumberjack squats. The setup takes slightly longer but as a result, you can overload the weight more easily and safely.
What’s the Difference Between a Lumberjack Squat and a Goblet Squat?
The goblet squat uses a free weight such as a dumbbell or kettlebell held against your chest. This works your biceps and forearms more. The lumberjack squat uses a landmine attachment so you hold one end of a barbell in front of you, which takes the load off the arms.
Other Helpful Squat Guides
- Suitcase Squats: How-To, Benefits, and Should You Do It?
- Steinborn Squat: Does This “Circus-Like” Squat Have Benefits?
- Kneeling Squat: What Is It, How To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Anderson Squat: What Is It, How To Do It, Benefits, Drawbacks
- Tabata Squats: How-To, Common Mistakes, & Workout Sample
- Isometric Squats: How-To, Benefits, & Should You Do It?
- 6 Cambered Squat Bar Benefits (And, How To Train With It)
- Hatfield Squat: What Is It? Technique, Benefits, Muscles Used
- Isometric Pistol Squat: What Is It, Benefits, How-To
- Jefferson Squat: How-To, Benefits, Should You Do It?
- Asian Squat: What Is It? What’s The Hype? Can You Do It?
- 1.5 Squats: How-to, Benefits, And Should You Do It?
- Prisoner Squats: How-to, Benefits, And Should You Do It?
The lumberjack squat is a front loading squat variation which removes the spinal compression and joint stress found in many other squat variations.
It’s great for building glute strength, maximizing mobility in other lower body lifts, and acts as a brilliant alternative to back squats for lifters suffering from knee or joint pain.