Exercise Machine Alternatives

Two woman do lunges while holding dumbbells

If you want to get the same workout at home as you do at the gym (or an even better one), you can substitute a few dumbbells or kettlebells, some floor space, and some creativity for the big, bulky exercise equipment at your local fitness center.

Skipping the gym can mean getting a more convenient and less expensive workout. And you can build muscles that you might use in daily life by using body weight and dumbbell workouts.

The exercise machines at the gym are generally easier and safer to use—it’s unlikely that you’ll drop a weight on your toe while using the overhead press machine. But you sacrifice function by skipping the small muscles that act as stabilizers. Plus, you generally don’t use most of those moves in real life.

Leg Press Machine Alternative: Squats

Like most exercise machines, the leg press machine doesn't work any stabilizers in the ankles, knees, hips, glutes, shoulders, or lower back. And because you are sitting with your back supported, this type of movement pattern is unlike most of the real lifting you might actually encounter in life or sports.

Instead, perform a squat using a barbell. If you don't have a barbell at home, you can modify by holding two dumbbells or a kettlebell.

Leg Extension Machine Alternative: Walking Lunges

The seated leg extension is one of the most useless exercises you can do in the gym. In addition to the fact that you will never do this type of movement in real life or sports, it can stress the knee joint.

You may think that if you play a sport that requires kicking a ball (soccer, football), the leg extension machine is a good way to build quad strength for kicking. The problem is, athletes don’t kick with both legs.

One foot is generally planted firmly on the ground as you propel yourself forward and kick through the ball. This movement requires a lot of balance, stabilization, and torque that you can’t simulate while sitting on a machine and simultaneously contracting both quads (and nothing else).

Try the weighted walking lunge instead. This move will help you build leg strength (the glutes, quads, and calves) and improves balance and stability, one leg at a time.

Chest Press Machine Alternative: Push-Ups

Pushing away from your chest while sitting in the chest press machine not only favors the stronger side, but it ignores the posterior chain (the muscles that stabilize the back of the body from head to toes). 

A better bet is the good old-fashioned push-up. Add a dumbbell row and get both a back and chest workout in one move. Grab two moderate-weight dumbbells and alternate push-ups and lat rows.

Hip Abductor/Adductor Machine Alternative: Side Lunges

Although it’s designed to work the abductors and adductors, this machine doesn’t do a good job of strengthening them, especially for how you might need them to function in real life or sports. To make this a functional exercise that mimics a move you might use during sports, you’ll need to stand up (at minimum).

The hip muscles help provide strength and stability for the lower body. So, their strength is beneficial when playing sports, running, or doing anything active. The sliding side-to-side lunge helps keep these muscles strong and balanced naturally. 

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Patterson J, Vigotsky A, Oppenheimer N, Feser E. Differences in unilateral chest press muscle activation and kinematics on a stable versus unstable surface while holding one versus two dumbbells. PeerJ. 2015;3:e1365. doi:10.7717/peerj.1365

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By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.