13 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press

If you’ve ever set foot in a gym before, you’ve seen—and probably heard—the leg press machine. It’s the steel beast that takes up about a city block of floorspace, usually manned by a tattooed and muscular fireplug of a man banging out abbreviated reps while 45-pound plates clank and rattle on the machine’s extended arms.

The seated leg press certainly gets points for Instagrammability (few exercises allow you to move so much weight so quickly). But that’s about all it does. You’re moving weight along a preset path, so the leg press machine offers no challenge to stability or core strength. You’re off your feet, so it has minimal effect on your ability to jump, run, or walk. And all that weight you think you’re lifting? Since it travels along a track that’s 45 degrees to the floor, about one third of the weight is being lifted by the leg press machine itself. No wonder gym bros love it: it’s impressive-looking, easy, and a huge boost to the ego.

It’s dangerous, too. Leg press machines can put your lower back in a flexed (i.e. curled) position, sometimes under extreme loads. That’s a recipe for a herniated disc.

Fear not, though: Even with the seated leg press off the table, you still have plenty of leg day exercise options left. And all of the moves we recommend below require minimal equipment and space.

So if you’re looking to build muscle and strength in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves—while simultaneously improving athleticism, working your core, and boosting lower body power—read on. There are exercises for all fitness levels—beginner, intermediate, and advanced—and enough bodyweight variations to allow you to work your legs anytime and anywhere.

5 of the Best Leg Day Exercises That Aren’t Leg Press

 

1. SQUATS

Bodyweight Squat

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press bodyweight squat

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press bodyweight squat

• Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.

• Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back (imagine you’re closing a door with your butt), bend your knees, and “sit back” into the movement as you raise your arms in front of you.

• Lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.

• Pause, and then stand back up, contracting your glutes as you return to the starting position.

 

Split Squat

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press split squat

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press split squat

• Assume a staggered stance with your left foot two to three feet in front of your right, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides, palms in.

• Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your rear knee is bent 90 degrees (it should hover a couple of inches above the floor).

• Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

• Do all of your reps, switch legs, and repeat.

 

Dumbbell Back Squat

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press dumbbell squat

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press dumbbell squat

• Stand tall with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides.

• Keeping your back flat, chest high, and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.

• Pause, and then push back up to the starting position.

 

Bulgarian Split Squat

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press bulgarian split squat

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press bulgarian split squat

Stand facing away from a box or bench, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides. Place the toes of your right foot on the bench behind you.

• Keeping your torso upright, lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor (don’t let your right knee touch it).

• Pause, and then push back up to the starting position.

• Do all of your reps, switch legs, and repeat.

 

2. LUNGES

Forward Lunge

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press forward lunge

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press forward lunge

Stand tall holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides (palms in) with your feet hip-width apart.

• Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, take a large step forward with your left leg.

• Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your rear knee is bent 90 degrees (it should hover a couple of inches above the floor).

• Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat, this time stepping forward with your right leg. Continue alternating legs with each rep.

 

Lateral Lunge

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press lateral lunge

bb_lungevariations_lateral2_web

• Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides, palms in.

• Keeping your right leg straight and right foot on the floor, take a big step to your left with your left leg as you push your hips back, bend your left knee, lower the weights between your legs, and lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor.

• Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

• Do all of your reps, and then repeat to your other side.

 

Walking Lunge

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press walking lunge

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press walking lunge

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press walking lunge

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides, palms in.

• Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, take a large step forward with your left leg.

• Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your rear knee is bent 90 degrees (it should hover a couple of inches above the floor).

• Pause, and then push back up to the standing position, bringing your back foot forward.

• Repeat, this time stepping forward into a lunge with your right leg. Continue alternating legs with each step.

 

3. JUMPS

Squat Jump

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press squat jump

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press squat jump

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press squat jump

• Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides.

• Keeping your back flat, chest high, and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, swing your arms back, and lower your body as far as possible.

• Explode off the floor, raising your arms as you jump as high as you can.

• Land softly, immediately dropping down into a squat in preparation for your next jump.

 

Split Jumps

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press split jump

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press split jump

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press split jump

• Assume a staggered stance with your left foot two to three feet in front of your right.

• Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your rear knee is bent 90 degrees (it should hover a couple of inches above the floor).

• Explode off the floor, raising your arms as you jump as high as you can. Switch leg positions in the air.

• Switch leg positions in the air, landing with your right foot forward. Immediately drop down into a split squat in preparation for your next jump. Continue alternating legs.

 

4. BRIDGES

Glute Bridge

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press glute bridge

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press glute bridge

• Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, and arms by your sides, palms down.

• Squeeze your glutes, raising your butt off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.

• Pause, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Make it harder: Perform the move with one or both feet on a bench.

Swiss Ball Leg Curl

Level: Beginner/Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press swiss ball leg curl

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press swiss ball leg curl

• Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your heels and calves on a balance ball. This is the starting position.

• Squeeze your glutes, raising your butt off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your heels to your shoulders.

• Bend your knees to roll the ball toward your butt.

• Reverse the sequence to return to the starting position.

 

Barbell Glute Bridge

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press barbell glute bridge

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press barbell glute bridge

• Perform a glute bridge with a barbell across your hips, holding it securely in place with both hands as you perform the exercise.

 

5. SWING

Single-Arm Dumbbell Swing

Level: Intermediate

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press single arm dumbbell swing

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press single arm dumbbell swing

5 of the Best Leg Exercises That Aren't Leg Press single arm dumbbell swing

• Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in front of you at arm’s length in your left hand.

• Keeping your back flat, arm straight, and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees slightly (don’t squat!), and “hike” the dumbbell between your legs.

• Reverse the movement, swinging the dumbbell up to shoulder level as you thrust your hips forward.

• As the dumbbell falls back down, guide it between your legs to begin your next rep.