Leg Press Alternatives | Best Exercise Guide

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Oct 6,2023|12 min| 5044

Best Leg Press Alternatives: Exercise Guide

When it comes to leg day, there are a great amount of exercises to choose from, yet people tend to migrate towards the leg press. Make no mistake, it is a great piece of equipment, especially if you do not have a hack squat or you are unable to barbell squat, but sometimes sitting on the leg press can lose its luster, leaving you wanting to switch up your workouts so you can continue that linear progression. If you're looking for leg press alternative exercises, look no further! We have compiled a list of some great options to build muscle and strength in your legs, including machine-based exercise.

Some alternative exercises require gym access, while others leg press at-home alternative exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home.

Leg Press Overview

The leg press is a staple piece of equipment in just about any gym. There are many different types such as plate loaded leg presses, or stack loaded, and due to the ease of use and great pump you can get, they are some of the most popular pieces of equipment for leg day. Many times people will substitute a leg press for a barbell squat, or work them both into their lower body programming, as the leg press leaves less room for injury than a barbell squat. Doing things like drop sets are easier on the leg press than a barbell squat, so you can absolutely demolish the muscle groups. Different angles and styles of leg press machines also allow you to hit the muscles in ways you may not typically get with a barbell squat, so you can really pack on the muscle mass. Additionally, the leg press machine reduces spinal loading compared to free weight squat and hinge variations, making it a viable alternative for those who suffer from lower back pain during squats.

The leg press exercise primarily targets the muscles involved in knee and hip flexion. By pushing against the resistance, which can be in the form of a resistance band, dumbbell, barbell, machine, or even your own bodyweight, you engage the gluteus, quads, hamstring, and calves. These muscles work together to stabilize the knee and ankle joints, allowing the quads and glutes to effectively perform their job. As you progress in your fitness journey, it becomes important to incorporate external resistance like a dumbbell, barbell, or machine to continue challenging your leg muscles.

However, you may not always have access to the top pieces of equipment in your gym or at home, so what do you do? Well, you look for some leg press alternatives.

Leg Press Alternatives At Home

Beginning with the leg press alternatives you can do at home, there are a multitude of variations. People think you need top of the line gym equipment in your home to get a good workout in, but that is not the case. There are plenty of bodyweight squats and other leg press alternatives like step ups that you can do with bare minimum, let's dive in.

Resistance band leg press: Bands can be used to mimic resistance like a leg press, though the amount of weight that you can use is limited to what you can hold with your arms. The pros of a resistance band leg press is that you can easily do this at home, or carry bands with you on vacation and do them in the hotel. The cons are that the weights you can use are limited, and if you can do too many reps (like 20+), then you are essentially just doing cardio, not building real leg strength or muscle. This can work great for beginners, but not novice or intermediate trainees.

Strength Training at Home: Workouts With and Without Equipment | Strength  training routine, Strength training workouts, Leg press

Pistol squats: Pistol squats are a great unilateral movement and leg press alternative for those who want to build strength and muscle in their legs, without the use of any necessary equipment. They target your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. When it comes to bodyweight exercises, the pistol squat is one of the most challenging and impressive feats you can perform. This move requires a high level of strength, flexibility and coordination, and is definitely not for beginners. But if you're up for the challenge, the pistol squat is a great way to build lower body strength and power.

Here is a quick overview on how to do it:

1. Start in a standing position with your feet together.

2. Raise one leg off the ground and extend it out in front of you.

3. squat down on your other leg, keeping your extended leg straight and lowering yourself as far as you can go.

Pistol Squat GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Box Jumps: Box jumps are a plyometric leg press alternative exercise that will really get your heart pumping. They target your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core. All you need is a box or platform to jump on and off of. Box jumps are a plyometric exercise that involve "jumping" onto and then off of a box or other raised platform. Box jumps can be performed with both feet together or one foot at a time, and can be done for repetitions or for height. Box jumps are a great way to improve lower body power and can be used as a plyometric exercise for both beginners and advanced athletes. Another effective move you can do for your glutes is the hip thrust, which can target the quads like a leg press when you raise your shoulders higher than your knees on the move.

Build Explosiveness With Box Jumps | Fitness | MyFitnessPal

Dumbbell Lunges: Dumbbell lunges are another great leg press alternative, especially if you don't have access to a leg press machine or a barbell. They target your quads and glutes, and can be done with a variety of angles and weights.

How to do a Dumbbell Lunge

Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in each hand. Then, take a large step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the ground. Be sure to keep your torso upright and your core engaged throughout the movement. Finally, press through your right heel to return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. dumbbell lunges are a great exercise for beginners and can be done anywhere with minimal equipment

Dumbell Lunge GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Bulgarian Split Squat: The Bulgarian split squat is another leg press alternative that you can do with bodyweight or a dumbbell, and a great exercise to add into your workout split.

How to do a bulgarian split squat:

1. Start in a split stance, with your left foot forward and your right foot back. Place your left ankle on top of a bench or other elevated surface behind you.

2. Keeping your torso upright, lower your body down until your right knee is close to the ground. Be sure to keep your left heel pressed into the ground throughout the entire movement

3. Return to the starting position, and repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Then switch legs and repeat with your right foot forward and left foot back.

Bulgarian Split Squat GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Leg Press Alternatives At Gym

Now onto the fun stuff, where you are more than likely to have a greater selection of equipment to choose from, and you can do tons of different leg press alternatives and really make your leg days interesting.

Barbell Squats: Barbell squats are a great leg press alternative exercise, and one of the most iconic compound exercises of all; and as stated above, they are great to throw into a lower body training program with each other. They target your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and back. There is a reason why they call barbell squats the king of all exercises, as they are considered a key exercise in many sports, including football, weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding due to the great effects they have on explosiveness, power, and strength. The front squat is another great way to do a leg press without a machine. It is a barbell-based squat variation that places a large focus on the quads, making it a great leg press alternative. In the front squat, you’ll place a barbell on the front of your shoulders. The squat can also be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Leg press alternatives with free weights, such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, provide a versatile and effective way to target your leg muscles without using a leg press machine.

How to do a barbell squat:

1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides. If you're using a barbell, hold it across your upper back with an overhand grip.

2. Lower yourself down into a squatting position by bending at the knees and hips, keeping your chest up and back straight.

Back Squat GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

  1. Hack Squat: The hack squat is a great leg press alternative that targets your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, with a greater emphasis on the quads. It is a favorite exercise of many professional bodybuilders, and for good reason. The hack squat is a great exercise for building strong legs, without overtaxing the core and lower back. It targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, and can help improve your squatting technique. Additionally, the hack squat can be performed with a variety of weights, intensities, and foot placements, making it a versatile exercise for all levels of fitness. You'll need a hack squat machine to perform a hack squat.

  2. Smith Machine Squat: Smith machine squats are another good alternative for targeting your entire lower body, and they are heavily underutilized. You will need a smith machine for this exercise. The barbell squat is considered to be a more challenging exercise than the smith machine squat, and it also allows you to use more weight. When squatting with a barbell, you have to balance the barbell on your shoulders, which can be difficult and recruits more stabilizing muscles. The smith machine squat, on the other hand, is a bit easier because the weight is already balanced for you on the machine, and you can focus solely on your legs.

  3. Another difference between these two squatting exercises is the range of motion. When squatting with a barbell, you are not typically able to go as low as you would with a smith machine, as you would lose your balance. This means that you can get a better mind-muscle connection and work your muscles more intensely with the smith machine squat.

Smith Machine Squat: Muscles Worked & Technique – StrengthLog

Source: https://www.strengthlog.com/

Wrap Up

Overall, the leg press is a great exercise and a great way to grow your quadriceps and lower body. While it is a great exercise, it can get to the point where you are looking for something else to do on your leg days, and there are plenty of leg press alternatives that can be done. One such alternative is the wall sit exercise, which provides many of the benefits of the leg press. According to Jarrod Nobbe, CSCS, the head weightlifting coach for the Athletic Lab weightlifting team, the wall sit is a quadriceps burner and can be a great substitute for the leg press.

Do you agree with our list? Let us know! And be sure to check out the Boostcamp training app for even more exercises and training programs.

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