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Dumbbell Substitute for Leg Press

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Dumbbell Substitute for Leg Press
Dumbbell Substitute for Leg Press Photo Credit: bokan76/iStock/GettyImages

The leg press machine lets you mimic the powerful back squat exercise to build up your quads, glutes and hamstrings. They're also big, bulky and expensive, so if you don't have access to one at a gym, you need an alternative. Using only a pair of dumbbells can get you fairly close to simulating the same motion.

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Read More: Muscles Involved in a Leg Press

Dumbbell Alternatives

Finding variations of common exercises can be challenging because they rarely come close to the real thing. The leg press is no exception since machine exercises are particularly hard to copy. They let your body move on a set path, taking away the need for balance and stability. This lets you increase the weight more than on a free weight exercise.

Because you don't have to hold a weight in your hands or on your back you can up the weight even more on machine exercises. If you can lift, say, 200 pounds on a leg press but can't hold 200 pounds for a regular squat, the leg press will work your legs more.

Despite the differences, you can still come close to a leg press with dumbbells using other squat variations. The leg press is most similar to a squat because you have both legs working at the same time and you're bending at the knees and hips.

With dumbbells, there are a few possible squat variations. Pick the one that allows you to use the most weight. You might not be able to use as much weight as the leg press, but you'll improve more on things like balance, core strength and grip strength.

Read More: Is the Leg Press a Good Machine to Use?

How Much Weight to Use

For weight, pick a number that's challenging but not too extreme. You won't be able to lift as much weight as you do in a leg press, so experiment with different dumbbells to find something challenging that allows you to maintain proper form.

Dumbbell squats don't have as much resistance as a leg press but they work other things like balance.
Dumbbell squats don't have as much resistance as a leg press but they work other things like balance. Photo Credit: ruigsantos/iStock/GettyImages

Dumbbell Squat

This is the closest you can come to a leg press with dumbbells because you can use very heavy weights.

Stand tall, holding one dumbbell in each hand. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed out slightly. Squat down as low as possible, keeping the dumbbells by the sides of your legs.

The dumbbells should go down and up in a straight line; don't let them sway back and forth. Stand back up keeping your shoulders back, chest out, and back flat.

Goblet Squat

By holding the dumbbell in front of you during this exercise, you'll be able to sink down smoothly into a squat. The only problem is that you can only hold one dumbbell in this exercise, so resistance won't be too high.

Stand tall, holding a dumbbell vertically at chest-height between your palms. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and point your toes out slightly. Squat down by sticking your butt back and bending your knees until your elbows touch the tops of your thighs.

Once you hit the bottom, keep your weight back in your heels and stand up, keeping the dumbbell at chest-height, until you're back in the starting position.

Dumbbell Front Squat

You can use more weight in this exercise than with the goblet squat because you'll hold two dumbbells instead of one.

Stand tall, holding one dumbbell in each hand. Swing them up to shoulder-height. Rest one side of the dumbbell on the front of your shoulder. Keep the dumbbells parallel to the ground and squat down.

Keep your weight on your heels as you go down. Go as low as you can and then stand back up to complete one rep.

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