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9 Leg Press Alternatives

Whatever you are exercising for, lower body training is a must. From fat-burning to sports performance to just looking good, you can’t afford not to work your lower body. After all, your legs make up close to 40% of your total muscle mass.

The good news is that there are lots of leg exercises you can use. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced exerciser; you should be able to find plenty of ways to sculpt the lower body of your dreams.

For beginners, there are easy to learn machine-based exercises. With a guided motion and plenty of built-in safety features, leg training machines are convenient and effective.

More advanced exercisers may prefer free-weight exercises, such as barbell squats. These exercises can be challenging and require more skill and balance, but that’s why they work.

Very experienced exercises may prefer single-leg exercises. From a technical standpoint, they’re arguably the most demanding.

But, of all the leg exercises you can do, the leg press is popular with all levels of exerciser. It’s straightforward, so it appeals to beginners, but you also can use heavyweights, making it suitable for advanced exercisers.

No leg press? No problem! There are plenty of equally effective leg press alternatives too. Whatever you are training for, use the following exercises to reach your workout goals.

9 Leg Press Alternatives

What Is A Leg Press?

press leg machineA leg press is a strength training machine found in most gyms. There are lots of different designs, but most have a padded seat and a footplate.

Sitting on the machine, the user pushes out against the footplate to lift the weight, which is usually guided on rods. Some leg press machines are selectorized weight stacks, while others are plate loaded.

Leg press machines can be used with a wide, medium, or narrow stance, and some can also be used one leg at a time.

Most have safety handles that can be flipped in to support the weight. This is a valuable training feature when lifting heavy weights.

With their built-in back support, leg press machines are usually considered very safe and spine-friendly.

However, bending your legs too far will put a lot of strain on your lower back, and they could still cause injury. That said, there is very little spinal compression to worry about when using a leg press machine.

What Muscles Does A Leg Press Work?

The leg press is a compound exercise, which means it involves several joints and muscles working together. The main muscles involved in leg presses are:

Quadriceps – located on the front of the thigh, the quadriceps extend the knee joint and flex the hip. The four quadriceps muscles are rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Most people do leg presses to work their quads.

Hamstrings – there are three hamstring muscles; biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. Located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings flex your knee and extend your hip.

Gluteus maximus – known as the glutes for short, this is the large muscle on the back of your hip. Better known as your butt, the glutes work with your hamstrings to extend your hip.

9 Alternatives to The Leg Press

While the leg press is a great exercise, there are plenty of others that you can use instead. Here are nine of the best leg press alternatives.

1. Goblet squat

couple doing squats with weightGoblet squats are done using a single dumbbell or kettlebell, making them ideal for home workouts.

As well as being a great lower body exercise, goblet squats are an excellent way to learn and master the technique of squatting.

How to do it: 

  1. Hold your weight in front of your chest and just below your chin. Step out and into a shoulder-width stance. Brace your abs and look straight ahead.
  2. Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

2. Hack Squat Machine

The hack squat machine works the same muscles as the leg press, but instead of sitting down, it’s done in a standing position. Like leg presses, hack squats provide plenty of lower back support.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand on the footplate with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart. Put your shoulders under the pads and lean back against the backrest. Unrack the weights.
  2. Bend your legs and descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

3. Lunges

woman doing lunges with weightLunges don’t look much like leg presses, but they work all of the same muscles.

Also, because they work one leg at a time, lunges are an excellent balance exercise and help identify and fix left to right strength discrepancies.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
  2. Take a large step forward, bend your legs, and lower your back knee down to about an inch above the floor.
  3. Push off your front leg to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side and alternate legs for the duration of your set.
  5. You can also do this exercise with dumbbells in your hands or a barbell on your shoulders.

4. Barbell Squats

Barbell squats are a classic leg exercise. Ideally done in a squat rack for safety, as well as being an excellent leg exercise, squats are also the first lift contested in powerlifting competitions.

How to do it: 

  1. Rest and hold a barbell across the fleshy part of your upper back and not on your neck. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

5. Step-Ups

Step-ups don’t look much like leg presses, and yet, they work all the same muscles. Like lunges, step-ups work one leg at a time and are a helpful exercise for improving balance and coordination.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand in front of a knee-high bench. Bend one leg and place your foot on the top. Without pushing off your back leg, step up and onto the bench.
  2. Step down, leading with the same leg, and repeat.
  3. You can do all your reps on one side before changing legs or use an alternating rhythm as preferred.

6. Leg Extensions

woman in the leg extension machineLeg presses are a compound exercise that works several muscle groups at the same time.

However, a lot of people think of them as a quad exercise.

If you really want to hammer the muscles on the front of your thighs, leg extensions are hard to beat.

How to do it: 

  1. Sit on the leg extension machine. Adjust the seat so that your knees line up with the machine’s pivot point. Move the leg rest, so it’s just above your ankles.
  2. Without kicking or jerking, straighten your legs and lift the weight until your knees are fully extended.
  3. Bend your legs and lower the weight, stopping just short of touching the plates together.

7. Prisoner Squats

Not all leg press alternatives require equipment. Even if you work out at home, there are still plenty of effective leg exercises you can do. This exercise, prisoner squats, is especially useful.

How to do it: 

  1. Interlace your fingers and place your hands behind your head. Push your elbows back and open your chest, pulling your shoulders down and back.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward.
  3. Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

8. Bulgarian Split Squats

If you have mastered lunges, this is the next exercise for you. It works the same muscles, but the range of motion and balance demands are significantly higher, making this a much more challenging exercise.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand with your back to a knee-high exercise bench. Bend one leg and place your foot on the top. Hop forward into a staggered stance.
  2. Bend your legs and lower your rear knee down to within an inch of the floor.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.
  4. Do the same number of reps on each leg.
  5. You can also do this exercise with dumbbells in your hands or a barbell on your shoulders.

9. Wall Squats

woman doing wall squatsLeg press alternatives don’t come much simpler than this bodyweight exercise.

All you need is a wall to lean on, so you can do this exercise almost anywhere and anytime.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand with your back against a smooth, strong wall. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart, 12-inches in front of the wall.
  2. Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Use your legs to push your back firmly into the wall.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can.

Is The Leg Press Necessary?

The leg press is a popular and effective exercise, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it or that you’re missing out if you can’t do it.

Ultimately, your body has a tough time differentiating between using a state-of-the-art $20,000 leg press and doing squats with a rusty barbell on your shoulders.

So long as you work hard and consistently, your body will adapt to your workout, and you’ll get fitter and stronger. The leg press is undeniably effective, but it’s not the only leg exercise that works.

Bottom Line

Whether you want to run faster, get leaner, or look good in your shorts at the beach, you need to dedicate plenty of time to lower body training. Leg workouts are tough, and very few people can honestly say they enjoy them, but your efforts will be rewarded.

A lot of people shy away from leg training or skip it entirely. This is a mistake. With about 40% of your muscle mass residing in your lower body, missing leg day will have a big impact on how you look, feel, and perform.

While leg training is almost always hard work, it never needs to be boring. There are loads of different exercises you can use to sculpt the lower body of your dreams, and the leg press is an excellent option.

However, while it’s okay to love the leg press, you don’t need to get married to it! In fact, using a variety of exercises will probably produce better results than set after set of the same old leg press.

So, whether you are bored of the leg press or don’t have access to one, there are still plenty of exercises you can use to build, strengthen, or tone your lower body.


Reference

  1. Fitness Volt, https://fitnessvolt.com/.

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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