9 Best Leg Press Alternatives (With Pictures)

9 best leg press alternatives

The leg press is a machine-based exercise that predominantly targets the quads, with a secondary emphasis on the glutes. It’s a great compound exercise for the lower body, as it places no load on the spine and has no stabilization requirement.

That said, you might not have access to a leg press at your gym to begin with or you’re just looking for a leg press alternative to jazz up your leg training. 

So how can you obtain all the benefits of the leg press when you don’t have a leg press machine?

The 9 best leg press alternatives are:

In the article below, I’ll cover each leg press alternative in detail — including what it is, how to perform it, and a pro tip so you can master it in no time. 

There’s a mix of machine, free-weight, and bodyweight exercises for you to swap in as a leg press replacement. Rest assured, you’ll almost certainly find one that checks the right boxes for you.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

This article is an extension of my 9 Best Hack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures) article. In there, you’ll find some fantastic variations for the lower body — check it out next!

What Makes a Good Leg Press Alternative

A good leg press alternative will accomplish the following: (1) it targets similar muscle groups as those worked in the leg press and (2) it places minimal load on the spine.

Muscles Used In The Leg Press

muscles used in the leg press

The muscles used in the leg press are: 

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

Since leg press requires a large amount of knee and hip flexion (bending), the quadriceps and glutes act as the primary movers in helping you push the platform back to the starting position.

The remaining muscle groups (hamstrings and calves) assist in extending (straightening) the knees and hips in the lep press. However, they’re less active than the quads and glutes, making them more of a secondary focus.

Takeaway: An effective leg press alternative needs to primarily work the quadriceps and glutes.

Leg Press: Reduced Spinal Loading

As a machine-based exercise with the lifter laying at an upward angle (usually about 45 degrees), the leg press removes the spinal loading that is present when performing any free-weight squat variation. 

On a similar note, the stabilization that would typically be required from the lifter during these free-weight counterparts is no longer present.

Takeaway: An ideal replacement for the leg press (whether machine-based or free-weighted), will reduce the spinal loading placed on the lifter.

Take a look at my article where I compare the Leg Press vs Squat.  I cover all of the pros and cons of each exercise, the muscles used, and which one you should do based on your lifting goals.

Leg Press Alternatives

Hack Squat

The hack squat is a close variation that works all the same muscle groups, making it a fantastic leg press substitute.

With the hack squat, you are basically performing a machine-assisted squat in a strict up-and-down motion. The machine does not allow forward or backward travel of the torso, and there is also no stabilization required.

While there’s minimal work on your abdominals and back during the hack squat, the load is still supported on your shoulders. This means that there is significantly more spinal loading than the leg press — albeit the amount is reduced slightly since your body is inclined backwards on the machine.

I compared both the leg press and hack squat in a seperate article: Leg Press vs Hack Squat

How To Do It

  • Step onto the hack squat platform
  • Ensure your shoulders are in contact with the shoulder pads 
  • Grasp the handles beside your shoulders
  • Adopt your regular squat stance
  • When ready, stand up and disengage the stopper
  • Descend by bending at your knees
  • Once you’ve achieved your desired depth, push the platform away to stand up
  • When your set is complete, re-engage the stopper to step out of the machine

Pro Tip

A common concern for lifters in the hack squat is whether it’s safe to allow your knees to travel beyond your toes.

In short — yes, it’s safe. Provided the weight and workload is reasonable, and fatigue is managed appropriately, your knees can go beyond your toes without any concern.

To read more about knees passing the toes when squatting, click here.

V-Squat

The v-squat is an excellent leg press alternative as it’s a machine-based exercise that targets the quads and glutes.

As a machine variation of the back squat, the v-squat targets similar muscles groups as the leg press. It also removes the stabilization requirements that are present in all free-weight squat variations.

While it does a solid job of working your quads and glutes, the design of the machine requires you to lean forward slightly as you descend. As a result, you’ll find that your abdominals and back get a little more work when compared to the leg press.

How To Do It

  • Step onto the v-squat platform
  • Ensure your shoulders are in contact with the shoulder pads 
  • Grasp the handles beside your shoulders
  • Adopt your regular squat stance
  • When ready, stand up so that the stopper releases
  • Descend by bending at the knees
  • Once you’ve achieved your desired depth, push the platform away to stand up
  • When your set is complete, engage the stopper to step out of the machine

Pro Tip

With the v-squat, you’ll likely find your sticking point to be right around when your thighs are parallel to the floor.

If you’d prefer to overload the top half of the exercise, secure a medium-to-large resistance band around the machine. In this way, the band will stretch as you stand up and apply a large amount of tension on your quads at the top of the movement.

Resistance Band Squat

The resistance band squat is an awesome at-home leg press alternative, as it effectively targets the quads and glutes. 

The bodyweight squat targets the quads and glutes, along with a slight amount of work on the abdominals and back. 

Unfortunately, the bodyweight squat is unlikely to provide enough of a stimulus to develop your legs if you’re leg pressing a decent amount of weight. To make the bodyweight squat harder, simply perform it with a resistance band. 

For this exercise, you’ll need continuously-looped resistance bands. Here is a set of high-quality bands on Amazon (click here to check today’s price) that will last you years of solid use.

How To Do It

  • Grab a medium or heavy continuously-looped resistance band and allow the other end to rest on the floor
  • Set your feet on top of the band in your squat stance 
  • Drop into a deep squat 
  • Place one side of the band over your left shoulder, then do the same on your right side
  • The band should now be resting on your front delts
  • Holding the band in position with your hands, stand up by pushing the floor
  • The band will tighten as you stand up, working your quads and glutes

Pro Tip

Since you’ll probably be performing this exercise at home, it’s more likely that you might be exercising with bare shoulders (wearing a tank top or no shirt).

With the resistance band squat, the band will be under significant tension at the top — this can rip body hair right off your skin if the band starts to slide.

Make sure you stay safe by wearing a regular t-shirt to protect your skin.

Sissy Squat

The sissy squat is a stellar leg press replacement, since it focuses solely on the quads.

As an at-home substitute for the leg press, the sissy squat is an underrated bodyweight exercise. The amount of knee flexion (bending) occurring during this exercise places a high demand on the quads. 

Further, the lack of equipment required makes it a suitable at-home alternative for the leg press.

As a downside, the sissy squat involves very little hip flexion (bending). Because of this, your glutes will end up being neglected.

How To Do It

  • Set your stance about shoulder-width apart
  • Grab onto a sturdy object about hip-height
  • When ready, push your knees forward
  • As your knees move ahead, allow yourself to lean backwards
  • At the bottom, your heels should raise up off the floor so that you’re only standing on the balls of your feet
  • To stand up, push through the balls of your feet and drive your chest forward

Pro Tip

A common complaint during the sissy squat is having trouble staying balanced at the bottom of the exercise. 

If you’re struggling with the free-standing version, you can place a dumbbell or yoga block on the floor so that you can rest your heels on top of it throughout the movement.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian Split Squat is an effective leg press alternative as it places a high unilateral demand on your quads and glutes.

As a single-leg exercise, the Bulgarian Split Squat places a greater emphasis on your front leg. Since it’s often performed with bodyweight only, it makes for an excellent at-home replacement for the leg press.

That said, the movement can easily be made more difficult by adding weight in the form of a weight vest, dumbbell, or barbell.

How To Do It

  • Find a raised surface (a bench works well) that is roughly knee-height
  • Face away from the bench and take 2-3 steps forward
  • Place the top of your toes on the edge of the bench, with the sole of your foot facing upwards
  • This should place you in a lunge stance with your back foot elevated
  • Keeping your balance, lower yourself toward the floor
  • After reaching a reasonable depth, push the floor away to stand up
  • After doing the required amount of reps, switch your feet and do the same number of reps with your dominant leg forward.

Pro Tip

In the Bulgarian Split Squat, you’ll want to find a sweet spot for the distance between your front foot and the bench behind you. 

Too narrow of a stance might cause you to make contact with the bench and  throw off your technique. Too wide of a stance will require a significant amount of flexibility in your hip flexors that it will be difficult to reach an adequate depth.

Once you find the right distance from the bench to your front foot, stick a piece of tape on the floor or draw a small line of chalk in front of your toes to mark the spot.

Belt Squat

The belt squat is a solid leg press replacement, since the lifter can closely replicate the upright torso and knee-dominant positions seen in the leg press. 

With the belt squat, there are multiple variations that can be done based on the equipment you have access to. Some options include: an actual belt squat machine (the default variation), a landmine attachment, a cable machine, or a couple boxes and a dip belt. 

As long as you’re able to squat down to a reasonable depth without the plates hitting the floor, any of the variations listed above will work as a leg press substitute.

How To Do It

  • Put on a dip belt, and kneel down to fasten it to the belt squat machine
  • Without acquiring the tension of the machine, get into your squat stance
  • Lightly place your hands on the handrails and stand up 
  • Push away the stopper, so you can squat down freely
  • Bend at your knees while using the handrails to stay balanced
  • Once you’ve achieved the correct depth, stand up by pushing the platform away

Pro Tip

If you’re doing a variation of the belt squat at home, a dip belt will make performing this exercise much easier.

Here’s an affordable one on Amazon from DMoose Fitness (click here to check today’s price).

Safety Bar Squat

In the safety bar squat, a specialty bar helps the lifter to target similar muscles as in the leg press — making it a great leg press substitute. 

With the leg press, the high amounts of knee and hip flexion (bending) make your quads and glutes work hard. 

In a similar vein, the design of the safety squat bar helps you stay more upright and place a significant amount of work on legs. It does this while minimizing the work on your back at the same time.

Not sure if safety bar squats are right for you? Here’s 4 reasons to do them.

How To Do It

  • Using a rack, place the bar at shoulder height
  • Dip under the bar, with the vertical pads of the bar resting on your shoulders
  • Grab the handles and keep your elbows tucked into your sides
  • Stand up and take a couple steps back to clear the hooks
  • Take a deep breath in and brace your core
  • Squat down by bending simultaneously at your knees and hips
  • After reaching an adequate depth, push the floor away to stand up

Pro Tip

Safety bar squats are often the tool of choice that lifters use in response to a low back injury while back squatting. 

Research has shown that safety bar squats are easier on your back than traditional back squats. This is largely due to the more upright torso angle throughout the exercise.

Front Squat

The front squat is a barbell-based squat variation that places a large focus on the quads, making it a solid leg press alternative. 

In the front squat, you’ll place a barbell on the front of your shoulders. This placement of the bar requires you to allow more forward knee travel to remain balanced in your mid-foot (their centre of balance).

As a result, there is only a small amount of forward lean throughout the exercise. While the front squat is a free-weight exercise, this positioning places a high demand on your quads and glutes — making it a great leg press replacement.

Want to do the front squat, but can’t?  Check out my article on the best front squat alternatives

How To Do It

  • Place the bar at shoulder height in a rack
  • Put your hands on the bar, just beyond shoulder-width and aim to get the base of your fingers around the bar
  • Drive your elbows under, then upwards so that your triceps are parallel to the floor
  • This should wedge the bar in the crook of your shoulder
  • Stand up to lift the bar from the rack
  • Take a couple steps back, and set your squat stance 
  • Bend at your knees, while trying to sit between your thighs
  • Once you reach your preferred depth, push the floor away to stand up

Pro Tip

If you find that your wrists hurt during the front squat, you’re welcome to place the tips of your fingers on the bar instead feel free to place just the tips of your fingers on the bar instead of trying to get most of your fingers around the entire barbell.

Alternatively, you can also grab the bar with an overhand grip with your arms crossed in front of you. This will eliminate all extension demands on your wrists.

To help your wrist joint stay neutral, you can also wear wrist wraps. To learn more, check out my article on the 8 Best Wrist Wraps For Lifting

Back Squat

The back squat primarily targets the quads and glutes while allowing for greater loads to be used, making it an effective leg press alternative. 

Similar to the front squat, the back squat also makes use of a standard barbell.

The main difference between the two is that during the front squat, the bar is placed on the front of your shoulders.

Since the barbell is placed on your back during a back squat, it requires you to lean more forward in order to stay balanced over the middle of your foot (your centre of balance). In addition, the greater horizontal angle of your torso will activate additional muscle groups (spinal erectors, abdominals, adductor magnus) when compared to the leg press.

Due to the amount of forward lean present, the back squat might not be the best choice if you’re looking for a leg press substitute because of a lower back injury,

How To Do It

  • Using a rack, place the bar at shoulder height
  • Place your hands on the bar and duck underneath it
  • Put the barbell in a comfortable position on your back
  • When ready, stand up and take a couple steps back to clear the hooks
  • Take a big breath in and brace your core
  • Bend simultaneously at your knees and hips to descend
  • After reaching an adequate depth, drive your feet into the floor to return to a standing position

Pro Tip

When performing the back squat, some lifters will prefer placing the bar up on their traps (high bar position) and others will prefer putting the bar on top of their rear delts (low bar position).

Both bar placements have their own pros and cons. The most important thing is that you find the most ideal bar position for you.

To find out where you should put the bar based on your body structure and strength, check out this article.

Final Thoughts

An effective leg press replacement targets similar muscle groups as the leg press, which are the quads and glutes. An ideal replacement for the leg press also minimizes the amount of spinal loading that is placed on the lifter.

In a nutshell, the best leg press alternative for you will depend on: (1) the equipment you have available, (2) whether you’d prefer a machine or free-weight substitute for the leg press and (3) how much spinal loading you’re comfortable with throughout your leg press replacement.

When purposefully chosen, any of the exercises listed in the article above can be incorporated into your training program as a replacement for the leg press.