You’ve seen them in the gym – those big, imposing machines that squat and press a person’s entire body weight. The leg press is one of the most popular exercises around, and for good reason: it works a ton of muscles, is easy to do, and has some great benefits. Ready to try it out? In this post, we’ll give you all the info you need on how to do the leg press safely and effectively, plus some tips to help you get the most out of this workout. Let’s get started!
Leg Press Muscles Worked
Muscle groups worked: When you perform the leg press motion, your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves are activated and challenged. Very few other lower body exercises are so complete with the muscles they target.
The glutes are often overlooked during training, but these muscles are important because they are involved in bending, walking, running, and other daily movements that we usually take for granted.
The glutes are one of the most extensive set of muscles in the human body, and the three parts are the gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus. Glutes are primarily located in the buttocks; however, these sets of muscles do help to connect the hip and thigh bones, which is why it is important to keep them strong.
A leg press machine is the most practical way to strengthen these muscles. This equipment allows you to securely place yourself in a seated position with your back against the rest. Your legs are then left free to push a sled against resistance which comes in the form of free weights.
This sled is either plate-loaded or attached to a cable pulley system stacked with these adjustable weights. Leg press variations help strengthen all sets of glutes that can be performed on a leg press machine.
The quadriceps, as the name suggests, are a set of four muscles located at the front of the thigh. These muscles stretch from the hip joint right down to the knee joint. The rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius make up the four sets of quads. Because of the position of these muscles, their primary function is to help bend the knee and hips.
Pain in these areas can be attributed to tight quads, and again, the leg press can help stretch and strengthen these sets of muscles. The quads are also very important in weight lifting, jumping, and running.
Again, the leg press is excellent for building quads, but they can be overworked because they are more prominent visually than other muscles because of them being positioned in the front of the thigh. Therefore, it is best to give each set of leg muscles equal attention when using a leg press. Instead of concentrating on the muscles that are most prominent visually, this can help prevent any imbalances in the strength of the legs from developing.
The hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh. They are also involved in many activities we take for granted, such as climbing stairs, walking, and squatting. Hamstring injuries are the most common, especially in sportsmen and women.
Therefore, it is vital to ensure that these muscles are stretched as part of a warm-up routine before physical exercise. This also includes before any leg press action gets underway. Again, the leg press machine is excellent for exercising these muscles.
Tight calves can lead to pain in the lower back which can become chronic, but regular exercise can keep them strong and supple. The calf muscle is located at the back of the lower leg and extends from the back of the ankle to just below the knee.
The calves are essential for jumping and rotating the foot from side to side. They also propel us forward when we walk and sprint. The leg press is the easiest way to keep your calves in good shape.
How to Perform the Leg Press: Step-By-Step Guide
1. Adjust Machine As Necessary
It’s essential to familiarize yourself with all gym equipment before starting to exercise. This can help prevent serious injury. The easiest way to accomplish this is under the mentorship of a professional fitness instructor.
The leg press machine is also known as a seated leg press, a squat machine press, and a machine leg press. Despite all these different terms, they are all referring to the same piece of gym apparatus.
The main difference is that there is a horizontal leg press and a 45-degree leg press. The 45-degree leg press allows you to be seated at a 45-degrees angle with your feet slightly higher than your head. Pushing against a resisting force, in this case, the sled and the accompanying weights, helps to strengthen all the muscles in the legs.
The machine allows you to change the position of the feet to work different muscles. This means all muscles can get an equal workout and develop at the same rate, but only if each leg muscle is given a similar amount of attention and time on the leg press.
When you sit on a leg press, your head and back must rest on the padded support. This will help get the body in the correct position to exercise and minimize injury risk. Also, before exercise begins, you can add plates onto the leg press to get the weight you want to use as the resistance force.
Your bottom should also remain flat on the seat, even though you need to stretch out to reach the foot pads as they are higher than head height and a leg width apart from the seat. However, there is more than enough room to get the feet at the correct angle.
2. Feet Placement
Foot placement is vital, and small adjustments help exercise different leg muscles. If your feet are too high on the plate, this can hurt the glutes. If the feet are too low, this can cause pain and a build-up of tension in the knees.
The knees should be in line with the feet for perfect positioning. It is important to keep this aligned body shape when you use the handles to support yourself as you begin the leg presses. The heels and forefoot should do most of the work by remaining flat on the plate. The toes should not be used as the main part to push against the plates.
A wider stance with the toes pointing out helps to target the glutes, and a more closed stance with the toes pointing straight helps target the quads.
3. Perform the Repetitions
Once the body’s positioning has been mastered, the next step is to begin the leg presses themselves. Again, you can use your core strength to give your feet some support by pushing the platform away from you. Remember that it has to be the whole base of the foot and not the toes that instigate the presses.
While exhaling, extend the legs and push against the footplate in a measured rhythm until the footplate cannot be pushed any further. Do not overstretch, as pushing the sled as far as you can is adequate.
While inhaling, return the footplate to the starting position by slowly releasing the foot pressure and bending the knees; keeping the knees bent is very important. Always keep your hands in the supports, and do not place them on your knees while leg pressing.
For first-timers, three sets of ten leg press exercises for each set of muscles is more than enough. Any more than this could result in you pulling muscles if you are not used to this intensity of training.
Obviously, another aspect of safety is to not put too many weights on the machine. Only leg press what you are capable of pushing and build up slowly.
Can You Build Muscle With Leg Press?
Leg presses are fantastic for building leg muscles, and as already mentioned, you can build all the different muscles in your legs by slightly adjusting the position of your feet in the sled. These leg press variations are a great way of building all the muscles and not just one set at the expense of others.
A healthy diet with quality protein sources such as lean cuts of meat can also help increase muscle mass across the entire body when combined with exercises such as leg presses.
The Pros and Cons of Leg Presses
- Builds Strength in the Lower Body
If you don’t like running long distances or cycling, then leg presses are great for muscle building, and if done correctly, all the leg press muscles worked equally. This is why you can do a seated leg press, wide stance leg press, and horizontal leg press, just choose which form is right for you! Other forms of leg exercises work one set of muscles more than others. Leg presses avoid this issue by offering a balanced workout.
Powerful leg muscles can help boost performance in other exercise disciplines such as running and weight training as well. They can also help with posture and strengthening the lower back.
- Minimizes Strain on the Back
The beauty of the leg press is that it minimizes the strain on the back, especially if you get your foot position and all the other body positions right. This includes keeping the spine and head rested on the support and not arching your back during each press. The feet and legs should be doing the majority of the work without any strain being placed on the lower back or the vertebrae of the spine.
Other leg exercises can strain the back, particularly those that do not include some kind of gym apparatus that can naturally shape your body into the position needed to exercise safely, such as the leg press.
- Promotes Functional Movements
We take a lot of body movements for granted, and this includes leg movements. Leg presses strengthen all the muscles in the legs, making it easier to execute normal everyday activities with greater ease, such as climbing stairs, running, bending, and even squatting.
This is because toned solid muscles can support body weight easily. In addition, the leg muscles remain flexible and loose, resulting in minimal tightness that prevents muscle cramps and other muscle-related problems from developing.
Some everyday movements even mimic some of the positions taken and motions repeated while performing the various forms of leg press exercises.
- Risk of Knee Injuries
There is an ongoing risk of knee strain and other knee injuries, and this is increased if you are new to leg press exercises. The wrong positioning of the body and feet on the machine is the main culprit for knee injuries here.
Overstretching and using the knees to push against the weight resistance instead of the base of the feet and the various muscles in the leg can cause a lot of tension within the knee; this could result in strains.
The knee is a complex joint because it is where all the bones in the upper and lower leg meet. It consists of the femur, tibia, and patella. There is also a fair amount of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber and prevents any friction within the joint.
Spraining the knee from overcompensating with this joint while performing each individual press is the leading cause of leg press-related injuries. This can cause ligament damage and inflammation within the joint.
- Limited to a Gym Workout
If you want to get a balanced leg muscle workout where you can work each leg part equally, then the leg press is the best gym equipment for this. However, there is no other replacement for a leg press machine, which means it can only be done at a gym.
You can try leg muscle workouts at home, but there is a high probability that one set of muscles will be worked more than others. It is also easier to get the body positioning wrong without a machine to sit in, which helps you with this because of its design.
- Possible Displacement of Weight
The leg press machine relies heavily on the user getting everything right to perform a perfect balanced leg press. It is common to unconsciously lead with one leg and work this one harder than the other.
If this is the case, you can perform single-leg presses instead where you exercise each leg individually but with a lighter weight.
Is Leg Press Better Than Squats?
If you are not a gym member, then a squat exercise is the closest thing to exercising with a leg press machine. Squats work all the same muscles, but a leg press machine offers a more detailed workout for each leg muscle group.
You can also add extra weights to the machine instead of continually using your own body weight with a squat. This gives a leg press machine exercising routine the edge over squats with weighted progressive overload.
Who Should Perform Leg Presses
You do not need to be an athlete to perform leg presses. However, anyone who exercises their upper body regularly should perform leg presses to strengthen the legs as well.
Those individuals with weak legs or those who are in rehab after an injury can utilize this machine to build strength and aid recovery. If you play sports, building your leg muscles can also boost your performance in your favorite sporting discipline!