It’s Leg Day! And even some of our most enthusiastic team members are filled with trepidation as the recovery after the workout is longer and the results aren’t quick to materialize. But, whether you like it (Like I do) or not, leg exercises are going nowhere. And because working your legs comes with fantastic benefits aside from looking great in jeans, we don’t skip this gratifying workout on a trusted Leg Press Machine.
There are two traditional types of leg press machines: the horizontal leg press and the 45-degree leg press. Both machines feature a reclined seat at an angle as your legs press upward in different positions either wide, narrow, or close leg press the variety depends on one’s capacity for the leg press workout.
The leg press machine’s unique movement and short range of motion effectively target lower body muscles such as the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. During a leg press workout, the machine isolates the lower body from the upper body. You can focus on just your legs and by simply adjusting your foot position on the footpads, you can also adjust which muscles receive better emphasis during the workout.
While this may be a simple and beginner-friendly exercise, it matters to understand how it is done in proper form for an optimal result and how you can incorporate it into various sets and reps without getting injured. Let’s get your hams fired up!
How To Do Leg Press Correctly
What You’ll Need:
- Leg Press Machine (With or without plates or weights if doing seated leg press) – the leg press machine can be used with or without plates, but plates shall be used for optimum results.
- Resistance Bands (for beginners) – resistance bands can also be used to replace the weights of leg presses and engage the same muscle groups.
There are different leg muscles that are targeted (gluteal muscles, quads, and hamstrings) by using the Leg Press Machine, thus it improves overall leg development. Throughout the leg press exercise, the calves, gastrocnemius, and adductor magnus serve as postural support and stabilizers during leg presses.
Step 1: Setup The Leg Press Machine
Proper weight is key on all workouts, thus choose a weight that you can execute well per repetitions. It’s important to perform the leg press workout properly to develop leg strength and gain leg muscles mass.
Pro-tip: Too much weight could lead to back injury and other leg-related injuries, do not ego lift, maximize the full range of motion to develop muscles in your legs.
Step 2: Identify Your Starting Position
There are different leg press feet positions, such as basic, wide, narrow, high, and low feet, each coincides with different benefits. Basic leg press enhances overall leg muscles. Wide leg press, helps develop the inner thighs. Narrow leg press helps develop the outer thigh muscles. With high feet leg press, placing the feet higher up on the footpad helps develop hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Lastly, low feet leg press helps develop the quads by placing your feet lower on the machine press.
Pro-tip: Identify first what muscle group you want to hit so that you’ll know what specific foot position you’ll use during the leg press workout. Make sure your knees never go past your toes.
Step 3: Unrack & Slowly Lower The Weight Sled
Before starting, fix your feet (foot stance), your back must be laid out on the padded backrest, then unlock the machine by pushing the lever on each side, then slowly let the machine down (1-2 seconds down) while contracting the quadriceps and keeping your legs and feet stable.
Step 4: Press Upward With Your Heels Without Over Extending The Knees
Once the weight sled has reached the full depth, press upward with your heels (1 second) then repeat depending on your program repetitions. After you’re done with your reps, do not forget to lock the machine again before you rest in-between reps.
Pro-tip: Breathe in deeply as you bring down the machine, and exhale as you push it up. Do not overextend or lock out your knees to prevent injury, keeping your knees slightly bent as it, thus, increasing the tension on your quadriceps. Overextension could also lead to cramping of the knees and injuries.
Step 5: Optimize Rest Periods
To be able to maximize leg muscles hypertrophy, weightlifters use their resting period wisely by monitoring their heart rate, once the heart rate falls again to a normal rate, they push on with another repetition. However, if you’re a beginner, you can rest from one minute to 1 minute and 30 seconds.
Leg Press Benefits
Fitness enthusiasts can utilize the leg press to increase leg size, physical stamina, and correct muscular imbalances. Here are the benefits of doing the leg press workout.
Improves Leg Muscle Development
Including leg press in your leg day routine has proven to be beneficial in increasing leg muscle development. The more weightlifters practice a hypertrophy routine while performing this exercise, the more it improves their overall lower body musculature.
These muscle groups include the glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and quads that receive the exercise’s biggest benefits.
If you are aiming for bulked-up and stronger thighs and glutes, this is the perfect intermediate exercise that you should add to your routine.
Alternative to Other Leg Workout During Post Injury
For weightlifters and athletes who experience pain or any discomfort while doing any squat workouts (due to injury), this routine may be a feasible workout alternative. While it is not recommended to ignore any pain or discomfort, the leg press can be utilized to strengthen the quadriceps and other muscles (including the rectus femoris) during injury rehabilitation.
However, if you perform this leg workout and experience any pain consult professional medical advice.
Improves Mind and Body Connection
The leg press machine can help with neurological growth and development as well as stronger bones. Weight-bearing exercises like the leg press, according to the peer-reviewed studies of Neuroscience, this routine can improve brain function and encourage neural cell development. They claim that performing these kinds of load-bearing activities at least twice a week can promote healthy brain cell development.
Common Leg Press Exercise Mistakes to Avoid
- Adding More Weight: adding more weight to the machine beyond capacity is considered ego lifting and overestimation of strength that could lead to injuries. Always remember to put the ideal weight based on your capacity to prevent knee injury or lower-body injury.
- Buttocks Not Pressed Against the Seat Pad: some lifters forget to press their bottoms on the seat pad of the machine, always keep your buttocks pressed on the padded backrest to avoid back or spine injury.
- Putting Hands on Knees During Routine: some lifters use their hands to support the routine. However, this is not ideal as it breaks correct form, always use the handles on the side for optimum results.
- Doing Limited Range of Motion: some lifters elevate their hips, and this is a sign of too much weight, to go through the whole range of motion adjust weights to ideal weight.
- Unconscious Head Raising: head jerking is a sign of too much weight. Your head should be firm and tucked on the rear of the seat.
- Exertion Breathing: some lifters forget to exhale their breaths during exertion and hold it in. Always expel your breath during exertion and inhale during the release of motion.
Leg Press Muscles Worked
- Quadriceps: The quadriceps is the major target of this exercise. The quadriceps is a set of four muscles on the front side of your thighs that is one of your major muscle groups. The rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius are the quadriceps muscles. These muscles aid in the extension of your knee and the flexion of your hip joint.
- Soleus & Gastrocnemius: Your calves are made up of two muscles: the soleus and gastrocnemius. The gastrocnemius is your body’s largest muscle, and it’s responsible for walking, running, and mainly standing on your toes. In the meantime, the soleus muscle aids in ankle flexion.
- Gluteus Maximus: is located in the back of the thigh. The gluteus maximus is primarily responsible for the extension and rotation of your leg from the hip joint.
- Hamstrings: The hamstring has three muscles involved biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus and they are one of the target muscles of this exercise. They are located from your hip joint to just below your knee, thus affecting both of those joints in movement.
- Hip Adductors: Your hip adductors provide stabilization during the routine, and they are located on the inside sides of your thighs, are responsible for a variety of leg movements such as flexion, rotation, extension, and adduction.
Leg Press vs Squats
When it comes to an all-around body workout, squats have an advantage over leg presses. Leg presses, on the other hand, may be a better choice if you have balance issues or shoulder or back issues.
Squats and leg presses work the same muscle groups, but from slightly different angles and with extra emphasis on one or the other. As a result, incorporating both exercises into your lower body routines could be the best choice.
According to a peer-reviewed study in 2018 from NIH, body composition, physical strength, and overall functional outcome of participants who performed barbell back squats, leg presses, or a combination of the two exercises. The researchers determined that both activities were useful as part of a lower-body fitness routine at the end of the study.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Sets and Programs:
For Hypertrophy (Muscle Bulk Build)
It is vital to train your legs with an entire range of motion. Always remember to not ego lift and complete a full, concentric, deep press. Additionally, at the top of the press, limit overextension of the knees to preserve muscle tension, avoid injuries, and promote muscular growth. Observe, moderate to heavy load, perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 or 12-15 repetitions depending on your capacity.
For Power Lifting (Strength Development)
To build strength, you can mirror the recommendations from hypertrophy sets, repetitions, and weight to improve strength, however, in lower body strength development you shall take into account progressive overloading or weight stack.
For Leg Stamina (Endurance)
To improve leg muscle stamina, make sure to repeat the repetitions at controlled concentric tempos and in a deep full range of motion to activate the posterior chain, enhance muscle development, and improve leg stamina. Do, 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps with mild to moderate loads performed at controlled concentric and eccentric tempos and pauses.
Leg Press Variations
Resistance Band Leg Press
Also known as banded leg press, this variation incorporates Resistance Bands, replacing the weights with resistance to increase force production, concentric strength, and time under stress. Simply wrap a light resistance band around the weight stack console to the seat frame and do the leg press. This makes an ideal introduction to the movements in the leg press machine, especially for beginners.
One and a Half
The one-and-a-half (1-½) leg press improves quadriceps loading and time under or more stress, promoting overall muscular hypertrophy and building strength by doing a full range of motion. Lower the weight sled to the bottom, push it halfway back up, lower it to the bottom, and then push and revert it back to the beginning, which equates to one rep.
Besides using both legs at once, you can do one leg at a time to ensure that each leg gets good exercise. Simply be sure the weight isn’t too much for one leg to properly handle.
Also known as partial leg press, this can help to overload a muscle by extending the time under stress by adding a greater degree of volume. This can promote range isolation and muscle hypertrophy.
Seated Leg Press
While both horizontal and vertical leg presses effectively target the same muscle groups, with a horizontal press machine, there is less tension on your hips and lesser strenuous tension upon the legs. This variation works best for people recovering from leg and hip injury, or as a lighter variation to the more challenging vertical press.
Leg Press Alternatives
Here are three types of Leg Press Alternatives that you can do to increase muscle hypertrophy while decreasing backloading, and pushing of back muscles.
Narrow Goblet Squats
Also known as narrow stance goblet squats, is also a good lower body routine and is type of goblet squat that focuses on the quads. Because of the narrow stance, the degree of knee extension is significantly higher, thus the quadricep muscles are working more, making it harder to support and extend the knees’ joint.
Front Rack One Leg Bulgarian Split Squat
Squats work and this could be a viable alternative to leg press as it isolates the quads and decreases some spine strain, making it a suitable alternative to the latter. Individuals who do not have access to a machine can do this alternative to promote quadriceps hypertrophy can utilize this method.
Squat with Weighlifting Belts
This exercise can be done without a machine, it is a lower-body exercise that increases your legs’ strength, endurance, and hypertrophy while reducing lower-back and hip stress. The lifter uses a belt squat machine or hangs a load from their hips as they squat to complete this action.
As long as you use the leg press machine correctly, it can be a great way to tone and build your lower body. Be sure to focus on using good form, and start with lighter weights so that you can get comfortable with the movement before increasing the weight. With a little practice, you’ll be able to add this exercise to your regular routine for better lower body strength and muscle definition.
Have you tried using a leg press machine? What tips would you give someone just starting out?