Dumbbell Substitute for a Leg Press

Dumbbells are versatile enough to substitute the leg press in a number of ways.
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While there are many forms of the leg press, all of them require the use of a leg press lever or sled machine. These machines are particularly expensive, however, precluding the leg press as an option for the home exerciser or those without gym access. A set of dumbbells is enough to replace these machines in strengthening the leg muscles involved in the leg press. By mimicking the leg press through compound leg presses holding dumbbells, you will gain the same results without the financial burden of leg press machines or a gym membership.


    Lunges are not only easy to perform but are also versatile, allowing you to place greater emphasis on either the quadriceps or gluteus maximus, the two main muscles involved in a leg press exercise. To perform a dumbbell lunge, hold the dumbbell at your side and step forward, bending both knees until the front knee bends the leg at a 90-degree angle and the rear knee touches the ground. Most exercises return to the standing position and repeat with the other leg, although you can repeat with the same leg and switch legs later, if desired. The length of the lunge -- how far you step forward -- determines whether the gluteus maximus or quadriceps will be more active; a short step forward will put more emphasis on the quadriceps, whereas a long step will emphasize the gluteus maximus.

Split Squats

    Split squats hit all of the muscle groups involved in a leg press -- and then some. Not only does a proper split squat recruit the thigh, hamstrings and gluteus maximus muscles, but it also involves smaller groups of muscles in the butt that are not active in a leg press. This is due to the extra stability required in a split squat. A split squat is similar to a lunge, with the difference in the rear leg being elevated, foot on a bench or other raised surface. From such a position, the exerciser squats down, then stands back up. Unlike a lunge, the split squat does not require stepping forward.

Step Downs

    Step downs integrate a large number of muscle groups that are not active in a leg press. Because the step down requires a strong balance, this exercise integrates a number of non-leg muscle groups, including back and ab muscles. It is therefore suitable for exercisers who wish to work their cores in addition to the legs. For this exercise, hold dumbells at your sides, as in a lunge or a split squat. Stand on an elevated surface, such as a bench, with one leg on the bench and one leg positioned over the side. Bend the knee of the leg on the bench so that the other leg slowly approaches the ground. When that foot touches the ground, push your body back up to the original position by driving downward through the leg still on the bench. Repeat with the other leg when finished with the first set.

Front Squats

    The strenuous squat exercise, usually performed with a barbell, hits the major leg and butt muscles. In fact, some may say that the leg press is a substitute for the squat, not the other way around. Regardless, the squat, in the form of a front squat, is suitable for exercisers who prefer dumbbells. In a front squat, the exerciser positions the dumbbells over the shoulders and performs a squat by squatting down. For safety reasons, keep your back straight, feet flat and chest high while performing this exercise.

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