A leg press alternative is an exercise that targets the same muscles like that of the leg press machine. These alternatives are completed by using different equipment like dumbbells, barbells, Smith machines, and resistance bands.
Leg press alternatives are best suited for at home when you don’t have access to the necessary equipment, like the leg press. Additionally, these alternative exercises can prove more beneficial for specific muscles. For instance, a unilateral leg press alternative will help you focus on strengthening each leg to correct any muscular imbalances.
In this article, we will cover ten leg press alternatives. They are all popular exercises, particularly the front squats and lunges. Each move targets your quads, but different leg press machine alternative exercises can hit other muscle groups, such as the following.
- Glutes: hack squats, belt squats, front squats, lunges, broad jumps, bridges, wall sits, step-ups, Bulgarian split squats, hip thrusters
- Calves: hack squats, lunges, broad jumps
- Hamstrings: hack squats, belt squats, front squats, lunges, broad jumps, wall sits, step-ups, Bulgarian split squats
The best leg press alternatives for beginners are front squats, lunges, wall sits, and bridges. As you become more advanced, you can try the other exercises. Keep reading to learn about the best leg press alternatives for powerful quads.
1. Hack Squat
The hack squat is a leg press alternative that focuses on the quads (quadriceps femoris), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), calves (sura), hip flexors (psoas major, iliacus, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, gracilis, pectineus, adductor brevis, and adductor longus), obliques (obliquus externus and internus abdominis), and abs (rectus abdominis).
Successful bodybuilders like Tom Platz use this alternative for the leg press machine in their exercise routine. However, this exercise does not develop your athletic performance as well as some others.
People of all genders can perform hack squats. However, older people who have joint issues should avoid this exercise. While it develops your lower body strength and can subtly improve athletic performance, you would benefit more from other, more functional movements.
Although the hack squat works most muscles in your lower body, it primarily focuses on your quads. However, it does not place as much emphasis on your quads as a front squat. You load the weight behind you, meaning that it puts less emphasis on your core, you get more activation in your hamstrings and glutes, and you can add more weight than a front squat
You should choose a hack squat if you want to build lower body strength and define your muscles. They provide more of an aesthetic benefit than a functional one, One common mistake is squatting with the balls of your feet rather than your heels. This move can lead to a knee injury.
You can improve the efficiency of your hack squat by adding a glute band to impact your glute strength further. To prioritize your hamstrings, place your feet high and wide on the hack squat machine platform while jutting out your knees.
Hack squats are not suitable for people who have weak joints or lower backs. Nonetheless, they are easy to learn for beginner lifters, primarily if you use a machine rather than a barbell. Try to master the front and back squat before attempting the hack squat if you are just starting. Also, avoid arching your back, keep your feet shoulder-width apart, and start lightweights.
The hack squat is a no-leg-press-machine alternative as you would use a hack squat machine. If you want to focus on your hamstrings, it can be a wide stance leg press alternative. The hack squat has three variations; barbell hack squat, wide stance hack squat, turning toes or heels to the side to target the inner or outer thigh more
2. Belt Squat
The belt squat is a leg press alternative that focuses on the quads (quadriceps femoris), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), and plantar Interossei (interossei plantares).
This exercise is excellent for athletes who suffer from lower back pain or upper body injuries. You can go hands-free for this weighted squat, so it puts all of the strain on your lower body.
People of all genders and ages can use this exercise. If you have knee injuries, you will want to avoid this motion. It may not suit older athletes.
The easiest way to perform a belt squat involves a specialized machine. However, there is only a handful of these in existence. Instead, you can try one of these variations.
- Stand on two risers in a V formation while wearing a hip belt with a hanging weight and squat,
- Attach a belt to a low cable, stand back about ten feet, and squat
- Secure one end of the barbell in a landmine, attach the belt to the free end, and squat
Since the weight is on your anterior chain in your lower body, this leg press alternative focuses on your quads. This alternative will not strengthen your core as much as squats where you hold the weight.
You will get some activation in your hamstrings and glutes, but not enough to develop these muscles. As such, you will have to combine this move with other exercises that work your posterior chain for a well-rounded workout.
If you suffer from an injury to your arms, wrists, or back, try doing belt squats. One common mistake is not spacing your legs evenly while squatting. If you set up your belt squat on two boxes, you might not place your feet equidistant from each other. You might have better luck with a cable or landmine belt squat.
You can improve the efficiency of the belt squat by using a loading pin to stack more plates on your weighted belt. Also, ensure you sit back fully to engage your posterior chain more.
The belt squat is not the best leg press variation for beginners. You need to have an excellent squat form first, so it is only recommended for advanced lifters.
The belt squat is a no-leg-press-machine alternative. However, it does require various forms of equipment. The simplest version would be the cable belt squat, as you only need a cable machine and belt.
The belt squat has four different variations; belt squat marches, sumo belt squats, split-belt squats, staggered belt squats
3. Front Squat
The front squat is a leg press alternative that focuses on the quads (quadriceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), lower back (spinalis, multifidus, longissimus, rotatores, iliocostalis, and quadratus lumborum), obliques (obliquus externus and internus abdominis), and abs (rectus abdominis).
As one of the most popular leg press alternatives, the front squat is used by weightlifters, athletes, and bodybuilders of all ages and genders. You can easily customize it to provide less stress on your joints and knees, making it suitable for older individuals.
Since you front-load the weight during this exercise, you provide more emphasis on your core and quads than a back-loaded squat.
You should opt for a front squat if you have mobile knees and want to develop your quads further. You cannot add as much weight in a front squat compared to a back one since you place most of the weight on one muscle group.
One common mistake in the front squat occurs when you round your upper back. You might round your back under the resistance of the front-loaded weight. Make sure you keep your spine straight, and your chest lifted throughout the movement.
You can improve the efficiency of the front squat by starting bodyweight. Do not add weight until you perfect your form. Also, experiment with your foot position. You can find your natural squat position by jumping up and down three times. Stay in your final landing position throughout your squat.
The front squat is one of the basic squat variations, making it a good option for beginners. It will not take much time to perform in proper form if you start bodyweight. Then, add light weights as you progress, checking that you keep your form perfect.
The front squat is an at-home alternative to leg presses. You can efficiently perform it bodyweight or with dumbbells. You could also use a barbell if you choose to perform this exercise at the gym. If you’re familiar with the Smith machine, you can use the front squat as a Smith machine leg press alternative too.
The front squat has four different variations. Front squat variations include gorilla squats, wall squats, box squats, and goblet squats.
Lunges are leg press alternatives that focus on the quads (quadriceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), calves (gastrocnemius and soleus), obliques (obliquus externus and internus abdominis), corset muscles (transverse abdominis), and the back (multifidus and erector spinae).
This fundamental exercise is good for everyone, including athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders. Depending on the variation you use, lunges can suit all people, no matter their age or gender. It provides functional fitness as well, making this exercise a must in everyone’s exercise regime.
During a forward lunge, your quads slow your landing. The quads, hamstrings, and glutes control your descent as you step. As you step back, these three muscle groups will contract to push yourself upright.
If you keep your back leg bent at 90 degrees, you can get a stretch in your calves and activate them a bit as well. You need to engage your core to stabilize yourself during the motion, which targets your obliques, corset muscles, and back.
Lunges have many benefits that might persuade you to add them to your weightlifting routine. Try out some lunge variations if you want to prevent ACL injuries, balance muscular asymmetries, improve stability and balance, and work multiple joints and muscle groups.
One common mistake when lunging is bending your knee past your toes. You can place too much strain on your knees, which may lead to injury.
You can improve the efficiency of your lunges by trying multiple variations. Also, experiment with the width of your legs. Since it is a unilateral motion, you should use lighter weights than you would use during squats and deadlifts.
Overall, lunges are simple exercises to learn. Many variations have different difficulty levels, but this motion mimics walking and running. As such, you can engage in proper form even as a beginner.
Lunges make up for many aspects of the leg press. It primarily serves as a one-leg press alternative due to its unilateral nature. However, you can also consider the lunge a leg press dumbbell alternative (all lunges), a side leg press alternative (lateral lunges), and an angled leg press alternative (curtsy lunges).
Lunges have seven variations, such as front lunges, reverse lunges, stationary lunges, walking lunges, lateral lunges, curtsy lunges, and jumping lunges.
5. Broad Jumps
If you need a leg press alternative with no machine, try out broad jumps. Broad jumps are leg press alternatives that focus on the quads (quadriceps femoris), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), calves (sura), hip flexors (psoas major, iliacus, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, gracilis, pectineus, adductor brevis, and adductor longus), obliques (obliquus externus and internus abdominis), and corset muscles (transverse abdominis).
Broad jumps are best for athletes looking to improve their athletic performance. People of all genders can do it, but this high-impact move might not suit older individuals or those with joint issues.
This exercise primarily develops your quads as you start and end in a squat. However, it targets your calves more than most of the exercises on this list as you lift off your toes when jumping. The squatting and jumping motions also work your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and core.
This leg press alternative without a machine is an excellent choice if you want to improve your power, cardiovascular endurance, bodyweight strength, speed, and jumping distance. It does not require equipment, making it an alternative for leg press at home.
Keep in mind that this exercise is not beginner-friendly. You will need a decent amount of strength and cardiovascular endurance to get into the correct form. Also, this high-impact exercise can wreak havoc on the knees, ankles, and hips.
A common mistake is not jumping with enough energy. You will not get injured this way, but limiting your range of motion will hinder the amount of work you can get from this motion.
You can improve the efficiency of your broad jump by swinging your arms with control to maintain momentum. Engage your core to keep your upper body in place. When you’re ready to jump, get in a deep squat and use all of your strength to explode forward. Avoid locking your knees to prevent injury and reduce the impact on your joints.
We’ve already mentioned that the broad jump is a great at-home and no equipment alternative for leg presses. However, broad jumps are also a leg press calf raise alternative due to the calf engagement.
Broad jumps have three different variations. Broad jump variations are vertical jumps, single-leg forward jumps, and backward jumps. That’s right. Broad jumps can even be an alternative for single-leg presses if you perform them unilaterally.
6. Bridge Exercise
The bridge exercise (glute bridges) is a leg press alternative that focuses on the glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), calves (sura), thighs (sartorius, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, psoas major, adductor brevis, adductor longus, and gracilis), and corset muscles (transverse abdominis).
Glute bridges are among the best exercises to strengthen your glutes, making them an excellent choice for athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders. This no-impact exercise works well for people with joint issues, so people of all ages can perform it. While women do this exercise more than men, everyone should use it to strengthen their glutes.
If you strengthen your glutes, you can improve your posture, reduce low back pain, and enhance your lower body aesthetics.
Keep in mind that glute bridges do not develop your quads. However, they target your posterior chain. If you do front-heavy exercises like squats, lunges, and broad jumps, you should add in glute bridges to build your back end.
In this move, you squeeze your glutes to lift your rear end. This motion will emphasize your gluteus maximus to help you build a bigger butt. Since your feet are under your knees, you end up contracting your hamstrings and core as well.
One common mistake while performing glute bridges is arching your back. You need to tuck in your pelvis to strengthen your core, reduce lower back strain, and better engage your glutes.
You can also improve efficiency by experimenting with your foot placement. Keeping your feet close together can target your inner thighs while separating your feet emphasizes your outer thighs. You can even get some calf activation if you perform the bridge on your toes.
Bridge exercises are excellent moves for beginners. You can quickly get into proper form by tucking in your pelvis and squeezing your glutes. Also, you can use almost any form of equipment to perform this move.
The bridge exercise is a seated leg press alternative. A popular variation uses resistance bands, making it a leg press alternative with resistance bands. Depending on the equipment you have, you can make a glute bridge fit a wide variety of leg press alternative classifications.
Glute bridges have seven variations which include the single-leg bridges, dumbbell bridge, banded bridge, barbell bridge, Smith machine bridge, elevated bridge, and straight leg bridge. The straight leg bridge will provide some quad activation. Nevertheless, bridge exercises are not the best choices if you want to build your quads.
7. Weighted Wall Sit
Weighted wall sits are leg press alternatives that focus on the quads (quadriceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), abs (transverse and rectus abdominis), back (multifidus and erector spinae), and thighs (sartorius, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, psoas major, adductor brevis, adductor longus, and gracilis).
The weighted wall sit is an exercise that anyone can do almost anywhere, whether you’re an athlete, weightlifter, or bodybuilder. It also suits people of all genders and ages.
This exercise is an isometric hold, so it improves your muscular endurance and mobility. Since you stay in one position the whole time, you also reduce the risk of injury compared to dynamic exercises.
A wall sit is basically a static squat. Since you hold your back against the wall, it reduces some of the strain on your back and allows you to place more tension on your quads. If you struggle with performing other squatting movements, you might benefit from switching to a weighted wall sit.
One common mistake while performing a wall sit is extending your back from the wall. With this maneuver, you will place less resistance on your quads and thighs, and it can strain your back.
You can improve the efficiency of wall sits by doing other exercises while holding the position. For instance, you can do a bicep curl or shoulder press as you hold your wall sit.
Also, you can further strengthen your core by tucking in your pelvis to engage the muscles. During this move, you can pass the time by contracting and releasing your glutes, which increases your glute engagement.
The weighted wall sit is one of the most straightforward exercises in proper form. As a beginner, you need to make sure you keep your back flat against the wall. As you progress in strength, you can lower down until your pelvis is parallel to your knees.
The weighted wall sit is a static leg press alternative. You can use dumbbells or a weight plate to add resistance, so you do not need a machine and can do it at home. If you lift one leg, you can even make it an isometric leg press alternative.
The weighted wall sit has three variations including the wall sit with adduction (bonus points if you use a resistance band), single-leg wall sit, and wall sit on a Swiss ball.
8. Barbell Step-Ups
Barbell step-ups are leg press alternatives that focus on the quads (quadriceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), abs (transverse and rectus abdominis), and obliques (obliquus externus and internus abdominis).
This exercise is excellent for athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders as it encourages functional fitness and muscle growth. You can easily control the height of your step, which alters the impact and can make it suitable for older people. Also, any gender can perform this exercise.
Like single-leg squats, the barbell step-up places most of the emphasis on your quads. However, it targets your glutes and hamstrings better than squats as you focus on one leg at a time and have a stronger balance element. You have to fight against gravity in this move to get on top of the bench, which adds more resistance to the action.
When starting, you should perform the step-up without equipment. As you get stronger, you can add a barbell to this move. It is not the most beginner-friendly as you need to add a lot of strength and balance to get perfect form.
You should choose this exercise to develop your athleticism, functional strength, and muscular size. However, be sure that you have a firm footing on the bench and don’t step up too high. Start with a lower height until you improve your balance, or else you could fall and get injured.
To improve the efficiency of your barbell step-up, make sure you do not use your back leg to lift yourself. Shift your weight forward to get more resistance on your quads and lower slowly. If you plop down, you might hurt your joints. Also, try tiring out one leg before switching to the other one to increase time under tension.
The barbell step-up is a single leg press alternative as you work with one leg at a time. The barbell step-up has three variations. Barbell step-up variations are the kettlebell goblet step-up, the lateral step-up, and the overhead dumbbell step-up.
9. Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats are leg press alternatives that focus on the quads (quadriceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), thighs (sartorius, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, psoas major, adductor brevis, adductor longus, and gracilis), abs (transverse and rectus abdominis), obliques (obliquus externus and internus abdominis), and back (multifidus and erector spinae).
The Bulgarian split squat is an excellent option for athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders. You rest your back leg on a bench, so it prioritizes the strength in your front leg. Since you work your leg unilaterally, you can improve your muscle imbalances. As such, the Bulgarian split squat is an essential part of any fitness routine.
While any gender can perform this exercise, it can strain weak joints. Nevertheless, the strength from this compound movement can reduce your risk of falling. Improving your balance as an older individual can save you from a life-altering injury, so you may want to try a modified version of this exercise.
This leg press alternative places most of the load on your front quad. It lets you use your weight as added resistance to your leg, so you cannot hold as heavy of a weight. Regardless, your glutes, hamstrings, thighs, and core will also get engaged in this move.
You can do the Bulgarian split squat without weights. You should choose this exercise if you want to take a break from back squats, have limited access to equipment, or want to work on unilateral strength. It does require you to elevate your back leg, but you can do this on a bench, chair, or bed.
One typical Bulgarian split squat mistake is having an overly long stride. You will limit your range of motion by separating your legs too much, and you’ll likely fall off the bench.
When starting with this move, choose a lower bench until you improve your efficiency. Then, increase the height as you become more mobile. You can add more weight as you progress, but start with bodyweight. You will not be able to split squat as much as you can back squat, so make sure you use a lower weight.
The Bulgarian split squat is not a beginner exercise. You need to have decent balance, core strength, and leg power to perform this move correctly. It will take a long time to get your form perfect.
The Bulgarian split squat is a leg press alternative with no machine. It also substitutes single-leg presses and builds your unilateral strength.
There are eight different Bulgarian split squat variations, including the bodyweight Bulgarian split squat, goblet Bulgarian split squat, barbell Bulgarian split squat, Bulgarian split squat jumps, deficit Bulgarian split squat, Smith machine Bulgarian split squat, dumbbell Bulgarian split squat, and split squat with the back leg on the ground.
10. Barbell Hip Thrusters
Barbell hip thrusters are leg press alternatives that focus on the quads (quadriceps femoris), glutes (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), thighs (sartorius, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, psoas major, adductor brevis, adductor longus, and gracilis), abs (transverse and rectus abdominis), and the back (multifidus and erector spinae)
Athletes, weightlifters, and bodybuilders all use this exercise to develop glute strength. The quads take a backseat as helper muscles here, with most of the emphasis lying on the rear end. Anyone can do this exercise, but you’re more likely to find a woman than a man doing hip thrusts.
Also, this exercise does not put much strain on your joints, making it a good move for people of all ages. Building your glute strength helps with posture, balance, back pain, and aesthetics.
Hip thrusts are similar to bridges. You squeeze your butt cheeks to lift the barbell off the ground. However, you perch your shoulders on a bench to increase the range of motion. It also ends up putting more focus on your glutes than the “helper” muscles.
You should choose barbell hip thrusters if you want to challenge yourself beyond glute bridges. Once you feel as though you cannot progress further in bridges, try switching to thrusts.
One typical barbell hip thruster mistake is not lowering with control. If you drop the weight from the top of the motion, you can get injured. You can improve the efficiency of this exercise by slowly lifting while contracting your abs. Pause at the top, squeeze your glutes extra hard, and lower slowly.
If you place your feet close to the bench, you will put more resistance on your quads. Walking your legs further will add more load to your hamstrings. You can experiment with foot placement to target different muscle groups.
Since hip thrusters are somewhat advanced versions of the bridge, they are not beginner exercises. You will need to work on your balance and glute strength for a while to get into proper form with this motion.
Barbell hip thrusters are seated leg press alternative exercises. You can add a resistance band or use a Smith machine to add more resistance to this move.
Barbell hip thrusters have seven different variations including the banded hip thruster, isostatic hold hip thruster, bodyweight hip thruster, kettlebell hip thruster, feet elevated hip thruster, single-leg hip thruster, and hip thruster with a plate between knees
What to Know About Leg Press Alternatives?
Leg presses have their benefits as they work most of the muscles in your legs, such as your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors, without challenging your balance or straining your upper body. Nevertheless, alternatives of the leg press act as more of a full-body workout by engaging your core and back. Here are some facts about leg press alternatives.
- Leg press alternatives like bridge exercises and barbell hip thrusters can better emphasize your glutes.
- You can challenge your balance with lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and barbell step-ups more than with traditional leg presses.
- Leg press alternatives can build your bodyweight strength, especially step-ups, wall sits, and Bulgarian split squats.
- Is the leg press an excellent alternative to squats? Yes, as you can work for the same muscle groups with less strain on your back. However, squats build more functional fitness as you have to stay upright. You can try belt squats to reduce back strain.
Which Leg Press Alternative Is Beginner Friendlier?
The best exercises for beginners on the leg press alternative list are the stationary lunge and bridge exercises. You can quickly get the form down and make these moves with minimal equipment.
Which Leg Press Replacement Exercise Is Better for Legs?
The best leg exercises that replace leg presses are the barbell step-up and front squat. You have to fight gravity to lift yourself on the bench, so the step-up adds more resistance to the move. Also, both exercises promote functional fitness by building muscles that you use in everyday movements.
Which Leg Press Alternative Is Better for Quads?
The best exercises for quads are the Bulgarian split squat and front lunge because you put all of your weight on one quad at a time.
Which Leg Press Substitute Is Better for Strength?
The best leg press substitute for strength is the hack squat, as you can add a substantial amount of weight to this move.
Why Should You Diversify Your Leg Press Exercises?
You should diversify your leg press exercises to build well-rounded physiology. You want to engage all of the muscles in your lower body and core, so you need to choose various exercises to balance each part.
When Should an Athlete Use Leg Press Alternative for Exercise?
An athlete should use a leg press alternative if they do not have the right equipment for the move or want to challenge their balance or core strength more.
What Are the Advantages of Substituting the Leg Press?
Substituting the leg press has multiple advantages, such as the following.
- Building bodyweight strength
- Challenging your balance and mobility
- Engaging your core
- Emphasizing other muscles in your lower body
- Reducing the strain on your knees
- Improving your grip strength
Which Leg Press Alternative Is Safer?
The safest leg press alternative is the wall sit. You can quickly get into this position and lower further as you build strength. Once you can hold the position for about 30 seconds at a time with your thighs parallel to the floor, you can start adding weights. This move adds little impact to your joints while building your quads, making it an excellent choice for older people.
Can Leg Press Alternatives Replace the Leg Press?
Yes, leg press alternatives can replace the leg press. You do not need to do the leg press to build lower body strength, and many of the other options are more valuable and functional than the standard move.
Which Leg Press Alternative Movement Is Best?
The best leg press variations for beginners are the front squat, front lunge, and glute bridge. Once you master the form in these exercises, you can try more challenging ones. These moves engage all of the muscles involved in the leg press, but they do not challenge your balance or core strength as much as some other moves.
Professional weightlifters can try barbell step-ups, Bulgarian split squats, and barbell hip thrusters. These exercises challenge your core strength and balance more than beginner-friendly ones.
None of these moves are conventional leg presses, but a beginner or professional weightlifter can benefit from a leg press machine.