To replace the barbell back or front squat, I stand a heavy (80lb+) dumbell end-on on the floor, grasp the upper weights, and stand up. Is this a good alternative to the chalice squat? (Much more below!)

I am doing my best to follow a Starting Strength regimen - but the barbell exercises (except, oddly enough, the deadlift) have all caused injury.

I've switched to dumbbells for the overhead and bench press, and assisted dips/chins/pulls in place of the clean-and-jerk.

My concern is now with an adequate squat replacement. Back squats gave me no-kidding nerve damage that's only now healed after four months. (I couldn't feel my left arm for a while... I apparently have vertebrae that are incompatible with a heavy steel bar across even the meatiest part of my back.)

The injury from the bench-press means front squats are out - I don't have the shoulder mobility to heave that much weight up front with my arms like that.

The chalice squat is difficult but do-able, but I'm worried it taxes my lower back too much to raise a heavy dumbbell (80lbs) chest-high, and that holding the dumbbell like that means I can't squat as deeply as I like as my elbows and the dumbbell itself interferes.

Yesterday, I tried a variation on it, where I stand the dumb-bell on-end on the floor, squat down to grasp the upper weights, and do the squat exercise beginning with up rather than down. It feels natural, I can manage heavier weights, squat deep, and my thighs are still on fire a day later (a good thing, I couldn't get DOMS going with the traditional chalice squat).

Is this exercise a good replacement for a barbell squat? Am I risking another injury doing it this way rather than lifting the weight up to my chest?

  • 2
    I strongly suggest urgently fixing these mobility issues, but in the meantime your squat replacement sounds fine. May 16, 2014 at 5:13
  • 3
    I strongly suggest seeing a physical therapist to help you fix the shoulder issues, back issues, etc. Preferably choose a physical therapist that specializes in mobilizing athletes rather than one that specializes in making people able to stand up off a couch without pain. May 16, 2014 at 15:10
  • @Berin Loritsch - Instead, I'm going to give myself time to heal, and note that SS and SL and other barbell-centered programs are not as universally safe or effective as advertised. I'm preventing muscle loss while losing a lot of weight after bypass surgery, not training for Mr. Universe. Dumbells (along with bodyweight exercises) for everything save the deadlift are fine, so long as this low-chalice squat works as a passable stand-in. May 16, 2014 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


Have you considered trying a hip belt squat? My wife has mild scoliosis, and the barbell back squat was also too much for her nerve wise. Hip belt squat has worked out well for her. Has the advantage of being more incrementally loadable, and not really having a weight limit, compared to what you are doing. You will need something like this


and eventually a loading pin like this


You would want to squat on boxes so you can get a full range of motion with the weights hanging below you.

  • I've seen these before! They're a good idea but my gym only has three boxes of different sizes. I'll put in a req for a matched pair. Not certain this is the answer I need, but +1 anyway. May 16, 2014 at 15:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.