Power up your lower body workout with the leg press, a weight training exercise that focuses on pushing your weight away from your body with your legs.
Doing this regularly, such as with a machine, boosts muscle mass all over your legs, while still giving you the chance to target specific muscles.
What’s the leg press machine all about?
While the term “leg press” refers to one of the most popular leg workouts, it’s also the name of gym equipment that targets your quads, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus.
Just by changing your position when using it, you can target different muscles.
Some have even said the leg press is better for you than the squat, simply because you have less range of motion when using it.
This is good because it forces your quads to work harder. And, if you battle to do the regular squat, the leg press can be a great alternative.
Here’s everything to know about the leg press.
Different Types Of Leg Press Machines
If you’re looking to use a leg press machine, you’re spoiled for choice.
Some are horizontal machines which let you lie flat on your back so that you can extend your legs to push the weights.
Others are vertical machines that enable you sit upright when you push the weights.
Finally, you can find 45-degree leg press machines that feature a seat which reclines at an angle so your legs move up in a diagonal direction.
What’s the difference between them?
While all three work the same muscles, there are some important differences that can help you choose the right one for you.
Horizontal Leg Press Machine
What It Is
Also known as the seated leg press machine, this equipment is the easiest type of leg press machine because you’re seated parallel to the ground.
Depending on the type of machine, the weights might be in front of you, underneath you, or even behind you.
Since you’re in a natural position, your body feels more secure.
You might even have handles on either side of your seat to keep you in position, which makes the seated leg press machine a valuable piece of equipment when it comes to concentrating on the correct form during exercise.
That can benefit you when you do other exercises, too.
One of the downsides of this machine is that sitting can make you sloppy.
A common mistake when using the seated leg press is letting your chin become tucked into your chest or allowing your head to slide off the bench.
This puts too much load on your lower back which removes the focus from your legs and can lead to a back injury.
Vertical Leg Press Machine
What It Is
Okay, so it might not be that popular at your local gym, but the vertical leg press machine has some benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.
It basically involves you lying on your back and kicking upwards to move the weight plates in a vertical movement.
One of the biggest advantages of the vertical leg press machine is that it supports your back throughout the exercise.
So, if you’ve got back problems, it’s a healthy choice.
It also boosts your quads because having to kick upwards while lying on your back really forces these muscles to take the weight.
Bonus: defying gravity in this way also results in your thigh muscles getting a good workout.
Of course, the setup of this leg press machine can be seen as a downside to some people because you have to push the weight straight up in front of you, which can be taxing. For example, it’s not good if you have back problems or back pain.
45-Degree Angle Machine
What it is
Using the 45-degree angle leg press enables you to move your legs through a greater range of motion.
You’re seated while doing the leg presses but not at such a tricky angle as with the vertical machine. It also gives you the chance to use more weight than in a free weight squat.
While it might be easier for you to use the 45-degree leg press machine if you battle with performing squats, the International Sports Sciences Association notes that a common mistake when using this machine is to lift your hips off the platform and put your back into a rounded position.
You need to keep your hips grounded and your back upright.
Leg Press Benefits
There are many benefits to using the leg press machine. Whichever one you choose, it comes with some nifty benefits for your lower body.
Here’s a rundown of the most impressive ones.
It Targets Multiple Muscle Groups
By working your glutes and quads, along with your hamstrings and the adductor magnus (in your thigh), the leg press is a useful exercise that gives your lower body a great workout in one exercise. In addition to boosting muscle, it’s great to help with weight loss as well.
It Boosts Your Speed
While you might not think of the leg press as being capable of improving your speed, it certainly can, and that’s because of one thing: muscle mass.
Strength coach Charles Poliquin tells Chron that how fast you can sprint is related to muscle mass.
As a muscle grows, it becomes stronger and can use more force.
Basically, if your muscle can put more force into the ground – like when pushing weights during a leg press – this will result in you moving faster.
It Helps You To Lift Heavier
During a squat, tension is placed on your legs, hips, shoulders, and back. This limits the amount of weight you can use during the exercise.
With a leg press, however, stress is only put on the muscles of the legs, meaning that you can take on greater amounts of weight to build muscle in that area while also giving your upper body a bit of a break. Good leg strength will help your other lifts.
It Improves Your Jump
This is a leg press benefit that’s especially helpful if you play sports like netball or basketball. Having a better jump can give you an edge when competing.
The leg movements involved in a leg press help to promote better jumping ability, but in more ways than one.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that leg press training enhances jump speed, but also muscle power and jump performance.
It Gives You More Balance
You might wonder how leg press benefits can include better balance when you’re not standing during the exercise, but it all comes down to how the exercise improves and builds your legs.
It makes sense when you think about it: when your leg muscles are stronger, they can support you better.
There’s another important balance benefit from the leg press, though.
By using different variations of the exercise, such as the single leg press, you can correct any weight training imbalances that you’ve been accumulating.
Leg Press Variations To Add To Your Workout
Bored with the traditional leg press?
There are many different types of leg press variations you can try to increase your muscle mass and keep your workouts challenging. Here’s a rundown of some of the best ones.
Single Leg Press
In this variation of the leg press, you target one leg at a time. This gives your quads a fantastic workout. Here’s how to do it.
- Get into position by sitting on the machine. Put one foot on the platform so that it is in line with your hip. Your other foot will be on the floor. Keep your chest up and your back straight.
- Extend the knee of your leg that’s on the platform so that you push the weight away from you.
- Lower the weight by flexing your knee and hip.
- Pause for a second or two, then return to your starting position by extending the hip and knee of your other leg.
This exercise is tougher than using both feet at the same time, but you can get more muscle stimulation with less than half the weight you usually use.
Your core also needs to stabilize you more during this leg press variation, so your abs will get in on the exercise, making the leg press really earn its worth.
For More Variations, Change The Position Of Your Feet
You might wonder why changing the position of your feet during a leg press exercise would be such a big deal, but that’s what’s so great about the leg press machine.
Just by changing the way you position your feet on the platform, you can target different areas of your lower body and achieve greater variations of this must-do exercise.
Here are seven leg press variations you can do just by switching things up on the platform with your tootsies:
Leg Press Benefits
Feet are shoulder-width apart
This develops the legs overall. Consider this the conventional leg press and one that you’ve probably done to death already
Feet are wider than the shoulders
This targets the quads and adductors (inner thigh). This exercise is similar to the Sumo squat, which is also an inner-thigh blaster
Feet are narrower than your shoulders
This targets the outer quads and the abductors (outer thigh)
Feet are higher up on the platform or foot plate
This targets the hamstrings and glutes
Feet are lower on the platform
This targets the quads
Feet are pointing inwards
This targets the outer calves
Feet are pointing outwards
This targets the inner calves, but be careful when pointing your feet outwards. You don’t want to point your feet out so that they’re forming a wide V-shape as that can put pressure on your knees
How Often To Do These Variations
While changing things up a bit during exercise will keep you motivated to use the leg press machine and work more muscles in your lower legs, you might be wondering how often you should try these variations.
A good tip is to switch between leg press variations every few weeks. This gives you enough time to focus on all the muscle groups in your legs and those in your glutes, too.
How To Do The Leg Press At Home
You don’t always need to hit the gym to be able to do a leg press exercise.
Even if you don’t own a leg press machine, it’s no problem.
There are machine-free alternatives you can try at home to get a great lower-body workout.
The Resistance Band Leg Press
Using a resistance band is an effective way to reap the leg press benefits if you don’t own a leg press machine because of the tension it creates. Here’s how to use it.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees. Tie the resistance band onto your shoes to keep it in place.
- Hold the band with both of your hands.
- Push your feet against the resistance band as hard as you can, squeezing your glute muscles, hamstrings, and quads as you push your legs into a straight position.
- Bend your knees so that you can move back into the starting position.
- Do 10 – 20 reps
Bonus: While you might want to target your lower body’s muscles with a leg press, this move brings your arms into the mix, so it’s a great all-over workout.
And, you also improve your grip, which is beneficial for improving your overall strength.
Squats With Dumbbells
The squat and leg press is pretty much the same thing, with some people claiming that the squat is even more effective than the leg press because it requires you to use your muscles for stability and you are also forced to engage your core much more.
This exercise you can do at home will target your quads and glute muscles nicely, while giving you the leg press benefits you’re after.
- Stand in an upright position and hold dumbbells in both of your hands.
- Slowly lower yourself so that you’re in a squatting position, then quickly push yourself back up into the starting position.
- You should repeat this set with dumbbells for five minutes.
Leg Press With Stability Ball
In this exercise, you trade in your leg press machine for a stability ball.
The reason why it’s so good for you is because you need to have strong balance, much more than when using a leg press machine.
- Lie down on the floor with your back flat against it. Pick up the stability ball with your feet.
- Keep your arms extended at your sides as you bend your knees.
- Now, slowly raise and straighten out your legs and push the ball up as you do.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
How To Make The Most Of Leg Press Benefits
Whenever you’re gaining muscle on your body, it’s not just how much you can work out your muscles but how well.
When doing leg presses, you want to increase your gains by following these tips.
Make The Most Of Range Of Motion
Earlier, we mentioned how the leg press machine gives you greater range of motion.
You want greater range of motion when strength training your body because it enables you to activate more muscle groups.
During a typical squat, your hip range of motion is usually hitting a max of around 90 to 120 degrees, taking into account your flexibility.
However, during a leg press, you’re looking at 90 degrees of range of motion at the top of the exercise and between 120 and 150 at the bottom.
Don’t let all that go to waste. To make sure you’re working out to your highest potential, you want to lower the platform as much as you can.
However, bear in mind that you should keep your hips in your seat. If you find that they are tilting a bit, you’ve moved too far and need to stop before this happens.
What About The Reverse Leg Press?
While you’re working out with a regular leg press, a reverse leg press could actually be just what you need to bolster your lower body workouts.
Put simply, a reverse leg press machine is a posterior chain developer.
This means that it trains important muscles on the back of your body, such as the gluteus maximus, trapezius in the back, posterior deltoids in the shoulder, and the hamstrings.
The bonus of the reverse leg press is that you don’t need a reverse leg press machine – simply use the Smith machine at your local gym. Here’s how to do it:
- After you’ve loaded the bar with the amount of weight you will be using, you want to lie down on your stomach underneath the bar.
- Place your feet under the bar so you can use them to unhook the bar and then lift it up and down.
- Keep your knees slightly bent as you lift the bar, and raise your rear upwards to target the glutes.
Pro tip: By lying on a bench or platform in front of the bar, you can steady your arms and upper body, which makes it easier to focus on the muscles in the lower body while still feeling comfortable during the exercise. You need to make sure you’re lifting the right weight so you can manage this exercise without putting strain on your back or knees.
How To Get The Right Weight
Whether you’re doing leg presses or reverse leg presses, it’s common to ask yourself how to find the right weight to reap the most leg press benefits.
Here are some tips to help you.
- Do some warmup exercises for a few minutes, then sit on the leg press machine and start out with a weight that you find easy to lift.
- You want to do some leg presses that add approximately 30 pounds of weight to that initial number.
- Rest for two minutes, before adding another 30 pounds. You want to leg press for about three reps, then rest for two minutes.
- Increase the weight again by another 30 pounds.
- Continue this process until you reach the point where the new addition of 30 pounds is too much. This is the maximum load you can lift on the leg press machine. If you still find the weight okay, add more until you reach your maximum weight.
Finding your maximum weight does not mean that’s the weight to use!
Too often, people are more worried about finding the most impressive weight to lift instead of choosing the one that will actually give them a proper and safe workout that builds up their bodies.
How do you know for sure that you’ve settled on the right weight? It’s all about how it makes your muscles feel.
Your perfect weight will make you feel a good level of resistance and tension, but without making your movements during the leg press feel too stiff or difficult.
You want your legs to be able to move fluidly. If that’s what’s happening, then you’ve found the right weight to lift when using a leg press.
As you get more used to it and it starts to feel too easy, then you can increase the weight.
Does a leg press burn fat?
You won’t get as much of a calorie burn as you would by using other gym equipment, such as the treadmill, but you’ll still get decent weight-loss benefits.
You can burn approximately 112 calories from a 15-minute set on the leg press.
What’s the biggest mistake to avoid when doing leg presses?
Doing half reps is the biggest leg press faux pas, which is an easy one to make on the leg press machine.
It’s bad because it means you’re not fully working your muscles.
Pro tip: do partial reps after you’ve done all your full reps to really fatigue the muscles so they can build more mass.