There are many different ways that you can use the leg press machine in the gym. You may not immediately think it, but the position that you place your feet in will change the muscles that the machine works.
We recommend switching between the different foot placements every 2 to 4 weeks. This will ensure that you do not overwork one area and that you are training all of your leg muscles equally.
Side note: Working out at home and no leg press? No problem! See these awesome leg press alternatives
What are the different muscles in your legs?
This is a group of 4 different muscles that form the front of your thigh. They are some of the largest and strongest muscles in your body. The muscle group is used to straighten your leg. The muscles that make up your quadriceps include the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis, the vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris.
The vastus lateralis is the biggest muscle in the group. It is found on the outside of your thighs and runs from the top of the thigh bone to the kneecap.
The vastus medialis is shaped like a teardrop and is what the duck foot placement targets. Bodybuilders love to work on these muscles to get the classic physique.
The vastus intermedius is found in between the vastus medialis and the vastus lateralis muscles. It is the muscle of the group located most deeply in your leg.
The rectus femoris is attached to your hip bones. This muscle works to raise and extend your knee, flex the hip, and flex your thighs.
The hamstrings are made up of 3 main muscles. These run from behind your hip bone, underneath your buttocks, and down to the shins. The hamstring muscle group is made of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
The biceps femoris travels from the lowest point of your hip bone to the shin. As the name suggests, the muscle has 2 heads. Its function is to extend your hip and flex your knee.
The semimembranosus muscle travels from the pelvis to the shinbone. It is used to flex your knee, rotate your shinbone, and extend your thigh.
The semitendinosus muscle is found in between the other 2 muscles that make up the hamstrings. It is used to rotate your thigh and shinbone and extend your hip.
Your calves form the lower area of your leg and consist of 3 main muscles. These are known as the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris.
The gastrocnemius muscle travels from your knee to your ankle. It is used to extend your foot, ankle, and knee.
The soleus muscle runs all the way down the back of your calf. It is used to push you off of the ground when walking or running and helps to provide postural stability when you are standing up.
The plantaris muscle is a small muscle found behind your knee. It helps to flex your knee and ankle but has no real other function. It is estimated that about 10% of the population does not have this muscle.
The glutes, as they are often called, are a group of 3 muscles that are found in your buttocks. These muscles are the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the 3 muscles and in fact, is the largest and heaviest muscle in your entire body. It is connected to the coccyx and many other bones in the surrounding area. It is used to move your hips and thighs and is responsible for forming the shape of your hip.
The gluteus medius is also used to form part of your buttocks. It helps you to rotate your thighs outward from the center of your body.
The gluteus minimus is a secondary muscle and is found deep in your body. It is sort of in front of the gluteus medius and is shaped like a broad triangle. It is used to extend your hip as well as stabilizing the pelvis.
What are the leg press foot placements?
A basic leg press stance is likely how you would naturally position your legs. Your feet should be placed approximately hip-width apart, in the center of the machine. They will be parallel to one another.
This position is ideal for overall leg muscle development.
As the name suggests, a wide stance foot placement is when your feet are positioned more than hip-width apart.
This position is perfect for working on the inner thigh muscles. It is a similar movement to a sumo squat.
This is where your feet are positioned closer together than hip-width. This position will target the outer thigh muscles of your legs.
The lower your feet are positioned, the more strain will be placed on your quadriceps muscles. It is an ideal foot placement for building your quads.
The higher your feet are positioned, the more strain will be placed on the muscles running down the back of your legs. These include the hamstrings, calves, and glutes.
For this position, your feet will be shoulder-width apart but placed towards the top of the machine. This foot placement should allow you to move your maximum weight load.
This position targets the hamstrings and gluteal muscles. The higher position means that there is less stress placed on the quadricep muscles. Instead, the load is shifted to the hamstrings and glutes which are forced to activate to move the machine.
For this position, your feet will be shoulder-width apart but placed towards the bottom of the machine.
This targets the quadricep muscles. It is a great substitute for squats because of this. If you experience knee pain, we do not advise you to use this position.
A single leg press is the best option for people suffering from lower back problems. Performing a movement like this helps to keep your pelvis in a neutral position and reduces the chance of injury.
Working one leg at a time allows you to even out any muscular imbalances. We recommend starting with no weight loaded onto the machine and working up from here. You will likely find that even with no weight, the machine is sufficiently heavy.
As the name suggests, this is a leg press done from the side. You must use just one leg at a time to move the machine, and you will need to mount it differently to a single leg press.
Sit in the leg press machine as usual, and then rotate your body to the right so that you are sat on your right hip. Place your left foot on the foot pad at a 45-degree angle, with your toes pointing to the right. Remember to keep your knee in line with your toes at all times.
To do this leg press variation correctly, position your feet on the pad with a wide space between them. You should point your toes outward slightly.
This variation will work on your hip abductors, your inner quadriceps, and your inner hamstring muscles.
This leg press variation requires you to place your heels together, with your toes pointed outward. Your feet should be low down on the foot pad and should form a V shape.
This variation works on your inner thighs, gluteal muscles, and vastus medialis oblique.
Pressing with Different Parts of Your Foot
If you drive your power through your toes and the balls of your feet, you will more fully engage your calf and quadricep muscles. If you drive the power through your heels, you will engage your gluteal muscles more. If you use solely the balls of your feet, this will engage your calf muscles.
To use a leg press machine for calf raises, all you need to do is place the balls of your feet on the lower edge of the foot pad. Your heels should be hanging off of the edge.
To perform classic calf raises, keep your feet hip-width apart. This spreads the load evenly between the inner and outer portions of your calves.
To target the inner portion, or medial head, point your toes outwards. To target the outer portion, or lateral head, point your toes inwards. This creates the most tension possible.
What are the benefits of a leg press?
It gives you many of the benefits you would get from squatting, while simultaneously reducing the stress placed upon your knees. This means that it is a great alternative exercise for people who suffer from chronic knee pain.
It is also good for people who struggle with back pain as it will take some of the pressure off of your lower back too.
Performing leg presses consistently has been shown to have positive effects on the bones found in your legs. As the leg press is a load-bearing machine, the repetition of the motion can actually help to strengthen your leg bones.
This is because the pressure and stress that your bones are placed under is gradually increasing as you move up the weights. This forces your bones to produce osteoblasts. These are things that help to boost bone mass and density.
There is some evidence to suggest that leg press machines do not only have a physical benefit. The Frontiers of Neuroscience have suggested that leg press can promote the development of neural cells and increase the functionality of your brain.
There is a reduced risk of injury using the leg press machine when compared to the use of free weights. Squats and deadlifts are highly effective muscle-building exercises, but if you perform them incorrectly or with poor form, you are leaving yourself wide open to serious injuries.
There are no technical skills required to operate the leg press machine effectively, meaning that it is a perfect place for beginners to start.
If you wish to test your limits with the amount of weight you are moving, the leg press is ideal for this. Unlike with heavy squats, you do not need a spotter. The machine will automatically catch itself before it injures you, even if you fail the lift.
The leg press machine can effectively isolate the leg and upper body muscles from one another. The placement of your feet on the foot pad can further isolate and target leg muscles.
Through repeated use, you will see numerous benefits from working out on the leg press machine. You will have increased strength levels in your lower body, and your muscles will have a greater level of endurance. Your lower body will also be more stable, improving your overall balance.
You will also see an increase in your speed and explosive power, useful for activities such as running and jumping. To really work on your explosive power, try to do a lot of reps at a lower weight. From this, you will see the biggest improvement in your sprint speeds and vertical jumps.
Leg press machines engage the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your legs which are used for propelling the motion of your legs.
How does the leg press work?
There are 2 main types of leg press machines. One is known as an incline leg press, and the other is a horizontal cable leg press machine. The incline leg press tends to be found near to the free weights, whereas the cable leg press is located closer to the other cable machines.
To use the incline leg press machine, you will sit in a seat that is positioned low and somewhat reclined. You load up the machine with weight plates and use the power of your legs to push the platform up and away from you.
This is working against gravity, mimicking the functional movements that you use in real life. It does put a significant amount of pressure onto your spine, but this machine allows you to move much heavier weights.
To use the horizontal cable leg press machine, you will sit in a seat that is relatively level with the platform. Your feet will be pressed against the platform at the same height as your torso.
The weights are attached to the platform via a cable and they are stacked for easy adjustments. You can change the weight load without getting up from your seat, making it a very easy machine to use.
For this leg press, you do not work against gravity, merely the resistance loaded onto the machine. This makes it less immediately functional within day-to-day life.
When using the leg press machine, you should always underestimate the weight to begin with. Start low and ensure that your form is correct before you begin to load on any additional weight. You will know that it is time to increase the weight when you can do all of the reps in your sets with ease.
For instance, many people begin with a weight that they can do 3 sets of 8 reps of. As you progress, you should be able to do 12-15 reps per set. Once you can complete this easily, it is time to increase the weight.
What are common mistakes that people make when using a leg press machine?
One of the biggest issues that people have when using the leg press machine is going too heavy with the weight. You should not overload yourself as this can cause injury.
You should be in complete control of the movement, and if you are not, it is wise to drop the weight down slightly. As always, perfect form is more important than the weight that you are lifting.
You should keep your butt in contact with the seat of the leg press machine at all times. If your buttocks lift, then your legs will not be at the correct angle.
If you notice this, we suggest moving the position of the seat backward until you are comfortable. You should not feel cramped. If you cannot complete the full range of motion without lifting your hips, drop the weight or adjust the seat positioning.
You should not place your hands on your knees to help you with the motion. This is an example of poor form and should be avoided. Instead, you should use the grip handles on the machine.
Your head should remain comfortably resting on the back of the seat rest throughout the entire exercise. If you notice your head being pulled or jerked forwards, this suggests that you are using a weight that is too heavy.