The leg press is an excellent exercise for building lower body strength – and it has some great applications.
However, it’s also an enormous, expensive piece of equipment and might not fit your home gym. What do you do when you can’t leg press?
Today, we’re going to be talking about 8 leg press alternatives you can do at home – with whatever equipment you have!
Stick with us, and you’ll be ready to build stronger legs without spending $$$$!
What Muscles Does the Leg Press Work?
The first question we need to answer is obvious: what does the leg press do?
The obvious part is that it’s for the legs.
It’s a lower-body training machine designed to use heavy weights for the lower body that almost nothing else can. It takes out the dynamic balance and stability challenges of other exercises so you can focus on weight.
It’s also an excellent choice for things like single-leg presses, where it can be a way of overloading single-leg training without the risk of falling over.
The leg press is there to allow you to move the most weight safely. So when we look at replacing it, there are a few things we want to look for in an alternative:
- It trains the legs, specifically in extending or pressing
- It allows single-leg training options or alternatives
- It is a form of assisted or stabilized exercise
- It takes some of the stress off of the back and hips
Though, as we’re about to see, there are always different flavors of leg press alternative – depending on why you’re using the leg press. Some exercises are better for reducing backloading, while others are great for isolating the quad muscles and building strength.
1. Cyclist squat
The cyclist squat is a perfect alternative to the leg press for a home gym for a few reasons.
First, it’s all leg. The position puts as much of the load as possible on the legs without worrying too much about the rest of the body. The weights are lighter than a regular squat, and the torso position should be upright the whole way, making sure it’s all quad training.
You’ll need to stabilize with the hips, but this is as close to a leg press as you’re going to get without spending hundreds or thousands on the machine itself.
Secondly, it’s a movement you can do with any form of weight – or none! You can perform bodyweight cyclist squats with a kettlebell in the goblet position, a pair of dumbbells, or (ideally) a barbell.
These options make it a great choice, whatever your home gym equipment!
2. Banded Leg Press
This is a simple little alternative to the leg press at home. It’s a lower-resistance version of the same movement, so you’re going to need to practice it with high reps.
The band provides elastic resistance, which can be great for strengthening your lockout and improving your quad strength. However, it can take a little bit of setup fiddling, so be sure to practice with different positions (e.g., sat into the wall).
You can also perform a banded squat for more convenience. It does change the movement slightly, but you’re going to get a similar effect, so consider mixing it up!
They have somewhat different effects (e.g., the squat is more hip/core), but the mix can be great for leg development!
3. Back Squat
It should be obvious, but squatting is where you should be putting your time. It’s not even a leg press alternative: the leg press is a squatting alternative!
If you can squat safely, you should. It involves more technique and coordination than the leg press but builds leg, hip, and core strength.
Barbell back squats are the most obvious alternative, but there are many options based on your home gym equipment. You can use bodyweight, bands, implements (think sandbags or Bulgarian bags), heavy dumbbells, or kettlebells. There’s a squat for any home gym.
You can also use box squats, where the bottom position is supported on a box or other raised surface, to emulate the support and reduced range of a leg press.
If you’re having issues with full-range squats due to an injury, for example, these are a great leg press alternative to start with.
No equipment? Don’t worry, check out our 5 Best Ways to do Squats at Home without Weights.
Almost any form of lunge is going to be a great choice.
Lunges are a leg exercise, of course, but they’re also great for building strength and stability in the hips and core. They stabilize the knees and hips in 3 dimensions, building better joint balance and leg muscle.
This is an excellent way of improving your injury resilience while you get stronger. You can also use any number of “lunging” exercises – split squats, walking lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step-ups, whatever.
Single-leg work is good for you, and all these variations will make you stronger, fitter, and healthier.
Learn more about How and Why to do Barbell Lunges.
5. Sissy squat
The sissy squat – despite its name – is one of the best exercises for building leg muscle and strength at home.
It’s a form of assisted-balance squat that forces your legs through their whole range to build strength. These are usually performed without weight but, if you have a sissy squat stand, it can be a weighted exercise for a real deep burn.
The sissy squat is a “finisher” exercise for most leg sessions because it’s challenging, full-range, and limited to lighter weights by the difficulty!
6. Front Squat
The front squat is notoriously quad-heavy and a classic exercise for building leg strength and muscle mass.
The front bar position moves the weight off the hips and onto the legs, which means more leg development. However, it does use less weight than a traditional squat, so you’ll need to keep that in mind for overall strength gains.
Practice light front squats to start with, as the posture and flexibility demands can be a little challenging. Ensure that your back is tight and your hips are opened up so your knees and toes stay aligned throughout.
7. Trap bar deadlift
If you’re okay with the loading in the back and hips, something you won’t experience in leg press, a trap bar deadlift is perfect. The more upright position of the trap bar and its potential for overload make it an ideal leg press alternative.
You need to have a trap bar and the right weight, but this is a fantastic alternative for a home gym.
If you’re already lifting with weight plates, a trap bar can be a relatively inexpensive alternative to the leg press. It also has some significant variations like explosive TBDL or banded deadlifts.
8. Broad Jumps
If you’re at home and don’t have any equipment then you can change tactics. You can replace your strength and muscle work (the leg press) with power work to build up your lower body explosiveness.
The broad jump is a two-leg jumping exercise that focuses on power through the floor. It’s all leg and hip, and it can be a great way to build overall athleticism – especially when you can link multiple jumps together.
Start slowly and don’t focus on distance to start with. Jumping exercises require a lot of recovery, so you need to make sure you’re ready for them and don’t just jump in at the deep end!
Looking to increase your agility? Then check out our Best Agility Ladders Buying Guide and our 20 Basketball Agility Ladder Exercises You Can do at Home.
It would be nice if we all had access to any equipment we wanted to train with – and every option for exercise. However, the reality is quite different, and we can’t just go out and buy a leg press machine.
These exercises are great alternatives that help you to get bigger, stronger legs at home, whatever equipment you’ve got on hand. They range from bodyweight to free weight to machine, so whatever you have on hand, we’re going to make sure there’s something you can do.
Fitness is better when you use what you’ve got to get better, even when it’s sub-optimal. If you can’t leg press, you can get many of the best benefits with these exercises and a can-do mindset.
Work with what you’ve got and try these exercises – and let us know what’s working for you!