Matt Gemkow, the author of this content section at Select Fitness USA, boasts more than 15 years of fitness experience. He started out in sports and athletic training for many years and has since 2014 transitioned into heavy-weight training and bodybuilding. As a result, he has become one of the most experienced fitness equipment experts out there, and a valuable source of information.
How To Use The Leg Press Machine (The Ultimate Guide)
Is your leg press game lack luster at best? Are you new to lower body exercises like leg presses? Well you're not alone and you have to start somewhere.
Good thing you're here!
Whether you're a seasoned gym-goer or a newbie looking to get started, the leg press machine is a great way to build muscle in your legs, glutes, and more.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll take you through everything you need to know about using the leg press machine, from setting up and performing the exercise with proper form, to avoiding common mistakes and exploring variations and alternatives.
Let's get started!
What Is the Leg Press Machine?
The leg press machine is a popular strength training exercise machine that primarily targets the lower body.
It consists of a platform that you push away from your body using your legs, against a resistance provided by the machine.
The main purpose of the leg press is to simulate a squat like exercise with a range of benefits provided by using a machine to do it instead.
Benefits Of The Leg Press
Isolated Lower Body Training: The leg press targets several muscle groups in the lower body and allows you to isolate them without exhaustion in other muscle groups, or risking poor form at heavy weights.
Safe And Easy to Learn: The leg press is known for its added safety benefits as opposed to the barbell squat or deadlift. There is far less technique and form involved in properly using a leg press.
Increase Performance of Other Activities: The leg press is going to strengthen and develop the lower body, which in turn has a positive effect in other exercises as well as functional and day to day activity.
Overload with Heavy Weights: Considering you are a strong and able person, you can easily and safely overload your lower body with a lot of weight, without worrying about intense form technique. The reason some people may fail a squat is often times due to form, where as the leg press eliminates that issue.
Related: 11 Benefits Of the Leg Press Machine
What Muscles Does The Leg Press Target?
The leg press primarily targets the quads (4 muscle heads), hamstrings (3 muscle heads), and glutes (3 muscle heads).
However, depending on the foot placement and angle of the machine, you can also place more targeting and isolation on certain parts of the body as you choose to.
Who Should Use A Leg Press?
The leg press is suitable for anyone looking to strengthen their lower body, regardless of their fitness level:
- Power lifters
- Rehab clients
- And More!
It's also a good exercise option for those with knee or back pain who may find other lower body exercises too challenging.
Why You NEED to Use The Leg Press Properly
Using the leg press machine with proper form is important to avoid injury and get the most out of your workout.
Common mistakes that we will get into more detail on can put you at an unnecessary level of risk of injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
Different Types Of Leg Press
There are several different types of leg press machines available, such as the standard leg press, 45-degree incline leg press, vertical leg press, iso-lateral leg press, and seated horizontal leg press.
Each machine has its own unique benefits and variations that can help you target different muscles in your lower body.
How to Use A Leg Press Machine: Setting Up
Before you begin using a leg press machine, it's important to make sure it's adjusted properly and that you're using it safely. Here are the steps to follow when setting up a leg press machine:
How To Adjust the Leg Press Machine
Certain leg press machines will have varying levels of adjustability. If your leg press machine does not have the ability to adjust any one of the following then you obviously will not be able to do that step.
Adjust the Seat: First, adjust the seat of the machine so that it's comfortable and at the appropriate height for your body. When you're sitting on the seat with your feet on the footplate, your knees should be at about a 90-degree angle.
Adjust the Backrest: Next, adjust the backrest of the machine so that it's in a comfortable position for you in the angle of your hips and the feet. It should support your lower back and be at a slight angle, with the top of the backrest leaning slightly towards the footplate.
Adjust the Footplate: Adjust the footplate so that it's at a comfortable distance from your body. It should be close enough that you can comfortably place your feet on it, but not so close that your knees are pushed too far forward.
Leg Press Foot Placement
The next step is to determine your foot positioning. Depending on your goals and the muscle groups you're targeting, there are a few different options:
- Shoulder-width apart: This is the standard foot positioning for the leg press, and it primarily targets the quads.
- Narrow stance: Placing your feet closer together targets the outer sweep of the quads and the glutes.
- Wide stance: A wider stance targets the inner sweep of the quads and the glutes.
Once you've determined your foot positioning, you are mostly ready to begin the leg press machine exercise.
Safety Features Of The Leg Press Machine
To remain safe during the leg press exercise, it is vital to know the features of the machine that are made to keep you safe.
Safety Locks: Most leg press machines come with safety locks that prevent the weight from falling on you if you're unable to lift it. Make sure the safety locks are in place before you begin using the machine.
- Range of Motion: A lot of the time the leg press will account for, or be adjustable for the range of motion so that if you completely fail a rep, you will most likely still not injure yourself.
- Use a Spotter! Even with the added safety benefit of a leg press machine, it is absolutely a best practice to use a spotter if you plan on going heavy and testing your limits.
How To Do The Leg Press: Performing the Exercise
- Load up an appropriate amount of weight on the machine using weight plates or the machines weight stack.
Sit on the leg press machine with your back and head resting comfortably against the padded support.
Place your feet on the footplate in the position you choose to use.
Make sure your bottom is flat against the seat rather than raised, and your legs form an angle of about 90 degrees at the knees.
Grasp the assist handles to provide support and keep your spine and head in position.
- Un-engage the safety mechanism if there is one the prevents you from reaching full depth on the particular leg press machine.
- Brace your abdominal muscles and push the platform away with your heels and forefoot, while keeping your heels flat on the footplate.
Extend your legs with control, and keep your head and back flat against the seat pad.
Pause at the top of the movement, ensuring that you do not lock out your knees and that they are not bowing in or out.
Gradually bend your knees while inhaling and return the footplate to the starting position. Keep your feet and back flat throughout.
Leg Press Sets And Reps
The number of sets and reps you perform on the leg press will depend on your goals and training program.
As a general guideline, aim for 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps for muscle hypertrophy and size gains.
For muscular strength with heavy weight, perform 3-6 sets of 5-10 reps with heavy weights. Rest at least 2-3 minutes between sets of this intensity.
Remember to start with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with good form, and gradually increase the weight as you become stronger and more comfortable with the movement.
When to Place the Leg Press in Your Workout Series
The leg press machine is a versatile exercise that can be used in various ways during a leg day workout. It can serve as a warm-up, a heavy compound lift, a support movement, or a burnout exercise.
Use it to activate, challenge, or fatigue your lower body muscles depending on where you are in your workout.
Depending on when you place the leg press in your workouts, make sure to adjust the sets and reps to properly match that aspect of the exercise.
Mistake To Avoid During The Leg Press Exercise
Too Much Weight
Avoid using too much weight that you cannot control as it can result in injury and compromise your form. Start with a comfortable weight and gradually increase over time.
Do not lock your legs at the top of the movement, as it can cause stress on your knee joint and risk hyperextension injuries.
Keep your legs slightly bent and maintain tension throughout the exercise for the safety and as an added burn to the leg press movement.
Back, Head, And Butt Coming Off The Seat
Keep your back, head, and butt in contact with the seat at all times.
Lifting any of these body parts can lead to improper alignment and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
Heels Coming Off The Foot Plate
Keep your heels firmly on the footplate and avoid lifting them during the exercise.
This can place unnecessary pressure on your toes and the ball of your foot, which is also bad for your knees and the effectives of the exercise.
Going Too Deep, or to Shallow
Avoid going too deep or too shallow with your leg press as it can place undue stress on your joints, over stretch your muscles, or be ineffective as an exercise.
Aim for at least a 90-degree bend at the knees, but not too much farther than that to ensure proper form.
Not Breathing Properly
Breathing plays a crucial role in maintaining proper form and control during the exercise for the stability of your core.
Breathe in deep and brace your core at the top of the movement, and hold for the entire way down, slightly exhale on the way up or hold it in the full movement for added stability.
At very least take one deep breath and exhale per rep!
Keep your knees in line with your feet and avoid letting them cave inward or outward.
This can lead to poor alignment and increase the risk of injury as well as limited targeting of the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Three Ways To Get More From The Leg Press Machine
1. Vary Foot Position
Changing the position of your feet on the footplate will target different muscles. Placing your feet higher on the footplate targets the glutes and hamstrings, while placing them lower targets the quads.
2. Vary Speed of the Leg Press During Your Lift
By altering the tempo of your leg press, you can place more tension on the muscle fibers and increase muscle activation.
For example, try a slower eccentric phase, where you take 3-4 seconds to lower the weight, followed by a more explosive concentric phase where you press the weight up quickly.
3. Vary Sets, Reps, and Timing
Varying the number of reps and sets during various introjections of the leg press during your workout can stimulate muscle growth and improve strength.
Try using heavier weights for lower reps and sets at the beginning of a workout, or lighter weights for higher reps and sets closer to the middle or end for supplement to other workouts or a full muscle burnout.
Leg Press Variations and Alternatives
How To Use The Leg Press For Glute Focus
To focus more on your glutes when using the leg press machine, place your feet higher up on the footplate and ideally wider as well.
This foot placement can be referred to as a sumo stance and will increase the glute activation and slightly decrease the stress on the quads.
How To Use The Leg Press For Calf Focus
To focus more on your calves, position your feet lower on the footplate so that the balls of your feet remain on the foot plate, but the heel and middle of the foot are dangling off the footplate.
Extending the foot and calves from the position will strain only the calves.
Keep your legs and hips extended in the full range of motion, so that only your ankle joint is extended.
How To Use The Leg Press For Quad Focus
To focus more on your quads, position your feet lower on the footplate and closer together.
This will place the most stress on the quads with less of the weight placed on the glutes and hamstrings.
Alternative Machines To The Leg Press
There are various machines at the gym that target similar muscle groups with a machine style movement that are actually not the leg press.
Some examples of these are the hack squat machine, belt squat machine, pendulum squat, leverage squat machine, and sissy squats!
Read More: 7 Alternative Machines To The Leg Press
How To Leg Press With No Machine
If you don't have access to a leg machine of any type right now, you can still target your legs with exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups, and hamstring curls.
These exercises are 100% free, highly effective, and allow progression and improvement of the leg strength, size, and endurance!
Go Leg Press Today!
Wow! You just learned a lot about how to use a leg press machine. Are you ready to go hit leg day?
The leg press machine is a versatile and effective exercise that can be used to target various lower body muscles.
By avoiding common mistakes and implementing different variations and alternatives, you can get the most out of this exercise and achieve your fitness goals.
Whether you're a beginner or an experienced lifter, the leg press is a valuable addition to any leg day workout routine.
So don't skip leg day, hit the leg press machine and feel the burn!
Do you want to check some actual leg presses from America brands and manufacturers?
Hop over to our leg press collection and contact us with any questions you come up with, we're ready to help you out!