Leg presses are great lower-body strength builders, but what if you don’t have access to a leg press machine? Don’t worry! We have listed 11 effective exercises that can be used as a valid alternative to the leg press.

The leg press is a very popular exercise that is a staple in most leg training programs. It’s a machine-based workout that predominantly targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.            

Whether your goal is to develop strength or hypertrophy, the leg press can surely help you achieve the goals without putting too much pressure on the other joints.

Leg press offers unique strength and hypertrophy benefits that are hard to be replaced with back squats.

What Makes Leg Press Special

In the online community, some bros can be seen mocking the leg press machine or trying to ridicule the people who include the leg press in their training program. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If it was, then why would bodybuilding legends have incorporated leg presses into their training routine? Watch Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman leg pressing with 2300 lbs.

What made the leg press so special that it became an integral part of the leg day routine, let’s have a look at its benefits:

1. Reduces Pressure on the Spine

Leg press takes the spinal loading out of the equation, which helps the lifters with lower back pain.

It’s not always the lower back pain, sometimes, you just had a few sets of heavy back squats, and now your back is not in a position to tolerate further hammering. Leg presses are a safe alternative to increase the leg training volumes without putting too much pressure on the spine.

2. It is Beginner-Friendly

You don’t need to worry about balancing the barbell over your back and maintaining the perfect center of gravity. Beginners usually find it quite challenging to master a perfect squat, but that’s not the case with the leg presses.

Leg presses are relatively easier to learn; you need to get into the correct position and focus on pushing that foot platform further.

Additionally, leg press machines come with safety catches and a built-in safety mechanism that helps prevent injuries.

3. Improved Muscle Isolation

Heavy compound movements like barbell back squats require extra muscle engagement to keep the body braced and in balance.

On the other hand, the leg press moves in a fixed path, reducing the engagement of stabilizer muscles. It allows you to load the bar and promotes the primary muscles to do the lifting. Due to the stability and fixed range of motion, the leg press machine offers enhanced leg isolation. 

Plus, you can try different foot placement that further helps target different lower body muscles. For example, placing the feet high on the footplate allows you to emphasize the glutes more.

Leg Press

4. Improves Strength

Added stability and safety mechanism allow the lifter to go seriously heavy, therefore improving the lower body strength to perform heavier squats.

Additionally, lifters with injuries can easily amp up their lower body strength.

5. Range of Motion

Squatting at a full range of motion is not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly because of the different biomechanics.

The human skeletal system can be different, and squatting with a good depth requires balance, mobility (ankle, hip, and thoracic), and proper biomechanics. For example: tall lifters with long legs and shorter torso usually find it difficult to squat with depth.

Leg press allows deeper knee bend, improves the range of motion as you don’t need to balance the weight, and allows you to go deeper even if you have a long femur.

Leg press Muscles worked:

The leg press is an exceptionally useful exercise that can help you build strength and size in the lower body. Leg press engages four muscles:

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus (Maximus and medius)
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

Quadriceps and glutes are the primary movers and play a key role in leg extension.

Hamstrings and calves are the stabilizer muscle that supports the movement at the knee and ankle joints.

What Makes a Good Leg Press Alternative

People naturally gravitate towards the leg press because it allows them to train with a heavy load without putting them at risk of potential injury.

Going with the benefits of the leg press discussed above, a good leg press alternative should be suitable for all fitness levels, minimize the compressive stress on the spine, allows leg isolation, and primarily targets the quads and glutes.

We shortlisted some exercises that can replace the leg press. You don’t need to do all of them, you can select a few of them depending on your physique goals. 

Many exercises that we are about to discuss as good leg press alternatives might not resemble the leg press, but they have similar benefits as the leg press does.

11 Best Leg Press Alternatives

Using the standards we listed above, here is a list of the top exercises that can replace the leg press machine.

1. Inverted Smith Machine Leg Press

Inverted Smith machine leg press is a remarkably similar movement pattern that will allow you to target your lower body without stressing out the back.

Inverted Smith leg presses are better performed on “Angled” Smith machines as its more suitable for biomechanics.

Equipment: Smith machine and weights

Primary Muscles: Quads and glutes

How to do it:

  • Set the Smith machine bar at waist height.
  • Lie on your back below the bar, so your hip joint is placed just under the barbell.
  • Place both your feet against the bar at the shoulders width apart.
  • Fully extend your legs to unload and push the bar up.
  • Flex your knees to lower the bar and press back to the top again.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Coach Tip: Control the eccentric part of the motion. Have a spotter to help you load and unload the bar.

2. Smith Machine Squat

Squatting on the Smith machine is quite different from the free squat as it reduces the need for stabilizer muscles, and their purpose is typically to target the quads and glutes.

The fixed range of motion of the Smith machine allows you to squat with heavy weights without being worried about balancing the bar or failing the lift at the bottom. Squatting with the Smith machine also allows you to try different leg placements to target different areas of your lower body.

Equipment: Smith machine and weight plates

Primary Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

How to do it:

  • Set the bar just below shoulder height.
  • Get under the bar and resting it on the trapezius muscles. Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Bring your feets a few inches forward and place them shoulder-width apart, pointing slightly forward.
  • Brace your core, and pull your shoulder blades back and down.
  • Unrack the bar by rotating your wrist.
  • Shift the weight on the heels and bend your knee to descend.
  • Push yourself up as your thighs get parallel to the floor. Repeat for a few reps.

Coach Tip: Keep your core engaged throughout the movement.

3. Landmine Squats

Landmine squat is an excellent alternative to the leg press because it also targets the quadriceps and glutes. It’s a classic leg exercise for someone with minimum equipment. All you require is a barbell, weight plates, and a landmine attachment.

Landmine squats are beginner-friendly exercises that teach you to squat correctly by forcing you to push your hips back and transfer the weight to the heels as you descend while maintaining an upright posture.

One major difference between a free squat and a landmine squat is the center of gravity moves forward following the curvy path of the bar.

Equipment: Barbell, weight plates, and landmine attachment

Primary Muscles: Quads, glutes, and core

How to do it:

  • Lift the end of the bar and hold it in front of your chest with your hands close together, both palms facing inward.
  • Stand with both feet shoulder-width apart, and core braced.
  • Push your hips back as you descend until your thigh gets parallel to the floor.
  • Stand up explosively and repeat.

Coach Tip: Do not round your lower back.


4. Barbell Hip Thrusters

You can not afford to miss this exercise if you want strong glutes. Apart from glute development, this exercise also strengthens the hip flexors, eventually improving your squatting performance.

Equipment: Bench, barbell, and weights

Primary Muscles: Glutes

How to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your back against a bench.
  • Rest the barbell across your hips. You can use a barbell pad or towel for extra padding.
  • Bend your legs and place your feets flat on the floor.
  • Squeeze your glutes and extend your hips until your shoulders, hips, and knees get in line.
  • Hold the contraction for a second before returning to the starting position. Repeat for a few reps.

Coach Tip: Keep your core strong and control the eccentric part.

5. Goblet Squat

Goblet squat is a beginner-friendly exercise that will work on the quads and glutes. The stance of the goblet squat allows you to squat with an upright posture and enables the lifters to achieve the proper depth.

You can do a goblet squat with a single dumbbell or kettlebell.

Equipment: Dumbbell or kettlebell

Primary Muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

How to do it:

  • Grab a dumbbell and use both hands to hold it in front of your chest, with palms facing each other.
  • Stand with feet at shoulder-width apart. Keeping the core tight and back straight.
  • Bend your knees to decent into the squat.
  • Push through the heels to get back into the standing position.

Coach Tip: Use an elevated heel stance to focus more on the quads. 


6. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

When done correctly, Bulgarian split squats can add serious size to your quads and glutes. It’s a unilateral movement that helps you work on a single leg at a time and corrects strength imbalance.

There are two variations of the Bulgarian split squat:

  • Glute dominant variation: When the front foot is placed further from the elevated surface.
  • Quad dominant variation: When the front foot is positioned closer to the elevated surface.

First-timers should start with no weight and gradually increase the dumbbell size as they get comfortable with the movement. 

Equipment: Pair of dumbbells

Primary Muscles: Quads, glutes 

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of lightweight dumbbells by your side with a neutral grip. Get into a split stance position.
  • Place your back foot on the elevated surface by placing the top of your toes on the edge of the bench.
  • Keep your core tight and back straight.
  • Bend your front leg until the thigh gets parallel to the floor.
  • Stand back up and repeat the recommended reps before switching the side.

Coach Tip: Control the eccentric portion of the movement.


7. Hack Squat

The hack squat is just like the standing variation of a leg press. You will require a hack squat machine for this exercise.

Hack squat greatly emphasizes the quad development and allows you to pursue a greater range of motion.

Equipment: Hack squat machine

Primary Muscles: Quads

How to do it:

  • Place the back of your torso against the back pad of the machine and hook your shoulders under the shoulder pads.
  • Step on the foot platform keeping your feet at shoulder-width apart.
  • Grab the handles beside your shoulders and disengage the safety bars.
  • Extend your legs without locking the knees.
  • Bend your knees to descend into a squatting position slowly.
  • Push yourself up into the starting position. And repeat.

Coach Tip: Try different foot placements to find out what works best.


8. Wall Sits

When it comes to bodyweight exercises that genuinely have the ability to transform your legs, then wall sits are surely going to secure a position in that list. Wall sits may look like an isometric version of a leg press.  

Wall sits are suitable for all ages; whether you are a college athlete or a senior with limited experience with iron, it will benefit all. Wall sits also strengthen the knee joints.

Equipment: A wall

Primary muscles: Quads, glutes, and calves

How to do it:

  • Stand with your back against the wall.
  • Step your legs out and slide down the wall until your thigh gets parallel to the floor.
  • Maintain a straight posture with your chest out and chin straight.
  • Hold for the set time period before you relax.

Coach tip: Try to push your weight back into the wall to experience better quad activation.


9. Sissy Squat

Those who were in a delusion that bodyweight movements could not add strength and size to the quads should reconsider their belief.

Not many exercises have the capacity to push the quads for growth with just body weight. Sissy squat is one of the best exercises for quad isolation using only your body weight.

You may worry about your knee health after seeing a visual demonstration, but this exercise is a blessing in disguise.

Equipment: Bodyweight

Primary Muscles: Quads

How to do it:

  • Stand straight and tall with feet at shoulders width apart.
  • Grab a sturdy object to help you assist the movement.
  • Push your knee forward by raising your heels. Lean backward as a counterbalance.
  • Allow yourself to go as deep as possible before pushing yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Coach Tip: Keep your core tight and strong.


10. Belt Squat

What makes a belt squat different from the traditional back squat is weight hangs below the body and is attached to the hips.

You experience compressive load on the spine while traditional back squats, but in the belt squat, the load on the spine is minimized and emphasized more on the legs.

This is a great exercise to add volume to the leg training if you don’t want to place as much load on the spine. Belt squat also allows you to change the foot positioning to target a different part of your lower body, just like you do with leg press. 

If you don’t have a belt squat machine, you can do the exercise by wearing a dip belt and loading weight plates on it. You might need to step on a stepper or other elevated surface to raise your body for a full range of motion.

Equipment: Belt squat machine

Primary Muscles: Quads, glutes, and calves

How to do it:

  • Load the appropriate amount of weight plates to the machine.
  • Stand on the platform with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale and bend your knees to squat down until your thigh gets parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale and push through the heels to stand up in starting position.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Coach Tip: Do not lock your knees. Maintain constant tension on the quads and glutes.

11. Cyclist Squat

Cyclist squat is a quad-specific squatting variation that will help you develop stronger and bigger quads. For the cyclist squats, you are required to keep your heels elevated.

Elevated heels help you achieve a very deep knee bend, hence improving the range of motion. 

Equipment: Slant board and weights

Primary muscles: Quads

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells by your side with a neutral grip.
  • Put your feet on the slant board at hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees to descend into the deep squat.
  • Keep your spine straight and core tight throughout the movement.
  • Exhale and push yourself up to get back to a standing position.
  • Repeat for the recommended number of reps.

Pro tip: Take a two seconds pause at the bottom.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the best leg press alternatives at home?

A few exercises do not need bulky equipment and can be easily performed at home. Landmine squats, Bulgarian split squats, goblet squats, wall sits, sissy squats, and cyclist squats should be your top choice if you want to add serious meat to your legs.

2. Is a leg press the same as a barbell squat?

The leg press machine was developed to mimic the benefits of the free squat by improving leg strength, but it can not provide the full benefits of the squat.

Barbell squats require you to squat with a barbell on the back, which involves a lot of core stabilization and body balance. On the other hand, leg press moves in a fixed range of motion, reducing the engagement of stabilizer muscles.

3. What are the benefits of heavy leg press?

Going heavy with a leg press will improve the squatting performance and strengthen the whole lower body.

Additionally, the leg press reduces the pressure on your spine, allowing you to focus on muscle hypertrophy.

4. Does the leg press machine have weight?

Yes, the leg press is a bulky machine, and starting resistance of the empty leg press machine can be between 40-80 kg. The exact resistance depends on the machine’s built quality and type.

Wrapping up

Leg press is a great exercise to add volume to your leg workout without putting too much pressure on the spine. Unavailability of a leg press machine should not stop you from ripping out the maximum benefits. There are plenty of alternatives to leg press that you can try.

Make no mistake, don’t treat these exercises merely as a replacement for the leg press. All the listed exercises are potent enough to give you more bang for your buck.