Whether it's because your back is bothering you, or there's a line at the rack, or you're just not feeling up for a full day of squats, the leg press is a fine, safe alternative to be sure you still get in a solid lower-body workout. (At least, that's what you keep telling yourself, you giant baby.) But deep down, you probably know that although it feels cool to put 1,000 pounds on the leg press and pretend you're Superman for a half-dozen sets, there are definitely exercises out there that would be much better uses of your time. We asked some friendly fitness pros for their thoughts on what to do next time you hear the leg press' siren call.
Idalis Velazquez: Barbell step-ups.
Focus on the eccentric portion of the exercise, taking at least three seconds to lower yourself from the top of the motion to the bottom. This movement provides a greater range of motion than the leg press, and it strengthens and challenges your quads, glutes and hamstrings.
Ben Booker: Smith machine squats.
The Smith machine squat, performed with or without a box, allows you to experience the same benefits of the leg press safely and effectively while keeping a solid kinetic chain. The solid plane of motion the allows you to use a heavier load, which is why you see many people who can leg-press 750 pounds but are unable to squat 200 pounds! Still, exercises build great strength and size. Use a weight that allows you to get your thighs parallel to the ground, or even deeper. Keep the feet flat throughout the entire lift while driving the heels through the floor. Keeping your core tight and your chest up throughout the motion will protect your lower back and knees, too.
Jay Cardiello: Single-leg dumbbell step-up.
Working one leg a a time helps to build strength and hip symmetry. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and placing one foot up on the bench. Drive through the heel of that top leg in order to drive the hips upward. At the top of your motion, rest your "free" leg on top off bench briefly—don't put weight on it, though—before returning to the floor. Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg. The key is to perform the eccentric phase—that's the part where you lower your body back to the ground—slowly and under control.
Gideon Akande: Harness- or bungee-resisted broad jumps.
With a bungee around your hips, assume an athletic jump position, dropping your hips and keeping your back flat. Explode forward as far as you can, and land softly after the jump, like so. By recruiting the muscles in your lower body, you are still building strength—the bungee resistance acts as your load—and jumping for distance adds difficulty.
Alexia Clark: Landmine toes up.
Facing away from the landmine, lean back into the plate, with the bar resting on one shoulder, as shown here. Put your toes up on dumbbells or a plate so that you stay on your heels, and squat down. Press back up through your heels, squeezing your glutes. Be sure to perform reps with the landmine resting on your other side, too. The uneven weight distribution will engage your core and hit angles of your glutes and quads that the leg press machine can't reach. This exercise really engages the accessory muscles to press the weight.