11 Best Leg Press Alternatives (With Video Tutorials)

leg press alternative
Last updated:

The leg press is a staple in the gym for leg day training.

Ask a room of 100 people in the gym if they use the leg press during their leg workout, and at least 95 will answer in the affirmative.

However, there are some people that are unable to take advantage of the versatile piece of equipment, necessitating the usage of alternative exercises.

In order to find worthy successors to the leg press throne, it’s necessary to appreciate which muscle groups the leg press targets.

By large and far, it emphasizes the large muscles of the quadriceps.

But that’s not nearly all it does.

It also offers good stimulation to the hamstrings and glutes, which can be enhanced by altering foot placement on the platform.

As a result, the substitutes need to really hit the muscle groups in target to a significant degree.

Pros and Cons Of The Leg Press

Listen, honestly, the leg press is a great piece of equipment.

You shouldn’t just toss it to the wayside for lack of a decent reason.

What we don’t advocate for, however, is using leg press machines solely as your exercise of choice on leg day.

Instead, you should weigh the pros and cons of the leg press.

Pros

1) Isolation

Even though the leg press is not an isolation exercise by any means, compared to other free-weight leg exercises, it does isolate the legs to a greater degree.

This is beneficial for beginners that need to focus on improving muscle coordination and developing muscular endurance of the leg muscles before progressing to more complex exercises.

2) Safety

The leg press is a very safe exercise as long as you use good form and don’t overload the weight.

Unlike squats, which place a lot of stress on the lower back and knees, the leg press is much easier on these joints (to some degree).

This is important for people that are new to lifting weights or have a history of knee or back injuries.

3) Efficient

The leg press is very efficient in terms of time and energy expenditure.

You can hit all the major muscle groups in your legs with just a few sets of leg presses.

This is especially beneficial for people that are short on time or have difficulty performing other exercises (e.g. squats).

4) Boosts Hypertrophy

The leg press is an effective exercise for stimulating muscle growth (hypertrophy) in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

This is due to the heavy loads that can be used with this exercise and the large range of motion.

For bodybuilding, or if you’re interested in muscle growth above real functional strength, then the leg press might quickly become one of your go-to exercises.

Cons

1) Muscle Imbalances

One of the main problems with the leg press is that it can create muscle imbalances.

Because you’re using your legs in a fixed position, it doesn’t utilize the functional, or biochemical features of the joint-muscle connections the same way free weights would.

This means that imbalances that might compromise safety could develop if this is your sole bread and butter leg exercise.

In order to avoid this, it’s important to supplement the leg press with free-weight exercises like squats and lunges, which better target all the muscles in the legs.

2) Joint Stress

Even though the leg press is a relatively safe exercise, it can still place a lot of stress on your knees and lower back.

This is particularly true as the weights start to stack up.

You must maintain proper form at all times to safeguard your joints.

The minute you are unable to maintain your lower back in contact with the backrest, or the weight starts to travel down beyond 90 degrees could signal trouble on the horizon.

11 Excellent Leg Press Alternatives (To Do At Home)

Now that we’ve established some solid pros/cons of the leg press machine, if you still strongly feel that you can’t use it, then let’s explore alternatives that might be able to help deliver the results you are looking for.

All of the following should function as a good leg press alternative.

1) Back Squats

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVMNk0HiTMg

Starting off with the biggest bad wolf of them all is the squat.

There is only one other exercise besides the squat which can claim the title of number one, but when it comes to sheer leg annihilation, no other comes close.

In addition to the quadriceps, the squat also targets the hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Back squats, as they are called, involve load-bearing on the traps/upper back, and are an equal leg builder, compared to front squats which are more quad-specific.

To perform a squat

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees and hips to lower your body into a sitting position.
  • Keep your chest up and your core engaged throughout the movement.
  • Return to the starting position by driving through your heels and extending your hips and knees.
  • You can increase the difficulty of the squat by adding weight or by performing a single-leg variation.

However, it is important to master the basic movement before progressing to more advanced versions.

The squat is an incredibly effective exercise for building strength and muscle mass in the legs.

However, it is also a very demanding exercise and should be performed with caution if you have any knee or back issues.

2) Lunges

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2Qbxb6nJKc

Lunges are a great alternative to the leg press for people that are looking to target their quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Lunges can be done with bodyweight, dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells.

They can also be performed in a number of different ways, such as walking lunges, stationary lunges, reverse lunges, and lunge presses.

To perform a lunge (stationary)

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Step forward with one leg and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles.
  • Make sure your front knee is not extending past your toes and that your back knee is not touching the ground.
  • Keeping your core engaged, press through your front heel to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Walking lunges are performed in the same way, except you will take a step forward with each rep and continue moving forward until all the prescribed repetitions are completed.

Reverse lunges are performed by stepping backward instead of forward.

Lunge presses are performed by adding an overhead press to the lunge movement.

3) Hack Squat

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tn5K9NlCfo

The hack squat is a compound exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

It is similar to the back squat in that it load-bears on the traps/upper body.

However, the hack squat machine takes away the need for stabilization, making it a good option for people with knee or lower back issues and who couldn’t bear the load of the leg press on the lower back/ knees.

To perform the hack squat:

  • Place your feet hip-width apart in the middle of the footplate.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.

It is important to stretch the quads and hamstrings before performing the hack squat, as this exercise places a lot of stress on these muscle groups.

4) Deadlift

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4MzxtBKyNE

The deadlift is another compound exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and back.

It is an incredibly effective exercise for building strength and muscle mass, but it is also very demanding and should be performed with caution if you have any knee or back issues.

To perform the deadlift:

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell in front of you.
  • Bend at your hips and knees to lower your body until you can grasp the barbell with an overhand (or staggered) grip.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, lift the barbell by extending your hips and knees until you are standing upright. Your quads and back should engage as the bar passes in front of your knees.
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position by bending at your hips and knees.
  • Repeat for low reps; 4-8 reps with moderate to heavy resistance.

5) Inverted Smith Machine Leg Press

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2WHCWRGEXQ

Before the invention of the leg press machine, old school bodybuilders made use of the inverted Smith machine for their leg workouts.

The inverted Smith machine leg press may take some time to get used to initially, but it is well worth it considering the fact that your legs aren’t locked into a fixed path the way machine leg press exercises are.

Nevertheless, it does call for a great degree of stabilization, especially since the weight is bearing down at a 90-degree angle, in contrast to the 45-60 degrees offered by the machine setup.

This variation is excellent at stimulating the muscles of the inner thighs and hip flexors.

To Perform:

  • Set the bar on the Smith Machine rack to about hip height, and affix safety pins about 18 inches under.
  • Lie under the bar, face-up, with the soles of your feet pressing into the bar.
  • Slowly allow the loaded bar to descend as far as your feet allow; the safety pins can be readjusted to account for depth.
  • Forcefully press the bar up, and slowly repeat for reps. 10-12 reps and 3-4 working sets are average.

6) Goblet Squat

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gpXflqRiEc

The goblet squat is a compound exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

It is a variation of the traditional back squat and is performed with a dumbbell or kettlebell held at chest level.

A goblet squat is a great option for beginners as it is relatively easy to learn and performs well for building muscle and strength.

The fact that the weight is supported against the chest also forces you to maintain an upright spine, which is great for decent form.

The only downside to this exercise is the fact that you are limited by the total weight borne, as too heavy will result in you toppling over.

To perform the goblet squat:

  • Start by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest level with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for low reps, 8-10 reps per set is ideal.

On occasion, you can make use of high rep sets of 20-40 to really switch things up and boost your endurance in the process.

7)The Bulgarian Split Squat

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C-uNgKwPLE

Many people that work out at home hit plateaus faster than they would in a gym.

Why is this?

It boils down largely to not having a sufficient amount of resistance in the form of weights or access to the equipment that is best suited to overloading.

This can go for anything since only a few fortunate home gyms will have hundreds of pounds of plates at their disposal; so even free weights sometimes need to take a back seat.

One effective exercise that seeks to end this bias? Bulgarian Split Squats.

This exercise utilizes just one leg and a pair of dumbbells, helping to effectively double the resistance borne.

Say for example you have access to 2x50lbs dumbbells, but can easily knock out dumbbell or goblet squats.

You don’t have access to more resistance, so by adding the Bulgarian split squat, that one leg now bears all 100lbs.

To Perform:

  • Place a bench or chair behind you and position one foot on the raised surface with theknee of your back foot hanging off behind you.
  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping your core engaged, press through the heel of your front leg to return to the starting position.
  • Complete all reps on one leg before switching sides.

Sets and reps for the Bulgarian split squat can vary depending on your goals, but for muscle growth, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per side are ideal.

8) The Landmine Squat

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpJAdlKQKbw

A criminally underrated workout accessory, a landmine attachment is so simple and cheap that if you have an Olympic barbell and don’t own one of these, you’re doing yourself a major disservice.

When it comes to the landmine squat, it can be considered a goblet squat of sorts, since the bar is supported high on your chest; but there is the difference that the bar will have a fairly fixed path of motion, and you won’t be pressing in a 90 degree upwards motion, but instead a 60-75 degree angle.

If fact, many “new-age” trainers tend to reverse engineer the squat, in the sense that they try to teach the correct squat form from the landmine squat, and then gradually transition to the back squat.

The landmine squat is great in this regard since you cannot lean forward as the bar will simply press into your chest; a cheat of sorts with the free barbell version.

To Perform:

  • Set up a landmine in a corner, or simply place the end of a barbell in a corner and load it with weight plates on the other side.
  • Position yourself so that the bar is at chest level and your feet are shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your core engaged, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for reps.

When performing the landmine squat, be sure not to arch your back as you lower down, as this will place unnecessary stress on your spine.

Sets and reps can vary depending on your goals, but for muscle growth, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps is ideal.

9) The Squat Jump

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGGq0AE5Uyc

The squat jump belongs to the class of bodyweight exercises known as plyometrics, which helps to develop power and explosiveness in the lower body.

It’s a great move to add into your workouts if you’re looking to increase your vertical jump or improve your performance in other explosive sports such as basketball, football, or track and field.

To perform the jump squat:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  • Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then explosively jump straight up into the air.
  • When you land, immediately squat back down and jump again.
  • Continue for reps.

Sets and reps will vary depending on your goals, but for power development, 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps is ideal.

The squat jump can also initiate hypertrophy comparable to weighted squats, for example, at least on the lower extremity muscles, functioning as an excellent leg press alternative.

10) Dumbbell Step Up

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S24Do-rZncI 

The dumbbell step-up is a great alternative to the leg press for those who want to develop strength and size in their lower bodies without putting undue stress on the lower back.

It’s also a move that can be done almost anywhere, as all you need is a pair of dumbbells and a raised surface such as a bench or box.

The dumbbell version is also much easier to do than having a barbell across your back, as balance and stability are not as much of a concern.

To perform the dumbbell step up:

  • Place a dumbbell (or pair of dumbbells) on the floor next to a bench or box.
  • Grab the dumbbells, stand with your feet flat shoulder-width apart and place your left foot on the bench.
  • Keeping your core engaged, press through your left heel to drive yourself up onto the bench.
  • Step back down with your left leg and repeat on the other side.
  • Continue for reps, usually 12-15. Perform 2-3 sets.

Instead of altering legs for every rep, perform all reps for one side before switching to the other side. This keeps tension on that one leg and results in superior hypertrophy.

Eventually, add some barbell step ups into the mix once your balance improves.

11) Leg Extension

Watch Video Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swZQC689o9U

Wrapping up the list as the last alternative to the leg press is the leg extension.

This is a great exercise for targeting the quadriceps muscles, particularly the vastus medialis, which is the teardrop-shaped muscle on the inner thigh.

The leg extension can be done with either a machine or resistance band and is a move that can be done almost anywhere.

To perform the leg extension:

  • If using a machine, adjust the seat so that your knees are in line with the pivot point and your feet are flat against the footpad or secured under the ankle pads. If using resistance bands, loop them around a sturdy post and attach them to each ankle.
  • Keeping your core engaged, extend your legs out in front of you. Hold for a brief count
  • Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for reps, usually 12-15. Perform 2-3 sets.

The leg extension can be done with a light weight for higher reps to build endurance, or a heavier weight for lower reps to build strength.

Choose the weight and rep range based on your goals.

Unilateral leg extensions (one leg at a time) can also be done to increase the workload on each individual leg.

Final Thoughts

The leg press is a great exercise for building strength and size in the lower body, but it’s not the only move out there.

If you’re looking for some leg press alternative exercises to mix up your workouts, any of the exercises on this list would be a great addition.

In fact, we recommend you combine a few during your workout session to get the most out of them.

They work the same muscles and can result in additional recruitment of the core muscles.

Just be sure to let comfort guide your workout; if you feel acute knee or back discomfort, step back, and evaluate your form.

If you believe your form is good, then it might be wiser to try another exercise in place.