There have been a lot of people that have had to make decisions to train at home for a variety of reasons. While the convenience of working out within your own walls makes these sessions worth it, there are compromises that have to be made.
For example, unless you have a big budget and can afford to buy machines, you won’t be able to use some of the more popular machines that you would normally use at the gym. A mistake that many home gym warriors make is accepting that they can’t find alternatives and settle for the easier exercises.
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I have been training at home for over five years now. I eventually was able to get my hands on equipment that I preferred, but for a long time, I had to find alternatives. My self-committed research led to me finding substitutions that allowed me to continue making progress.
Now, these options aren’t exact equivalents, but they do serve the purpose well. Hopefully, these movements can help you reap the rewards of training at home like you feel they would in the local health club or fitness center.
The most common equipment you’ll find in home gyms are barbells, dumbbells, and bands. So these are what we will use for these movements. As an added bonus, there will be a sample workout at the end for you to try so you can get used to these exercises. Once you’re comfortable, you can work them into your own routine as you see fit. Some of these exercises are listed in the M&S Exercise Guides so you can see the instructions and details there. If they are not listed, step-by-step instructions will be included.
The leg extension is an excellent machine for warming up the quads or to use as a finisher at the end of an intense workout. You don’t have to settle for doing bodyweight squats. Grab a dumbbell and get to work.
Substitution: Dumbbell Leg Extension
Sit on the end of a bench with a dumbbell between your feet. Your legs should be bent. Straighten your legs and flex the quads while keeping the dumbbell between your feet. Bend the legs to allow the weight to return to the starting position.
Bonus Tip: Place extra padding or another object on the edge of the bench so you can sit higher. This will help you increase the range of motion.
You will have to work a little harder to keep the weight in place, but this replacement will help you prepare for the work to come or finish the quads properly.
The leg press is a great way to load the quads while protecting your hips and back. As long as you’re not using your ego and loading plates on the machine to look cool, it can really help you build your legs. This band version could suffice as a solid substitution, as long as you’re willing to go one leg at a time.
Substitution: Band Leg Press
The band is going to serve as the resistance. The benefit here is that you will increase resistance as the band stretches. It also will decrease the load as you release the tension. The single-leg version can help you isolate each leg.
Take an end of the band in each hand. Sit on a bench and place the middle of the band underneath your right foot. Keep your left leg out of the way. Roll back onto the bench so your right leg goes up while you hold onto the band. Press your leg straight up so the band stretches. Do your best to keep your hands to your sides so the band has to stretch. Once your leg is stretched, flex your quad. Bend your leg so the band releases tension and you can return to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat for the desired reps, then switch to your left foot.
The hack squat allows you to squat vertically or at an angle, while not requiring as much stabilization as the free weight version. You’re going to need a barbell and plates for the replacement, but it will still place the emphasis on the front of the thigh as the machine would.
Substitution: Barbell Hack Squat
The barbell hack squat looks like a deadlift, but the bar is behind you instead of in front of your legs. This slight change shifts the focus to the quads instead of the hamstrings. If you need straps for maintaining grip of the bar, then you should use them. There is no need to max out on these. A moderate load will do the job nicely.
The leg curl is the easiest option for targeting the hamstrings. It isolates the back of the thigh very well with minimal involvement of any other muscle group. There are three versions of the leg curl, lying, standing, and seated. There are options for all three here for you to consider.
Substitution #1: Dumbbell Lying Leg Curl
The dumbbell lying leg curl is a classic version of the leg curl. It challenges the hamstrings because you have to keep the feet together to maintain hold of the dumbbell. Your stabilizers are recruited as well. It’s easier if a training partner can position the weight between your feet, but you can do it on your own if you take your time and use a light weight.
Substitution #2: Standing Leg Curl with a Band
Place a band around the bottom of your squat rack or a solid station where it won’t move. Do this by wrapping the band around and looping one end into the other. You should have a significant portion of the band left to use. Wrap the other end around your foot. Stand far enough away that you have tension, but not so far that you lose balance. While holding onto something like the rack or a bench for stability, perform a leg curl with the leg that has the band on it. Squeeze the hamstrings at the top and straighten the leg slowly to the floor. Repeat for the desired reps and switch legs.
Substitution #3: Seated Leg Curl with a Band
This is very similar to the standing version, except that you sit on the end of a bench. You can do this version with both legs or with one at a time. Make sure the band has tension with your legs almost straight. Perform the curls slowly so you don’t lose the band mid-rep.
Seated Calf Raise
There is no better way to target the soleus than with a bent-leg movement, which is why some home gym users buy a seated calf raise machine for their home gym. Save your money, and go for these choices instead.
Substitution #1: Dumbbell Seated Calf Raise
You will need a bench or chair and a board or step for the dumbbell seated calf raise. You simply place your feet on the board or steps with your heels off so the calf stretches at the bottom (plates work as well), hold the dumbbells on your knees, and perform calf raises. If you have heavy dumbbells, go as hard as you need to. If you have lighter weights, try to hold both on one leg and go with the single-leg version.
Substitution #2: Barbell Seated Calf Raise
The barbell seated calf raise is the same setup as the dumbbell version, except that you use a barbell in a squat rack instead. If you have a pad for the bar, that might provide extra comfort on the knees. You will also have to work harder to keep the bar stable on your thighs while you’re working.
Substitution #3: Seated Band Calf Raise
This option is a little more advanced, but you can do it if you have a step or board. Sit on the end of a bench with a board or step on the floor in front of you. Place the board or step on top of the middle of two bands. Place your feet on the board or step with the heels hanging off. Take the ends of one band and place them around your knee. Make sure you have weights on the ends of the board for stability or you can hold the board down. Do the same with the other band and the other knee. Perform calf raises as you would with free weights. If you have bands with enough resistance, these will challenge the calves effectively. If you have lighter bands, do burnouts.
Sample Lower Body Workout
|Dumbbell Leg Extension||3||15||60 seconds|
|Single Leg Press with Band||3||15 each leg||60 seconds|
|Barbell Hack Squat||3||12||60 seconds|
|Standing Leg Curl with Band||3||15 each leg||60 seconds|
|Dumbbell Lying Leg Curl||3||12||60 seconds|
|Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise||3||20||60 seconds|