The 10 Best Leg Press Alternative Exercises You Can Do At Home


Most home gyms don’t have a leg press machine. They are large and expensive so buying one is often not an option. So what can you do to develop the lower body without a leg press machine in a home gym? Here’s what you want to know.

The leg press mainly targets the: Quadriceps, hamstrings, Glutes and calves. The best way to train these muscles at home without a machine are by doing barbell or bodyweight squats. Split squats, lunges and the resistance band leg press are other good alternatives.

Find out more details and ways to develop your legs below.

What is the leg press and which muscles does it use?

The leg press is one of the most popular lower body exercises in the gym. To know how we can replace it at home, we have to first take a look at what the leg press does exactly.

A leg press has you sit/lay down on a seat. There is  a foot plate in front of you. You put your feet on the plate and this will put you in a position where both your knees and hips are bent quite far. You basically have your knees in your chest. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. From there you push the plate or seat away until your knees and hips are almost straight. (don’t lock out your knees).

This targets the following muscles;

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves

As well as some small muscles that stabilize the hips, knees and ankles. While pushing the foot plate away, the main muscles that are used are the quadriceps and glutes. The quadriceps straighten the knees and the glutes extend the hips. The calves are part of the force transfer to the foot plate but don’t move too much. The hamstrings are there to bend the knees but also help with the extension of the hips.

So let’s see which exercises would target those four big muscle groups in on exercise.

Of if you’ve got the money and space, you can get leg press machines for a home gym.

Barbell Squats

The best alternative to the leg press is the barbell squat. The barbell squat is one of the best exercises you can do in general. It just uses so many different muscles, it’s a very efficient exercise. It doesn’t only use all the lower body muscles but also a lot of muscles in the lower and upper back.

The downside is that you need a barbell and some squat stands but many home gyms have that kind of equipment. It’s also a pretty technical exercise. You’ll want to get some coaching to make sure your form is on point because if it isn’t, you can hurt yourself.

You can also lift very heavy just like a leg press which is difficult to get in many other exercises.

Bodyweight squats

If barbell squats are a bit too much, bodyweight squats are not a terrible option. Especially if you don’t leg press very heavily, high repetition bodyweight squats can be quite challenging and they will make you stronger.

After a while, you can even add some weight without needing a barbell. You can hold some dumbbells or even just a heavy bag in your hands to add resistance. A heavy backpack can also be used.

Resistance band leg press

With a set of resistance bands, you can do something that is very similar to a leg press. It’s performed laying on the floor. Wrap a band around both shoulders. Then wrap the band around one or both feet depending on if you want to do this with one or two legs at the same time. Then push into the band at an angle so your legs are at about a 60 to 70 degree angle from the floor.

Go slow. During the whole repetition, there should be tension on the band and going slow will help you control everything.

Find out more about the right starter set of resistance bands here.

Split squats

Split squats are an interesting squat variation where have your legs staggered. That means you mainly only use the front leg to do the squats. This means you can focus much more on just that one leg. You’ll need to use certain stabilizing muscles more and also focuses a little more on the quadriceps than the usual squat although that depends on the variation.

You don’t need a barbell to do split squats. Just a bench and any other weights will do. Of course if you want to train very heavy, a barbell is a good tool to have but especially with split squats, you don’t need as much resistance as with a normal squat. So a set of dumbbells is likely going to be enough for quite a while.

Lunges

Lunges look a little bit like split squats although they are a bit different. There are tons of lunge variations but all of them are good for the lower body. The main difference between the split squat and the lunge is that with a split squat, you keep your feet in the same position until the set is finished. With lunges you move your feet every repetition. Split squats are a bit easier for beginners for that reason.

They are both great lower body exercises.

Box jumps

If you’re an athletic person, box jumps are also a good way to build up explosive strength in the lower body. Box jumps are not so much for building muscle but they are good at building explosive strength. The movement pattern is quite similar to the leg press but everyone jumps a bit differently.

You’ll need something solid to jump on of course. There are specific boxes you can buy which are called plyo boxes. Those are solid and made for purpose. You can find other things to jump on of course, just make sure it’s something that can handle your weight, doesn’t move and doesn’t have edges that are sharp.

Find out more about plyo boxes here.

Jump squats

You can also just jump without landing on a box of course. Basically you do a box jump without a box. It’s a high impact exercise so you probably don’t want to do this every day for high repetitions. Combined with some other exercises in this list it can be a very effective tool.

Hack squat

If you don’t have access to a leg press machine, you probably don’t have access to a hack squat either since they’re often the same machine. However, if you’re looking for leg press alternatives this is a good one. The hack squat rests the weight on your shoulders.  

It differs from the leg press because the leg press takes the whole upper body out of the equation. The hack squat still uses some of the upper body but loads the back less than a barbell back squat. The hack squat focuses more on the quadriceps than the normal squat.

Kettlebell squat

Got a kettlebell? Kettlebell squats are a good way to add some extra weight to your bodyweight squats. Just hold the kettlebell close to your chest while doing squats and you’ll have quite a bit of extra resistance.

Kettlebells in general are a great for a full body workout. Just one or two of these things can provide enough exercise options that are tough and build a good amount of strength and muscle.

Kettlebell swings are also a very good exercise to do that target a lot of the muscles you want. Kettlebell swings target the glutes, hamstrings and back so while it’s not a direct replacement to the leg press, it still has a large overlap and is a great exercise in general.

Isolation exercises

A great benefit of leg presses and the exercises listed above, is that they are compound exercises. That means you move more than one joint in the same movement and therefore use a lot of different muscles at the same time.

The leg press uses the quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings and calves all at the same time. The quadriceps and glutes are the main movers but the hamstrings also play a decent role and the calves a smaller one. That means we can also split up this exercise into different isolation exercises that target one muscle at a time and get similar results. Yes it will take longer and you’ll want to do some exercises that integrate all those muscles later on but if you want to build muscle and strength in your legs, these are some good exercises you can do at home.

Quadriceps

The quadriceps are the big muscles on the front of your legs between the hip and the knee. They are some of the biggest muscles in your body and they are used to straighten your knees. There are a few things you can do to work them out at home but they’re hard to isolate. You’ll almost always use some other muscles as well.

Here are some exercises that mainly focus on the quadriceps.

  • Leg extensions: These can be done sitting on a chair with or without a band. Sit on a chair that’s high enough to get your feet off the floor. A pillow or similar can help. Sit upright and then simply extend your knee. To add resistance you can use ankle weights or a resistance band wrapped around the rear legs of the chair.
  • Wall sit: The wall sit is a deceptively simple exercise. It’s an isometric hold which means you don’t move the muscle but keep it in the same position. Lean your back against the wall while having a 90 degree bend in your hips and knees. Push through your heels to stay in that position. Seems simple but not after holding that position for a minute.
  • Isometric quad holds: lay on your back and put something under your knees. A foam roller or something similar in size is perfect. Then simply squeeze your quadriceps as hard as you can for about 30 seconds. Seems simple but it’ll burn after a few repetitions.
  • 1 leg levitation squat: A single leg squat variation that focuses more on the quadriceps. Check out the video because it’s hard to explain in words.

Glutes

The glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in the body. That means there is a lot of potential for strength and size growth. Especially since many of us are seated the whole day which underutilizes the glutes. So it’s good to give them some attention. There are some good glute exercises you can do with no or minimal equipment.

  • Glute bridge: One of the best glute isolation exercises that don’t need any equipment. Simply lay down on your back, pull your heels to your bum and squeeze your bum up as far as you can. Then go down but don’t touch the floor.
  • Donkey kick: Get on all fours and kick one leg back. Try to push your feet straight up to the ceiling as far as you can.
  • Good morning: Good for glutes and hamstrings. The good morning means you simply bend over at the hips while keeping your back and knees straight. Then go back up.
  • Deadlift: Lifting heavy things off the floor while keeping your back straight is good for your lower body, who knew? Deadlifts are especially good for glutes but also other muscles in the lower and upper body. You don’t necessarily need a barbell. Dumbbells or resistance bands work too.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings can actually be a little difficult to work out at home if you have limited equipment. The main function of the hamstrings is to bend the knee. It also helps with hip extension. Hip extension is mainly done by the glutes but the hamstrings support them in some parts of the range of motion. So you’ll use your hamstrings a little with many glute exercises but the best way to isolate them is to focus on the bending of the knee.

You can do this a few ways;

  • Sliding leg curls: My favorite for at home hamstring isolation. All you need is a slippery floor and socks. Lay down on the floor and get into the glute bridge position. From there, push out your legs until the knee is almost completely extended. Then pull your heels back to your bum sliding them on the floor.
  • Resistance band leg curls: Got resistance bands? Good! Anchor the bands just a little above the floor. Now lay down and loop the band around your ankles. Lay face down and pull your heels towards your bum.
  • Good morning: Good for glutes and hamstrings. The good morning means you simply bend over at the hips while keeping your back and knees straight. Then go back up.
  • Nordic curls: These are for more advanced people with strong hamstrings. You need something heavy to put your legs under like a wardrobe or sofa with a small opening under it. Face away from the object and lock your heels under the object while standing on your knees. (use a yoga mat or knee pads). Then let yourself go forward.
  • Standing leg curl: For a light hamstring exercise, simply stand up straight and lift your lower leg up without moving the knee. Get your heel as close to your bum as possible.

Calves

The calves are a part everyone tends to forget but they are absolutely necessary for many athletic endeavors. And they’re always visible if you like to wear shorts so working them out can help you look a bit more muscular while wearing clothes.

Calves basically pull on the back of your foot to push the toes down. With that knowledge, it’s pretty easy to find ways to exercise them. Here are some good options.

  • Calve raise: Simply stand on the floor but preferably with the front of your feet on something a little raised. This can be a weight plate or a piece of wood. As long as you can let your toes go above your ankle without the heel hitting the floor. Then push up.
  • Wall sit calf raise: Lean with your back against the wall while your hips and knees make 90 degree bends. Then lift your heels from the floor. This one hurts.
  • Sprints: Walking but especially sprinting hits the calves hard. So implementing some sprints into your workout isn’t only good for cardio, it’ll also help with your calve development.
  • Jump rope: Jumping rope the right way means you just use your feet to lift of the floor. That speed has to be created all by the calves. And then they have to catch the landing too. On top of that jumping rope is a great cardio exercise.

Favorite home gym tools

Many people often forget a few important pieces of their home gym that isn’t directly gym equipment. Here are my favorite home gym tools.

To find my favorite home gym equipment, click here

Matt

Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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