Leg presses are among the most demanding and intense workouts you can incorporate into your routine — and as long as they’re done correctly, leg presses work not just the quads, but also the glutes, calves, and hamstrings. Leg presses are even famous for being able to alleviate persistent lower back pain, as these exercises don’t tax your spine. All in all, the leg press is one of the most powerful exercises out there.
The best part? A leg press is relatively easy to perform correctly and without too much thought, once you’ve mastered it.
There’s one major drawback, of course. No matter how much you love the leg press, you simply can’t do it without a leg press machine. Building strength and stamina at home? You’ve got no choice but to find leg press alternatives. Which exercises hit some of the same muscles and offer the same awesome benefits you’d get from a leg press?
Leg Muscles to Target With Home Workouts
Doing leg presses works primarily works the following muscle groups:
- Quadriceps in full
- Glutes (gluteus maximus and minimus)
Leg presses are able to work all these important muscles without ever putting your spine at risk which is why so many serious, experienced bodybuilders love the leg press machine; it allows for continual progression with minimal risk of injury.
ny workout’s got to work these same muscles, while likewise being easy on the spine, to count as a leg press alternative — either with a single exercise or a combo.
Leg Press Machine vs Squats
Besides the obvious angles and body position leg press machines come with a whole host of benefits over traditional squats done in a squat rack.
First is the reduced risk of injury. This isn’t to say leg pressing is an entirely injury-free exercise but because of the back support, handles to grip/secure yourself in place, and the built-in multi-level locking mechanism it is easy to go heavy without worrying so much about your spine, lower back, or getting stuck in the hole.
This increased sense of security and lesser need for stabilization means you can usually go heavier on the leg press machine than you would with a barbell on your back. Add on top of that the various angles in which the seat/backrest can be tilted in combination with different foot placement and the humble leg press machine really starts to shine.
Of course the benefits of traditional squats (high-bar or low-bar) include being able to sometimes have a greater range of motion if you can squat deep, plus the added benefit of strengthening your stabilizer muscles and your core as you’re forced to control the weight in all planes of movement vs being locked into a leg press machine setup.
Best Leg Press Alternative Exercises
Although leg presses accomplish a bunch of goals in a single exercise, you definitely don’t need access to a leg press machine to effectively work all the same muscles. You don’t even need any equipment at all, although having some bits and pieces at home can certainly broaden your options.
So, what exercises qualify as leg press alternatives, and why? Let’s dive in!
1. Resistance Band Leg Press at Home
The resistance band leg press is first on the list because it mimics the leg press quite closely — and because nearly everyone will be able to do this exercise at home easily. All you need is a resistance band, and ideally a mat. The resistance you choose is up to you; start easy if you’re new to leg presses.
Like the traditional leg press using a machine, the resistance band leg press works the quads and glutes, and the hamstrings and calves to a lesser extent. To do a resistance band leg press:
- Lie on the floor back-down in a straight posture.
- Your arms should be curled up toward your face, and the resistance band wrapped around the soles of your feet.
- Begin lifting your feet up parallel to the ground, and bend your knees into a 90 degree angle. When complete, slowly return to the starting position.
- Aim for two to three sets of 10 reps.
2. (Weighted) Wall Sit
The (weighted) wall sit is another great way to work your quads, making it one possible alternative to leg presses. If you’re new to this exercise, and you’re not ready to add a weight yet, the added benefit of doing wall sits is that you don’t need any equipment — just your drive and a wall. If already have a weight at home and hit the gym regularly, doing weighted wall sits adds intensity and results.
To perform a (weighted) wall sit:
- (Keep a weight plate in your hands if you’ll be using one — this part is optional.)
- Stand straight against a wall, making sure you’ve got plenty of space to work with, and slowly move your feet out until you’re in a sitting position with your upper legs parallel to the ground. Your lower and upper legs should be forming a 90 degree angle.
- (Now put the weight on your upper legs, if you’re working with one.)
- Hold the position for as long as you can, or for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is another epic leg press alternative for athletes who simply don’t have much equipment lying around at home. This exercise is typically performed with just your body weight. Focusing on one leg at a time, the Bulgarian split squat targets both your quads and glutes, as well as working your inner thighs, calves, and hamstrings.
Don’t be deceived — this exercise might look simple, but it’s incredibly demanding, and will take all your concentration to perform!
To do one:
- You’ll need to find a knee-height surface. Yes, a bench would be ideal, but you can definitely find alternatives around your home, including, potentially, a bed or couch.
- Turn your back to your surface and take a couple steps forward.
- The very tip of your toe should be resting on the bench, with your foot sole facing the ceiling.
- With your arms curled up in front of you, lower your front leg into a 90 degree angle, while your back leg nearly touches the floor.
- Stand back up.
- Add some dumbbells to make the Bulgarian split squat more challenging, or try placing the bottom of our toes on the bench instead.
- Remember to repeat the same amount of reps (initially go for 10) with each leg!
4. Jump Squat
Here’s another great exercise for people looking for leg press alternatives that don’t rely on equipment! Not only do jump squats give your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves a great workout, you’ll be targeting your core and getting in some cardio as well.
Here’s how to perform a jump squat:
- Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, get ready to perform some very energetic and fast-paced squats.
- Once you reach the squatting position, jump right up, making sure to keep a good posture.
- Aim to touch back down with the balls of your feet.
These squats take more out of you than you might expect! It’s good to do at least 15, but separate them out into three sets.
And there you have it! With a combo of these exercises, you can give yourself an awesome leg workout that easily rivals the leg press, without ever needing any fancy equipment!
Skinny Yoked Summary
Gyms are fantastic and if you are able to afford one we recommend signing up 10 times out of 10 vs just home workouts alone. Sure, you can definitely lose weight, get toned, and live a healthy life with strong legs just by doing the above home exercises, but if you REALLY want to grow BIG you’ll need to consistently overload your muscles, which once you acclimate to your home workouts can be tough without the addition of heavy weighted plates.
That said, during times in which commercial gyms are not feasible, such as pandemics, or travel, or financial hardship, you can most definitely get jacked and stay jacked if you have enough discipline to workout at home consistently and all while consuming a high protein diet to support growth.
Do you have any unique leg exercises you do at home that has helped grow any of the major muscles of the legs? Got any tips to grow stubborn calves? What about bulging hamstrings? Let us know in the comments below!