Whenever it’s time to pump up those quads, most people will come rushing to the mighty leg press machine. After all, it’s one of the most accessible ways to cure the chicken legs curse! Well, we have a treat for you if you don’ have access to one, the best leg press alternatives.
The best thing about the leg press is it’s able to stimulate your major muscle groups. Your hamstrings and glutes get to work as you push the weights away from your body. When you bend your legs, the leg press then targets your quads. Depending on your form, you could even find relief from back pain after using it!
At the gym, you have a couple of leg press variants to choose from. You can try out machines that either have you sit upright or recline to a 45-degree angle. Basically, both designs require you to sit against a backrest and push onto a platform using your lower limbs.
However, you might not have the same abundance of options when you’re at home or traveling where you may have limited training gear available. A yoga mat. A few dumbbells. Perhaps a resistance band too. But I barely know hardcore fitness enthusiasts who has dedicated money and space in their crib for leg press equipment.
What if we tell you that getting an intense leg day is possible even without hitting the gym? In this guide, we’re gonna drop the best leg press alternatives that can strengthen your muscles just as well as a machine would. All you’ll need is your body weight and a few accessible tools!
- 1 Can you do leg presses at home without a machine?
- 2 Best Leg Press Alternatives
- 2.1 Bodyweight Exercises
- 2.2 Exercises with basic training equipment
- 3 Main Takeaway
Can you do leg presses at home without a machine?
The time you usually spend in the gym queueing to have your turn at the leg press machine (along with the crowds you have to deal with) could already easily equate to a full set of its own exercise routines.
If your full training routine features bodyweight exercises, then you already have a clear idea of how awesome calisthenics could be! In the same way that pushups can give you a smoking hot chest even without heavy equipment, specific exercises can make it okay to ditch the gym’s leg press. At a high level, the best leg press alternatives fall into these categories:
- Squats – you’re basically doing the same movement with a leg press and when doing squats, it’s just that the machine allows you to do so with a shorter range of motion. Even better, squats let you tap your abs too!
- Jumps – this explosive exercise demands great effort from the same muscle group, your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Doing jumps is a superb way to activate muscle fibers and increase the strength of your lower body.
- Lunges – these are often underrated and skipped, but its variations can build your quads, hamstrings, and glutes at different angles. As a plus, lunges can stimulate your inner and outer thighs for improved stability and balance.
For more advanced gym-goers, we understand that bare calisthenics exercises can sometimes seem too easy for your liking. After all, the key to building your muscles is reaching the optimum amount of tension with adequate resistance. Perhaps to get the benefits of the leg press alternatives you may feel you need extra resistance. Well here are a couple of pieces of training gear that can help you raise the intensity of your bodyweight training up a notch:
- Resistance bands – these lightweight tools can help you focus your control. It’s usually trusted for strength training, muscle rehabilitation, and improving mobility.
- Dumbbells – providing equal loads to both sides of your body, dumbbells are awesome for balancing strength alongside enhancing your metabolism and lean mass.
- Makeshift weights – Weight plates are ideal, but practically any similar object in your home (e.g books) can also do the trick!
Ready to fire up your leg muscles? Read on to the next section for detailed tutorials on our crowned best leg press alternatives.
Best Leg Press Alternatives
First off, let’s walk you through the best calisthenics exercises you can try at home. With just your bodyweight and a small space conducive for training, count on this list to enjoy the same results you’d get from using a leg press machine. Here are the best leg press alternatives without any gear:
Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, calves, abs, and lower back
This exercise is great for toning your glutes and strengthening your knee muscles. Squats can also do wonders for your balance, flexibility, and blood circulation.
Remember to maintain a proper form by keeping your hips back and your chest up.
Step 1: Start with a standing position, checking if your feet are shoulder-width apart.
Step 2: Press your hips backward as you bend your knees. Hold the position for a bit once your hip joint is aligned a bit lower than your knees.
Step 3: Push your heels to raise your body to your original standing position.
For weight loss and endurance training, perform three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions. But if your goal is muscle building, three sets of 8 to 15 reps will do. You can even do squats with a dumbbell to enhance your strength.
Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, abs, hip flexors, lower back, and calves
Squat jacks is a great mix of cardio and lower body training. With this simple exercise, you can improve your posture, stability, lower body strength, speed, and aerobic fitness.
Step 1: Stand straight. Keep your hands by your sides and stick your feet together
Step 2: Perform a jump then land with your feet spread a shoulder-width apart, knees bent and hips pressed back.
Step 3: Push your heels towards the floor to launch yourself for another jump. This time, land on the ground in your starting position.
Maintain a proper form even with your knees bent, making sure that they don’t extend beyond your toes. Keep the pressure on your heels when you jump then land softly on your toes to keep your movements fluid.
Do squat jacks for two sets of 8 to 5 repetitions.
180 Jump Squats
Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, abs, hip flexors, lower back, and calves
Apart from being a great addition to your leg day routine, 180 jump squats can enhance your core strength and propel weight loss. As a plyometric exercise, it’s intended to engage your lower body and ab muscles for increased aerobic fitness and speed.
Step 1: Start with a standard squat position, placing your feet a bit wider than the shoulder-width and your toes pointed slightly outward.
Step 2: Push your heels into the ground and spin yourself to the left by 180 degrees.
Step 3: Land with your toes first, then bend your knees slightly to another squat.
Step 4: Quickly jump back up then spin to the right to return to your original squatting position.
As with a standard squat, you have to keep your back aligned with your hips back and chest up. Your knees also shouldn’t extend beyond your toes whenever you land from your spinning jump.
You can start practicing 180 jump squats with 30-second long sets.
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, calves, and hip flexors
Performing frog jumps regularly can help you gain muscle mass and build leg strength fast. It also doubles as a cardio exercise that enhances endurance and burns a lot of calories.
Step 1: Mimic a frog’s natural stance by sitting back with your feet positioned in a wide stance and your toes turned outward.
Step 2: Launch yourself to a forward jump, then land with your toes first into a standard squat.
Step 3: Jump backward and land on your original frog-stance position.
As you jump pack and forth, remember to keep your shoulders back and your core engaged. Adopt the golden rule of squats that prohibits the knees from going past your toes.
You can either perform from jumps in sets of 10 to 15 reps, or repeat its steps as much as you could within a 30-second period.
In and Out Jacks
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, calves, lower back, and hip flexors
Adding in and out jacks to your leg day routine can enhance your body’s metabolic rate, improve aerobic fitness, and tone its target muscles.
Step 1: Begin with a standing position, hands by your sides and feet together.
Step 2: Do a jump and spread your feet mid-air so you’d land with your legs open wide, knees bent, and hips back. Open your arms as you would when performing the standard jumping jacks.
Step 3: Launch yourself to another jump then land on your original standing position with your hands closed above the head.
Keep your back straight as you perform the in and out jacks, always landing toes first then balls of the feet last. Refrain from bending too much that your knees are already aligned way past your toes.
Depending on your skill level, you can perform this exercise for one to three sets ranging 30 seconds to a full minute.
Front and back lunges
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core
Front and back lunges is among the simplest exercises that can sculpt head-turning things and glutes, along with enhancing your balance, stability, and flexibility.
Step 1: Let’s start by standing straight, keeping your feet about a hip-wide apart. Step one foot forward and slowly bend both your knees until the leg placed behind is a tad above the floor.
Step 2: Push yourself back up. Using the same leg you’ve launched forward in step one, step back, and slowly bend your knees again until you reach the same lowered level as before.
Step 3: Repeat these movements to complete a set, then switch the focus to your other leg.
The key to optimum results is keeping a proper form – spine aligned straight, abs tightened, and shoulders back.
For each leg, try to perform two to three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and inner thighs
While traditional lower body exercises neglect lateral movement, side lunges allow you to stimulate your inner and outer thighs so they won’t be left behind in your strength training and muscle toning routine.
Step 1: Start off by standing straight, keeping your feet hip-width apart.
Step 2: Step to the side, transferring your weight to the leg you’ve moved.
Step 3: Push yourself back to return to your original position.
Step 4: Repeat these steps on the same leg throughout a set, then switch focus to your other leg.
Try not to step to the side too much to keep your movements fluid. The proper form for side lunges involves keeping your back straight, abs in, and face forward. As you switch from one position to another, remember to keep both heels grounded flat on the floor.
Beginners can start with just a set of 10 to 15 repetitions, while more advanced calisthenics enthusiasts can go for three sets of 15 to 20 reps for each leg. You can also challenge yourself by holding dumbbells while performing side lunges.
Exercises with basic training equipment
Ready to kick your leg day up a notch? Here are some exercises that incorporate basic training gears (e.g. resistance bands, dumbbells, weights) for a more intense routine. Also see our beginner’s calisthenics guide for more exercises if you’re just starting out. Here are the best leg press alternatives with minimal gear:
Resistance band leg press
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and lower back
Equipment required: Resistance band
With just a resistance band, you can already copy the biomechanics of a leg press machine and it’s as if you’re still pushing weights away from your body.
Step 1: For the starting position, lie on your back with your knees bent. The resistance band should be placed under your feet.
Step 2: Use both of your hands to hold the other end of the resistance band. Bring it close to your chest, creating the maximum tension possible.
Step 3: Keeping your hips grounded on the floor, bring your knees closer to your chest.
Step 4: Going against the force of the resistance band, straighten your legs away from your body. Hold it for a second as you squeeze your quads.
Step 5: Bend your knees back to return to your original position.
Note that this exercise is also meant to target your core, so do not arch your back as you straighten your legs. Otherwise, you’ll lose engagement with the muscles located there.
For resistance band leg press, you can do two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Weighted Wall Sit
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, thighs, and core.
Equipment required: Weight plates or any available alternative (e.g. books)
The weighted wall sit will help you strengthen your muscles as your legs are forced to keep your body balanced. The heavier weight plates or objects you’ll use, the more effort is required from your muscles.
Step 1: Prepare a weight plate or any similar object with a mass that’s fit to your skill level.
Step 2: Stand against a wall, then slowly lower your body by walking your feet out until your thighs are aligned parallel to the ground.
Step 3: Stabilize yourself in this position, then place the weight plate or alternative object on your legs.
All throughout a set, your legs should stay bent at a 90-degree angle. Resist the urge to raise your body higher as the tension kicks in! Moreover, you have to make sure that your knees do not go beyond your toes.
Try to get comfortable with this exercise by starting with a 30-second hold, slowly working your way up to a full minute or even more.
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, arms, shoulders, core, and upper back
Equipment required: Dumbbells
With this exercise, you’ll get a hybrid of the standard squats and the shoulder press. It’s a smart way to improve your entire body’s stamina, aerobic fitness, strength, and endurance.
Step 1: With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand straight, bend your elbows, and hold the dumbbells right in front of your shoulders.
Step 2: Perform a standard squat, lowering your body until your legs are at a 90-degree angle.
Step 3: As you push yourself back up, extend your arms above your head.
Step 4: Lower your arms, bending it back to its original position.
Injuries are common among beginners when performing this exercise, so you’ll have to watch your form closely. The ideal posture involves engaging your core, pressing your hips back, and keeping your chest up. Keep your body’s weight on your heels.
For muscle building, try to use heavier dumbbells and perform three sets of 6 to 8 repetitions. But if your goal is to lose weight and improve cardiovascular fitness, using lighter dumbbells would be better in sets ranging 30 seconds to one minute.
Side lunge band raise
Target muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, inner thighs, chest, upper back, arms, and core
Equipment required: Resistance band
The side lunge band raise involves a combination of moves that stimulate your whole body, helping you burn more calories and improve your coordination.
Step 1: Start off by standing straight, keeping your feet hip-width apart. Step on the resistance and using your right foot, then grab the other end with your right hand.
Step 2: With your left leg, perform a side lunge. Pull the band along with you to the side as you move.
Step 3: Push your weight towards your right foot to return to your starting position. Afterward, raise your right hand along with the band to your side until your elbow is aligned with your shoulders.
Step 4: Repeat these steps with the same arm for an entire set, then shift to the other side.
Depending on your skill level, you can perform two to three sets of this exercise with 10 to 12 repetitions each.
No equipment or time to go to the gym? That’s not a problem. So long as you engage the same muscle groups with the same intensity of exercises, mimicking the power of a leg press machine is definitely possible.
With our top picks for the best leg press alternatives, you can count on either your bodyweight or the most basic of training gears to make those glutes, hamstrings, and quads pop.
Feel free to share this article with a buddy who can really use an intense leg day. We’d also love to know your favorite leg exercises we might have missed on this list, so come and leave a comment below!