Q: Is there a way to do leg presses and lat pulldowns with hand-held weights instead of a weight machine?
A: Unfortunately, hand-held weights are not the best options for these exercises. But there are other ways to modify these exercises so you can do them without machines.
Try exercise bands. These elastic resistance bands are lightweight, easy to use, and great for exercises you’d normally need a machine to do such as lat pulldowns or seated rows. The bands come in a variety of resistance levels so you can progress as you get stronger.
To do a lat pulldown, which works the large muscles in your back, hook the band to the top of a door using a specially designed doorstops. (Caution: Make sure you use a doorstop to secure the band. Otherwise it may slide off the door and smack you in the face. Some bands come with doorstops, or you can purchase them separately.) Then, holding the handles, pull down toward your shoulders.
You can also do one-leg presses with the bands. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Pull your right leg into your chest and loop the band around the arch of your foot. Hold the ends of the bands and press your foot out at about a 45° angle to the floor. To increase the resistance, move your hands up on the band.
When you’re using resistance bands, be very careful on the release part of exercises. Keep the move slow and resist the pull of the band. You don’t want to snap back. Also, resistance bands offer only a limited range of resistance compared to dumbbells. So as you get stronger, the bands may not offer you enough challenge.
Use another move. Another option is to do a different exercise to target these muscle groups. For the back muscles, you could do a one-arm, bent-over row using dumbbells. And for the legs, do a squat or lunge exercise. To do a lunge, stand with your right foot flat on the floor in front of you and your left foot behind you. Bend your right knee so that your left knee drops toward the floor; your heel will come off the floor. Keep your right knee over your right foot; don’t let your knee move forward beyond your toes. Go down as far as comfortable, hold for a second, and then slowly come up. Do 8 to 12 repetitions with each leg. You can make the exercise more difficult by holding a dumbbell in each hand.