5 Great Leg Press Alternatives

5 Great Leg Press Alternatives

The leg press is a favorite quad-building exercise that allows you to pack on the plates and give your upper legs an intense, challenging workout. Yet, not everyone has access to a decent 45-degree leg press machine. Often gyms will only have one or two of these machines, meaning that they’ll probably be occupied when you want to use them. That’s why it’s important to have an arsenal of backup leg press alternatives that allow you to get a scorching quad workout when the leg press isn’t available. 

1. Barbell Squats

The barbell squat is a similar movement to the leg press, with the difference being that the weight is loaded on your back rather than on a machine. That makes the exercise harder, meaning that you won’t be able to lift as much weight. If you are not used to squatting with a barbell, be conservative with the weight until you get the form right. 

How to perform a barbell squat:

  1. Load a bar on the squat rack just below shoulder level.
  2. Get under the bar and unrack it so that it is resting across your shoulders and trapezius.
  3. Position your feet shoulder-width apart with toes slightly outward.
  4. Maintaining a slight arch in your bak, hinge from the hips to descend down to a parallel squat position.
  5. Push through the heels to return to the start position. 

2. Cable Squats

The cable squat has some advantages over the barbell version of the exercise. Firstly, the resistance is on the cable machine in front of you rather than on your back. This removes all the downward pressure on your spine that is part and parcel of the traditional barbell squat. The low cable position also allows you to lean back as you descend down into the squat, which places greater emphasis on the quads as opposed to the glutes. 

How to perform a cable squat:

  1. Set the cables on a double pulley machine to their lowest setting and load the appropriate weight.
  2. Grab the handles and about three feet back from the machine, facing it.
  3. Lean back as you descend into a full squat.
  4. Push through the heels to return to the start position.

3. Hack Squats

Hack squats are an excellent leg press alternative that places more emphasis on the teardrop quad muscle just above the knee. It can be done on a hack press machine or with a barbell. This is a more intense, focused exercise than the leg press so you will no0t be able to use quite as much resistance.

How to perform a machine hack squat:

  1. Load the weight on a 45-degree hack squat machine.
  2. Position yourself on the machine, with your shoulders under the shoulder pads and your feet in the middle position of the footplates (you can experiment with different foot positions to hit different areas of the quads).
  3. Release the safety pins and descend down into a parallel squat position.
  4. Ush through the heels to return to the start position, stopping just short of lockout and going directly into the next rep.

How to perform a hack squat:

  1. Load an Olympic barbell with the appropriate weight and put it on the floor.
  2. Stand directly in front of the bar with your feet shoulder width apart and pointed slightly outward.
  3. Squat down to parallel and grab the bar behind you with palms back grip.
  4. Maintaining a slight back arch, push through the heels to return to an upright position.
  5. Lower back down to move into your next rep.
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4. Dumbbell Squats

Some people may be doing the leg press because a problem with their spine may be preventing them from doing back squats. Or they may simply be wary of putting an inordinate amount of stress on their spinal column. For those people, the dumbbell press provides an alternative quad developer that relieves all pressure on the spine. This is also a safer exercise if you get stuck when squatting; all you have to do is drop the dumbbells to the floor at your sides. 

How to perform a dumbbell squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a pair of heavy dumbbells in your hands at your sides. Your feet should be pointed slightly outward.
  2. Looking directly ahead and with a slight arch in the lower back, hinge at the hips to descend down into a parallel squat.
  3. Push through the heels to return to the start position, stopping just short of lockout to maintain tension on the quads.
  4. Move directly into the next rep.

5. Front Squats

The front squat is an excellent quad developer that is rarely seen in gyms around the world. That is partly because it is a tricky exercise that requires you to balance the bar in front of your body and partly because it is so challenging. This is another exercise that really targets that teardrop quad muscle just above your knee. I prefer to do the front squat on a Smith machine as it is a lot safer and removes the need to balance a heavy barbell across your chest.

How to perform a front squat:

  1. Set a Smith Machine bar to chest level and load the appropriate weight on the bar.
  2. Position yourself under the bar, facing it, with the bar resting across your upper chest.
  3. Unrack the bar and descend down into a full squat.
  4. Push through the heels to return to the start position, stopping just short of lockout.
  5. Move directly into the next rep.

Leg Press Problems

To conclude, let’s consider some reasons why you might choose to avoid the leg press altogether. Here are four reasons why you might want to go with the exercises above, even if the leg press is available:

  • The Leg Press machine provides all the external stability, robbing your body of the challenge of doing so.
  • The Leg press can cause the pelvis to rotate away from the backrest in the bottom position, producing unnatural lumbar flexion that could result in a herniated disc.
  • The Leg Press position can restrict blood flow to the legs, which could lead to blood clots.
  • The Leg Press encourages people to pack on a ridiculous amount of weight and then only move their legs 8 inches – that looks embarrassing!

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This article was last updated on August 25, 2021 .

Written by
Steve Theunissen

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