The leg press machine can be used to strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glute muscles. However, it requires a specific fitness device and its comparatively small movements do not simulate how your bodies move in the real world.
There are plenty of leg press alternatives that can help you get a tremendous lower-body workout. As a Certified Personal Trainer and Firefighter, I know the importance of not skipping leg day. I have picked out the 5 best leg press alternative exercises that I use in my own lower body routines that are home gym friendly.
For these leg press alternatives, you can use a home functional trainer, free weights, stability balls, and resistance bands. Here are some of our favorite exercises you can do without a leg press machine.
Jump Ahead to the Exercises:
What Is a Leg Press?
Before we dive into leg press alternative exercises, let’s cover the basics of a leg press exercise to understand the muscles it works and what the movement looks like.
This will help you execute the leg press alternative exercises correctly to get the same benefits at home.
What Muscles Does a Leg Press Work?
A leg press is a compound movement that works your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. They can also target your calves depending on how you perform the movement. You typically complete a leg press on a machine, pushing a weighted sled on a set of rails with your feet. This strengthens the entire lower body and helps develop balance, strength, and power.
What Does a Leg Press Machine Look Like?
Most leg press machines look similar. It typically consists of:
- A padded seat and backrest positioned at a 45-degree angle.
- A sled that slides up and down on rails with sleeves to load weight plates.
- Two long handles you can use to help keep you stabilized when you push the weight.
You usually only find them in public gyms due to their size and cost.
How To Perform a Leg Press On a Machine
You sit on the seat and place your feet flat on the weighted sled in front of you, keeping your feet hip-width apart. You then press the sled with your feet and raise it until your legs are almost fully extended, being careful to never lock your knees. Next, slowly lower the sled bending your legs back to a 45-degree angle.
You can also adjust the positioning of your feet on the sled to target different parts of your leg muscles. For example, placing them higher on the sled will target your glutes and hamstrings. Positioning your feet lower will target your quads more.
When you perform a leg press correctly, you can reap several benefits. These include improved mobility and balance to increased strength and power. However, if you do not have access to a leg press machine, that’s okay. Plenty of alternative exercises can provide a similar workout.
Leg Press Alternatives Without a Machine
Now that we have a general understanding of the leg press and its benefits, let’s look at a few leg press alternatives. We will also discuss variations of these compound exercises and isometric (static) exercises. That way, you can tailor them to your fitness level or goals.
Please keep in mind that you can perform all these exercises with your body weight if you want. You can also add at-home gym equipment for an extra challenge, including:
- Resistance bands
Squats are one of the most effective leg press alternative exercises. They work your entire lower body and target the same muscles you work with a leg press machine (and then some).
To do a squat:
- 1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- 2. Keep your back straight and your chest up.
- 3. Once you reach the bottom, press through your heels to stand back up.
You can also change your foot positioning to a wider or narrower stance to target different muscles.
Use a kettlebell or a single dumbbell held up in front of your chest to perform goblet squats.
This is an advanced version of the squat that requires a barbell and is excellent for building strength.
Perform this variation with a barbell resting on the front of your shoulders instead of the back.
Single Leg Squat
Single-leg squats not only work your lower body but also target your core and help to improve balance. They are an excellent option for those who want to challenge themselves more or focus on strengthening one side of the body.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This is another single-leg exercise. You stand with one foot in front of the other with your back foot elevated on a platform. Next, lower yourself down until your knee taps the ground and push back up.
To do a lunge:
- 1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and take a big step forward with one foot.
- 2. Lower your body toward the floor by bending both knees until they form 90-degree angles.
- 3. Push back up through your front heel and step your feet together to repeat on the other side.
You can also add variations by using at-home gym equipment. Here are a few examples:
A curtsy lunge is similar to a regular lunge, but you cross one leg behind the other and squat down. This targets your glutes and inner thighs.
A reverse lunge is like a regular lunge, but you start standing with both feet together. From there, step one foot back. Next, lower your body down, and then push back up to a standing position
Also known as a “side lunge,” targets your inner and outer thighs. You do this by standing with your feet together, taking a big step to one side, and lowering your body.
If you’re looking for an extra challenge, you can add a jump. Perform the exercise as you normally would, but jump into the air and switch legs after pushing back up.
Step-ups are a great way to strengthen your lower body, especially if you don’t have access to a leg press machine. Step-ups target your quads and glutes but need more balance, coordination, and core strength.
To do a step-up:
- 1. Stand in front of a bench, chair, or box and place one foot on the surface.
- 2. Use all your lower body strength to lift yourself until both feet are on the elevated surface.
- 3. Step back down with your other foot and repeat.
Lateral step-ups target your inner and outer thighs. Stand with one foot on the bench, then step out to the side and press up with the other foot. Step back down and repeat on the other side.
This variation of the step-up is similar to a reverse lunge and targets your glutes. Start with both feet on the bench, then step one foot back and press up with the other.
This advanced step-up version requires more stability and coordination. You do a regular step-up into a jump for an extra push.
Resistance Band Leg Press
This simple exercise uses only a resistance band to perform a similar motion to what you would do on a leg press machine.
To do a resistance band leg press:
- 1. Lie on the ground with your feet hip-width apart to perform the exercise.
- 2. Place one end of the resistance band around your feet, and hold the other end of the band up near your chest. Keep your core engaged.
- 3. Press out through both legs while squeezing your glutes and inner thighs until you fully extend your legs.
- 4. Slowly release and repeat.
These obviously do not provide the same type of weight resistance as a machine, but they help to keep your muscles engaged and challenge you in different ways. To make them more challenging, try adding more resistance bands and performing them until failure.
Resistance Band Leg Press Variations
Resistance band leg press with a medicine ball
Add a medicine ball between your ankles for extra weight as you perform the exercise.
Wide-stance resistance band leg press
Move your feet a bit further apart as you do the exercise to target different muscles. This is similar to the stance taken during a sumo squat or deadlift.
Single-leg resistance band leg press
This is a great way to work on balance and one-leg strength. Place the resistance band around one foot, then press out in the same motion as you would with a standard resistance band leg press.
Wall sits are a great way to build strength in your quads and glutes.
To do a wall sit:
- 1. Stand with your back against the wall.
- 2. Slide down in a seated position with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle.
- 3. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds (or more) and focus on your breathing.
You can also do a few variations of this exercise to target different muscles and make them more challenging.
Alternating wall sits
This variation requires more balance and coordination than a standard wall sit. Start in the same position with your back against the wall and raise one foot off the ground until your leg is straight and parallel with your hips. Hold this position for a few seconds, then switch legs.
Weighted wall sits
This is a great way to increase the intensity of the exercise. Hold a weight or medicine ball in your hands and perform the wall sit as you normally would.
Banded wall sits
This variation adds extra resistance to the exercise using a mini band looped around your thighs. As you hold the wall sit position, press out through your legs with the band for an added challenge.
Wall sit pulses
Hold the wall sit position and pulse your legs up and down for a few reps to perform this variation. These small pulses will fire up your muscles and increase the intensity.
Things To Keep In Mind
As you can see, there are a variety of at-home exercises that target your lower body in a similar way to using a leg press. However, you should keep a few things in mind when performing these exercises.
Results May Differ From a Traditional Leg Press Machine
Although these exercises are a great alternative to a leg press machine exercise, they are obviously not the same. Therefore, you will not receive the exact same results. The good news is, performing these alternatives may give you even more benefits than a traditional leg press machine as they engage stabilizing muscles for balance.
Use Proper Form
When performing any of these exercises, it’s crucial to maintain good form and posture throughout the entire movement. Keep your back straight and core engaged, and use controlled movements as you press or step up.
This will help to maximize the benefits of the exercise and prevent injury. If you are new to training, we recommend doing these exercises with no added weight. Once you get comfortable with the movements, you can add weights or resistance bands as needed.
Choose Alternatives Relative To Desired Results
Choose exercises to do in place of a traditional leg press that will best help you reach your desired results. These leg press alternative exercises all target different muscles in your lower body. Use a combination to get similar results compared to a traditional leg press machine.
If you want to build strength, opt for more challenging exercises with weights or bands. If you want to increase your endurance or build muscle tone, perform lighter exercises at higher repetitions.
Take Care of Your Body
It is vital to listen to your body and stay safe during your workouts.
Firstly, warm up before any workout and activate the muscles you plan on working with simple movements. This will help prep your body for the exercises, increase your range of motion, and prevent injury.
Be sure to rest in between sets so your muscles can recover. Suggested rest time between sets may differ depending on desired results, but we suggest at least a 30-60 second break between sets. Listen to your body to determine what is best for you, don’t force yourself to work through painful movements.
Lastly, don’t forget a simple cool down at the end of your workout. This could include light static stretching, a foam rolling session, or a 5-10 minute walk.
By following these tips and choosing the correct exercises, you can achieve similar benefits to leg press machines. These leg press alternatives without a machine may even yield even better results if done correctly and intentionally. So, what are you waiting for? Get motivated and get your lower body workout on!