Build Strong Quads at Home With These 10 Leg Press Alternatives

No leg press? No problem.
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When it comes to building a strong, muscular lower body, the leg press is a machine that's worth loading up. But if you don't have access to a leg press, you can still reap the benefits and strengthen your legs without the machine.


"The leg press immobilizes a couple of different segments of the body, which allows you to go much heavier in terms of overloading [the legs]," Brandon Lirio, CPT, certified personal trainer and director of BattleGround Fitness, says. You can add serious weight to stimulate more muscle growth, especially for the quadriceps, the muscles on the front of the thighs.

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And if you struggle with squats, the leg press offers unique benefits for safety and comfort, Shawn Arent, PhD, CSCS, certified strength and conditioning specialist and chair of the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, says.

"[The leg press] doesn't require balance. If someone favors one side or another, or they've got poor balance with a barbell across their back, the leg press allows them to apply resistance and load without balance," he says.

This can be great for older adults to gain strength while working on their balance in other exercises. And if you're trying to be careful with your back and neck, the leg press a good substitute for the back squat because it doesn't load the spine while still taxing the legs.


So how can you re-create the strength-building benefits of a leg press machine if you can't get to the gym (or your gym doesn't have a leg press)? These 10 leg press alternatives — some requiring no equipment — are great substitutes to build a more powerful lower body.

Exercise 1: Wall Sit

The classic wall sit exercise, where your back is braced against a wall with your legs bent around 90 degrees, is a quadriceps burner, and it provides many of the benefits of the leg press, Jarrod Nobbe, CSCS, the had weightlifting coach for the Athletic Lab weightlifting team, says.


"We're not loading the spine. The upper body is braced against the wall, so it's supported but still engaged," he says. "You don't have to worry about the mobility needed to do a squat. You don't have to worry about motor control."

Wall sits are easy to modify: By increasing or decreasing the angle of your thigh so that your hips are even with your knees or above them, you can make the move easier or harder. And you can make the exercise more challenging by increasing the length of time you hold the sit, or by adding weight across your thighs or held against your chest.



Also, like the leg press, the position of your feet can change the way this move challenges you.

On the leg press, placing the feet higher on the foot pad will engage the hamstrings and glutes a little more, Nobbe says, while positioning them lower will hammer the quadriceps. With the wall sit, changing the position of your feet — making them wider, narrower, farther from or closer to the wall — can provide new challenges, too.


Nobbe's suggestion: Start with 3 to 5 sets of 15- to 20-second holds. Once you've reached 5 sets, try to increase the length of each hold, aiming for 25 to 30 seconds per hold.

How to Do a Wall Sit

Sets 3
Time 15 Sec
  1. Stand with your back against a wall. Walk your feet out slightly from the wall.
  2. Slide your back down the wall until your knees are bent around 90 degrees. In this position, your lower back, upper back and head should all be in contact with the wall.
  3. Brace your torso and maintain this position for the duration of the hold. You can rest your hands on your legs, cross your arms, or hold a weight against your chest.

Exercise 2: Eccentric Sit-Down

While most people think of the pushing portion of a leg press as "the lift," controlling the lowering portion of the movement (called the eccentric) is also important. In a September 2017 review from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, scientists found that the eccentric portions of movement actually built slightly more muscle size than the concentric, or "push," portions of lifts.


You can mimic some of the quadriceps-dominant eccentric action of the leg press just by sitting down very slowly, Greg Pignataro, CSCS, owner of Never Past Your Prime, says.

"One of the best ways to build a little bit of strength is to be very deliberate, and to use a slow, three-count" when lowering in any exercise, he says. To get the full effect of these sit-downs, "don't let your weight go down until you feel almost all of your lower body in contact with the chair."


Sounds simple, he says, but after 20 or more of these, even advanced trainees will start to feel a burn.


How to Do an Eccentric Sit-Down

Sets 3
Reps 5
  1. Stand a few inches in front of a sturdy chair that won’t slide with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart.
  2. Keeping a proud chest, push your hips back to initiate the squat. Bend your knees and keep your chest proud as you slowly descend.
  3. Control your descent until your butt is on the chair and all your weight is on the chair — don’t plop into the seat.
  4. Use your hands to stand back up, and repeat.

Exercise 3: Shoulder-Elevated Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is one of the most effective moves you can do for your glutes. But by raising your shoulders higher than your knees on the move, you can use it to target the quads like a leg press, Marie Spano, CSCS, a trainer and sports nutrition consultant for Dymatize, says.

Place your shoulders on a bench, chair or other surface that's higher than your lower body at the top of the move. Bring your feet in more than you would on a glute-focused hip thrust, so that your heels are closer to the bench than your knees. Then, perform a hip thrust as normal: Bring your butt all the way to the floor, then thrust back up, focusing on the feeling in the fronts of your thighs.

Spano suggests starting with 3 sets of 12 reps to start.

How to Do a Shoulder-Elevated Hip Thrust

Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Sit with your back against the edge of a bench, chair or couch. Put your feet flat on the floor so your knees are bent around 90 degrees. To enhance quadriceps activation, choose a chair or bench that allows your shoulders to be higher than your knees in this position.
  2. Press your feet into the floor and squeeze your butt to thrust your hips up so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees.
  3. Lower your butt back to the floor at a controlled pace. Repeat.

Exercise 4: Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat

Because it doesn't require as much balance as a squat, Nobbe says, the leg press is an excellent way to train one leg at a time by removing one foot from the sled. Training with one leg at a time can help equalize the strength between both legs and may improve balance.

The rear-foot elevated split squat (aka Bulgarian split squat), Nobbe says, will overload the quads like the leg press, and is an easy way to incorporate single-leg training without equipment. Placing the back foot up on a step or bench provides some support and balance while still letting the planting leg do most of the work.

Also similar to the leg press: Where you place your foot can change the emphasis of the move.

Keeping your front foot so that your shin angle remains perpendicular to the floor throughout the move will challenge your glutes, he says, while moving the front foot closer to the rear foot — creating a more angled shin at the bottom — will increase quad activation.


While many gym-goers perform this move with their back foot elevated on a bench, Nobbe suggests starting a little lower, on a large book, block or the bottom step of a staircase that's only 6 to 12 inches off the floor. As you get stronger in the move, you can increase the height of the back leg. Start with 3 to 4 sets of 6 t0 8 reps.

How to Do a Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat

Sets 3
Reps 6
  1. Stand a little more than a foot in front of a bench, chair or low stair step. Place one foot behind you on the bench, with your other foot in front so you’re in a position similar to a lunge.
  2. Keeping your torso upright, push your hips back and bend your front knee to descend into a split squat.
  3. Press through your front heel to return to the starting position. Do all your reps on this side, then switch sides and repeat.

Exercise 5: Body-Weight Wall Leg Press

To progress the teeth-gritting burn of a wall sit hold into a movement that mimics a leg press even more, Pignataro suggests finding a smooth wall and donning a shirt (like a sweatshirt) that will reduce friction as much as possible.

"You can press your back against the wall, and your back is braced, just like it would be on a leg press," he says. From this position, you can slide your back down the wall as deep as you're comfortable, and then press back up.

This back support, he says, creates opportunities to practice a bigger challenge that's akin to a leg press.

Keeping your hips and knees in the same position as you would for the double-leg version, simply straighten one leg at the knee so the foot is off the floor. This creates a single-leg exercise that's less taxing than a single-leg squat — but by no means easy!

Whether you choose the single- or double-legged version, start with 3 sets of 8 reps.

How to Do a Body-Weight Wall Leg Press

Sets 3
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your back against a smooth wall while wearing a thick, smooth shirt. Walk your feet out slightly from the wall.
  2. Keeping your upper back, lower back and head touching the wall, slide your back down the wall until your knees are bent around 90 degrees.
  3. Pause, then push through your heels to slide back up the wall to standing. Repeat.

Exercise 6: Stability Ball Wall Squat

A stability ball can provide back support that's similar to what you'd get on a leg press, Arent says, and also create a similar shin and back angle (both perpendicular to the floor) that targets the quadriceps.


With the ball pressed between your back and the wall and your feet slightly away from the wall, you'll bend your knees to squat. The ball will roll down the wall, continuing to support your back. By changing the position of your feet, Arent says, you can change the challenge.

"Not just further away or closer to the wall, but the width as well, bringing your feet narrower or farther apart," he says.

Perform sets of this move until you feel like you could only do one or two more reps before failing — depending on your level of fitness, this could be just a few, or many. Try for 3 or 4 sets to start.

How to Do a Stability Ball Wall Squat

Sets 3
Reps 5
  1. Place a stability ball against a wall and lean against it. The top of the ball should be in contact with your mid-back, low back and tailbone.
  2. Position your feet so they’re hip-width apart and 6 to 12 inches farther from the wall than your body is.
  3. Keep the weight in your heels, push your hips back and bend your knees to squat. As you descend, the ball will roll down the wall with you. Descend until your knees are bent around 90 degrees.
  4. Press through your heels to stand back to the starting position. The ball will roll back up the wall with you.

Exercise 7: Wall-Assisted Patrick Step

If you've ever heard that your knees can't — or shouldn't — go beyond your toes, think again: During a deep squat or a full range of motion leg press, your knee will go over your toes. And so long as you ease in and don't have knee issues already, that's OK, Pignataro says: Doing so under control can help strengthen your quads and the knee joint over time.

One move that practices this in a supported manner, similar to the support during a leg press, is the wall-assisted Patrick step. To do this move, you'll stand close to a wall for support, lift one leg off the floor and lean back slightly. In this position, you'll bend the other knee so that it goes in front of the toe.

"When you lean back, your hip isn't taking any of the action of the move," he says. Instead, your quadriceps need to do the work, as on a leg press. And while it's a seemingly simple move, it's deceptively difficult, he says.

Try for high repetitions: Pignataro suggests aiming for 2 sets of 15 to 25 repetitions to start, building up to sets of 30-plus.

How to Do a Wall-Assisted Patrick Step

Sets 2
Reps 15
  1. Stand with a wall on your right, and place your right hand on it lightly to brace yourself.
  2. Lift your left foot a few inches off the ground, and lean back on your right leg by bending your right knee. Your left leg will be straight, with your left thigh in line with your right.
  3. Bend your right knee and lower your hips until your left foot taps the floor. Your right knee will come slightly in front of your right foot.
  4. Press through your right foot to stand back up. Do all your reps on this side, then switch sides and repeat.

Exercise 8: Resistance Band Squat

Just because you enjoy the leg press doesn't mean you can't ‌ever‌ squat: The machine mimics many of the same joint movements as the king of all lower body exercises. And the next three alternatives help make squats more approachable at home, just as the leg press does: not putting a barbell over your shoulders, supporting your balance and helping with some joint mobility issues that can make squats more difficult.

For this move, you'll need full loop resistance bands, one of Arent's favorites due to their relatively low cost and small space requirements.

You'll place one end of the band over your shoulders and trap muscles, and the other end under your feet. From here, you'll squat. Due to the stretchiness of the bands, most of the resistance will be at the top part of the move, but you'll still get the benefits of squatting through the full range of motion.

When it gets too easy, move more of the band between your feet to make it tighter. Start with 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

How to Do a Resistance Band Squat

Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out from parallel. Loop the band under your feet and over your trapezius muscles, the shrugging muscles to the side of your neck. (If your resistance bands have handles, hold the handles at shoulder height, as if at the top of a biceps curl.)
  2. Push your hips back to initiate the squat. Bend your knees to descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels.
  3. Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing.

Exercise 9: Suspension Trainer Squat

While the leg press provides balance by supporting you from behind, suspension trainers like the TRX, strap systems that can be anchored above for lots of different exercises, can provide balance support from the front, Arent says.

By holding the straps in front of you and sitting back, he says, you won't have to worry about balance as you squat. The straps also let you perform the move with a more upright shin and back angle like you're sitting in an invisible chair. This challenges the quadriceps and also helps you practice positions you might need in the real world.

"I use it a lot when I'm training for skiing because I can put myself in that 'downhill' position," Arent says. The support of the straps will also let you practice more challenging single-leg squats without worrying about toppling over.

Start with the double-legged version, and try for 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

How to Do a Suspension Trainer Squat

Sets 3
Reps 8
  1. Anchor the suspension trainer up high, and adjust the straps to a mid-length. Stand facing the anchor point with your feet hip-width apart, holding the handles at shoulder level with your elbows bent.
  2. Push your hips back and bend your knees to squat, keeping your weight in your heels and sitting back. As you descend, extend your arms in front of you so that the straps provide support and balance.
  3. Press through your heels to stand back up and return to start.

Exercise 10: Heels-Elevated Goblet Squat

Elevating your heels a few inches by placing them on a small weight plate or a book can make squatting deeper easier to do, Nobbe says. But doing so also has an added bonus.

"After a few reps, you're really going to start feeling your quadriceps being isolated and really having to work," he says, just like on the leg press. "Just by lifting the heels two or three inches, we're able to increase the intensity much more than with a basic body-weight squat."

Another way to increase the intensity: Weight the squat from the front, not the back. Nobbe suggests turning this heels-up squat into a goblet squat: Hold a weight in front of your chest with your elbows together, so that your arms resemble a chalice. Like the leg press, this adds weight without placing the resistance on your shoulders. You may also find that you're more balanced than with a back squat.

Try for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions.

How to Do the Heels-Elevated Goblet Squat

Sets 3
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out from parallel, with your heels elevated a few inches on a small book or a thin weight plate.
  2. Cup one end of a dumbbell in both hands in front of your chest with your elbows pointing down. In this position, the dumbbell and your arms will look like a goblet.
  3. Push your hips back to initiate the squat. Bend your knees to descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels.
  4. Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing.



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