leg press alternative exercises

Leg Press Alternative Exercises

Resistance training is no cakewalk even during the best of times. 

It takes drive, dedication, time, and willpower to motivate yourself and work towards your fitness goals consistently. 

But when you’re running low on cash, stuck inside, or otherwise don’t have access to professional fitness equipment, training is just that much more difficult.

One essential building block for many strength and resistance trainers that may be inaccessible is the leg press machine. 

Leg presses work to develop and strengthen your quads, hammies, and glutes so that you can maximize the power in your legs and overcome muscle imbalances.

To get you through your next leg day without access to a leg press machine, we put together a list of 13 leg press alternatives. 

Keep reading to learn everything you’ll need to know about leg press alternatives that can help keep you on track in your fitness regimen.

PS! Check this article for a list of full-body dumbbell exercises.

13 Leg Press Alternative Exercises

1. Resistance Band Leg Press

Leg Press

Targets: Calves, Hamstrings, Glutes, Quadriceps 

What Do You Need: Resistance band, an exercise mat

How To Do It:

  1. Lay down on your exercise mat, face up.
  2. Bend your legs at the knee to create a 90-degree angle with your feet together, and your toes pointed up.
  3. Wrap the resistance band around the center of both feet and hold the opposite side with your hands.
  4. Press through your feet until your legs are completely straight and pause.
  5. Bend your knees to return to the starting position and complete the exercise. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 8-12 reps X 1 set
  • Intermediate: 10-14 reps X 2 sets
  • Advanced: 12-16 reps X 3 sets

Examples: Click here for a video that demonstrates how you can do leg presses using a resistance band with handles. If you have a resistance band without handles, check out this video for proper form and execution. You can also try resistance band leg presses on a chair or workout bench to tighten your core while building your leg muscles.

2. Weighted Wall Sit

The Total-Body Weight Plate Workout (No Barbell Required)

Targets: Glutes, Quads, Calves 

What Do You Need: 2 Dumbbells (a weight plate or medicine ball can be substituted), any wall

How To Do It:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand against a wall, facing forward, with your feet shoulder-width apart about 2 feet out from the wall.
  2. Slide down the wall until your legs are at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Rest both dumbbells (or a weight plate) on your thighs. If you’re using a medicine ball, hold it out with your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Keep your back flat and adjust your feet so that your knees are in line with your ankles; make sure they’re not over your toes as improper form can diminish the benefits of your exercise.
  5. Hold this ‘sitting’ position for 20-60 seconds before slowly sliding your lower back up the wall to resume the standing start position. Rest for 30 seconds before moving into your next rep. 

Reps X Sets:

Unlike some leg press alternatives, you can track progress with your weighted wall sits over time rather than through a specific number of reps and sets.

  • Beginner: 20-30 seconds
  • Intermediate: 30-40 seconds
  • Advanced: 40-60 seconds

Examples: If you’re nervous to try this exercise with weights, first try it as shown in this video on YouTube using only your lower body weight. For weighted wall sits with dumbbells, click here, for medicine balls, click here, and for weight plates, click here to see a video explanation.

3. Resistance Band Broad Jumps

Resistance Band Exercises For All Level Athletes To Shred Those ...

Targets: Hammies, Quads, Glutes 

What Do You Need: Resistance band, a stationary solid object to anchor your resistance band to (i.e., wall mount, door, flag pole, etc.)

How To Do It:

  1. Make sure that your resistance band is safely affixed to a stationary object at about waist-height and put it around your waist.
  2. Step away until the resistance band is pulled taut without being stretched.
  3. With your feet hip-width apart, raise your arms above your head.
  4. Swing your arms down explosively to power yourself forward and jump away from your stationary object.
  5. Try to land with your feet shoulder-width apart and walk or hop yourself back to repeat the exercise. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 3 reps X 3 sets
  • Intermediate: 4 reps X 4-5 sets
  • Advanced: 5 reps X 6-8 sets

Examples: Looking for some visual inspiration? Try watching this video to get an idea of how resistance band broad jumps should look during execution. And if you don’t have a stationary object that you feel comfortable using, you can also watch this video to see how to perform resistance band broad jumps with a partner.

4. Dumbbell Walking Lunges

MensXP on Twitter: "Walking lunges with dumbbells: Total Sets- 3 ...

Targets: Quads, Glutes, Hammies, Calves, Traps, Shoulders, Abs, Adductors, Shoulders, Upper Back, Lower Back 

What Do You Need: 2 Dumbbells

How To Do It:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your back straight, and your arms by your side.
  2. Allowing both of your knees to bend simultaneously, take a step forward with your right foot and descend until your left knee touches the floor.
  3. Remember to keep your arms straight and pause before extending your left knee and moving your left foot forward to resume starting position.
  4. Repeat this movement with your left leg leading and your right as your front knee touching the floor to complete a single rep. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 8 reps X 2 set
  • Intermediate: 10 reps X 2 sets
  • Advanced: 12 reps X 3 sets

Examples: Click here to see a quick video to give you an idea of what your dumbbell walking lunges should look like in action. For a more thorough breakdown, try this video that goes into stride length and correct form and length.

5. Barbell Step-Ups

Leg Day - Barbell Step Ups | Leg curl, Lower body workout, Fitness ...

Targets: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Shoulders, Upper Back, Abs, Adductors, Traps 

What Do You Need: Barbell, Box (Risers, steps, and stairs 6-12″ in height can also be substituted)

How To Do It:

  1. Position your box in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Rest your loaded barbell across your traps with an overhand grip.
  3. Engage your core and step up onto your box with one leg; this is your starting position.
  4. Press your hip upwards and press your foot into the box to fully step onto it with both feet.
  5. Pause for a moment on top of the box before retracting to the starting position with the opposite foot.
  6. Repeat this movement with the other leg to complete a single rep. 

Reps X Sets:

Barbell sit-ups are less about performing a specific number of reps or sets and more about timing. Try to aim for the specified number of reps for your fitness level within a 60-90 second time frame. As you improve, you increase the difficulty of barbell step-ups by adding more weights to your barbell, performing more reps at a faster pace, and raising the height of your step. (9, 10

  • Beginner: 10-15 reps
  • Intermediate: 15-20 reps
  • Advanced: 20-25 reps

Examples: Check out this video to see how to perform barbell step-ups safely with the aid of a weight rack in less than a minute. If you’re looking to try this exercise, but you’re uncomfortable using weights to start, try this video that uses an unweighted barbell to teach the basics of this exercise.

6. Single-Leg Dumbbell Step-Ups

How To Do: A Dumbbell Step-up for Seriously Toned Legs

Targets: Quads, Glutes, Adductors, Hip Flexors, Hammies, Calves, Abdominals 

What Do You Need: 2 Dumbbells, Box (Risers, steps, and stairs 6-12″ in height can also be substituted) or workout bench

How To Do It:

  1. Set up your box in front of you and hold your dumbbells in each hand, down by your side.
  2. With your feet hip-width apart, step up onto the box with one leg.
  3. Be sure to keep your other leg straight and firmly planted before pressing through your top foot and stepping fully onto the box.
  4. Once on top of the box, pause, and press your hips back to lower your one leg down.
  5. Resume the start position to repeat the movement with the opposite leg.
  6. After you’ve repeated the movement with the opposite leg, you have completed a single rep. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 10 reps X 2 set
  • Intermediate: 15 reps X 2 sets
  • Advanced: 15 reps X 3 sets

Examples: Click here to see a video that demonstrates proper form and several variations of single-leg dumbbell step-ups. If you’re looking for a shorter format, try this video instead.

7. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

10 benefits of the Bulgarian Squat

Targets Lower Body: Quads, Hammies, Glutes, Claves, and Abdominals 

What Do You Need: 2 Dumbbells, weight bench (workout chair, stairs, and steps are some great alternatives)

How To Do It:

  1. Stand holding your dumbbells in each hand with your arms fully extended down by your sides, palms facing in towards your center mass.
  2. Set up your bench and stand in front of it, with your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Place the instep of your rear foot on a bench; it should be about 3 feet distance from your other foot.
  4. Lower your hips down and towards the floor, bringing your rear knee close to touching it, without making contact.
  5. Pause and press through your front heel to stand and assume the starting position again. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 6-8 reps X 2 sets
  • Intermediate: 10-12 reps X 3 sets
  • Advanced: 14-16 reps X 4 sets

Examples: Check out this video for a quick overview of what you should look like when performing your own dumbbell Bulgarian split squats. For a more thorough video explanation, try this video on Youtube that goes into the benefits and proper form for dumbbell Bulgarian split squats.

8. Barbell Front Squats

Barbell Front Squat

Targets: Glutes, Hammies, Quads, Anterior Deltoids, Upper Back, and Core 

What Do You Need: Barbell, Squat Rack (optional)

How To Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointed out and forward.
  2. Rest your barbell on top of your chest using an overhand grip to ensure that you’re securely holding the bar.
  3. Keeping your triceps parallel to the floor, inhale slowly and descend your hips until your thighs are also parallel to the floor.
  4. Keeping the weight stationary on your chest, pause at the bottom of your squat, and quickly drive your hips back to resume the starting position. (15, 16)

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 10-15 reps X 1-2 set
  • Intermediate: 15-25 reps X 2-3 sets
  • Advanced: 30-40 reps X 3-5 sets

Examples: If you’re looking for an in-depth review of barbell front squats, try watching this video. For a shorter overview of what barbell front squats should look like, check out this video on YouTube.

9. Barbell Hip Thrusts

Barbell Hip Thrusts - Exercise How-to - Workout Trainer by Skimble

Targets: Glutes, Posterior Chain, Core 

What Do You Need: Barbell, Workout Bench

How To Do It:

  1. Set up your bench and stand in front of it with your feet hip-width apart, holding your barbell securely in both hands.
  2. Sit down on your bench with your legs at a right angle and place your barbell on your upper thigh.
  3. Walk your legs out and away from the bench. Keep your barbell on your thighs and move away from the bench until your shoulders, upper back, and triceps are the only parts of your body in contact with it.
  4. Engage your glutes and press your hips forward to raise your body towards the ceiling.
  5. Pause and lower your hips to resume the start position and complete the repetition. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 6-12 reps X 1 set
  • Intermediate: 8-12 reps X 2 sets
  • Advanced: 10-14 reps X 3 sets

Examples: For a long-format explanation, try this video on Youtube. If you prefer a shorter overview, check out this video from YoutTube.

10. Smith Rack Squats

Smith Machine Squat Rack | Squat rack, Squats

Targets: Glutes, Core, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Hip Flexors 

What Do You Need: Smith Rack

How To Do It:

  1. Adjust your smith rack so that your barbell is at shoulder height
  2. Place your hands about shoulder-width apart on the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Stand in front of the smith machine and rest the bar on your upper back (the trapezius muscles).
  4. Unlock the bar by lifting it up and forward and shift your weight back onto your heels.
  5. Engage your abs as you lower into a squat and make sure to keep your spine and head in a neutral position.
  6. Once your knees are at a right angle, pause and hold your squat position.
  7. Drive through your heels and stand back up to complete the rep. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 12 reps X 2 sets
  • Intermediate: 10 reps X 3 sets
  • Advanced: 12 reps X 3 sets

Examples: Check out this video for beginners that shows everything you need to know about how to execute Smith rack squats properly. This shorter video may also be helpful if you’re just looking to see how the correct form and execution looks.

11. Squat Variations (Sumo, Front, Hack Squats, etc.)

Squats. How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart ...

Targets: Glutes, Core, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Hip Flexors 

What Do You Need: Barbell, Hack Machine, Exercise Mat (it depends on the squat variation you choose)

How To Do It (Sumo Squats):

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width distance apart and turn your toes out.
  2. Clasp your hands together at chest level and press your hips back and down to reach squat position.
  3. Keep your back straight and press through your heels to engage your inner thighs and resume the starting position. (21, 22)

Reps X Sets (Sumo Squats):

  • Beginner: 6-8 reps X 1 set
  • Intermediate: 8-10 reps X 2 sets
  • Advanced: 10-12 reps X 3 sets

Examples: For more squat variations, check out this link for a full list with instructions and visuals to help you integrate some diversity into your squat regimen. If you prefer a video format, try watching this video with over 20 different squat variations that only require the use of your body weight.

12. Box Jumps

Box Jumps: What are the Benefits?

Targets: Hammies, Quads, Calves, Glutes, Abs, Hip Flexors 

What Do You Need: Plyometric box

How To Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of your plyometric box.
  2. Start swinging your arms, making sure to keep your core engaged and your back straight.
  3. Explosively swing your arms forward and use the momentum to propel your jump up and forward so that you can land softly with both of your feet firmly on the box.
  4. Extend your knees and hips as you stand up and carefully step back down to the ground to complete the rep. 

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 3-5 reps X 2 sets
  • Intermediate: 5-8 reps X 3 sets
  • Advanced: 8-12 reps X 4 sets

Examples: This video allows you to see how a box jump should look in practice in less than a minute. For a longer explanation and examples of progression, try watching this video instead.

13. Lateral Lunge

Lateral Lunge

Targets: Glutes, Core, Hip Flexors 

What Do You Need: 2 Dumbbells

How To Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Step out to the side you’re leading with and lower into a lunge, making sure to sink your hips back and slightly bend your front knee.
  3. Straighten your front leg as you press off of your right foot and return it to the starting position hip-width away from your rear foot.
  4. Repeat this process on your opposite leg to complete a single rep.

Reps X Sets:

  • Beginner: 8-12 reps X 2 sets
  • Intermediate: 8-12 reps X 3 sets
  • Advanced: 12-16 reps X 3 sets

Examples: Click here for a preview of what your lateral lunges should look like in practice in less than 30 seconds. This video on YouTube also may be useful if you’re unsure about how well you’re performing your lateral lunges.

Bottomline

leg exercises

If you’ve made it this far, then you no longer have any excuses to skip your next leg day. 

With so many leg press alternatives to choose from, anyone can get a full lower body workout without a leg press machine at their disposal.

So strap on your sweatbands and turn up the radio, because you’re more than ready to feel the burn. 

And if you like this article, check out our equipment reviews and articles on health, exercises, and everything fitness to keep you moving.

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