How to Do the Leg Press

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An effective exercise tool for developing your legs’ major muscles is the leg press. Gyms and home gyms typically have two types of leg press machines: the 45-degree leg press, which has a seat that reclines at an angle as your legs press upward in a diagonal fashion, and the regular horizontal leg press.

Both machines develop the quadriceps and hamstrings of the thigh and the gluteus (buttocks). While it seems like a simple exercise, it’s essential to learn how to use it properly. Paying attention to your form can maximize the strength-building benefits and prevent injury. The leg press is used as part of a leg strengthening routine or a machine circuit workout.

We’ve researched and reviewed the best home gyms. If you’re in the market for a home gym, explore which option may be best for you at How to Do the Leg Press.

Leg Press Benefits

The leg press machine allows you to get some of the benefits of a barbell squat for developing the quadriceps. Secondarily, it develops the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and calves.1

One benefit of the leg press machine is that you can emphasize different muscles by varying your leg press foot position. It builds strength in these muscles, and you can use it to overcome imbalances, such as overly developed hamstrings, compared to quadriceps.

Leg presses are similar to barbell squats, but they don’t require as much core work, thus they’re not as full-body exercises. If you use the leg press as an add-on exercise to your squat regimen, this may prove advantageous. By doing this, you’ll be able to keep working your quadriceps and other leg press muscles harder without wearing yourself out more as loading a barbell onto your spine would.2.

Further strengthening your quadriceps can boost your squat performance by increasing strength in the muscles needed to progress. If you find you have reached a strength plateau with your barbell squat, adding the leg press may help.3

Using a seated leg press machine may also help increase your balance and stability, especially if you are a beginner at lifting heavy weights. Some people are not ready to use a barbell for squatting until they are accustomed to lifting heavy weights with their legs in a way that increases balance and stability of the core and legs in a safe manner, such as with the leg press.4

7 Weighted Squats to Add to Your Gym Routine

Step-by-Step Instructions

When you sit down at a seated leg press machine, your body should be in a particular position. Sit on the machine with your back and head resting comfortably against the padded support. Place your feet on the footplate about hip-width apart while ensuring that your heels are flat at How to Do the Leg Press.

Your bottom should be flat against the seat rather than raised. Your legs should form an angle of about 90 degrees at the knees. If your feet are too high on the plate, it will stress your glutes; too low puts unnecessary pressure on your knees. Your knees should be in line with your feet and neither be bowed inward nor outward.

As you press, make sure to keep this alignment. Grasp the assist handles to provide support and keep your spine and head in position.

  1. Brace your abdominal muscles and push the platform away with your heels and forefoot. Your heels should remain flat on the footplate. The front of your foot or toes should never be used exclusively to move the pad forward at How to Do the Leg Press.
  2. While exhaling, extend your legs and keep your head and back flat against the seat pad. Extend with slow control rather than with an explosive movement.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement. Do not lock out your knees, and ensure that they are not bowing out or in.
  4. While inhaling, return the footplate to the starting position by gradually bending the knees. Keep the feet and back flat throughout.
  5. If you have never done leg presses, start modestly with three sets of 10 leg presses. You can advance from there as you build strength.

Common Mistakes

It is essential to ensure proper form to get the most out of your leg press routine. To ensure you are doing the leg press safely, avoid these errors.

Too Much Weight

One of the most significant factors is ensuring you’re not trying to lift more weight than you should. If you can’t control your movements, you must reduce the weight. Proper form is more important than the amount of weight you’re lifting.

While the exercise should require effort, it needs to be done with complete control. Never rush through the exercise or allow your legs to collapse at the end of the movement.

Buttocks Not Flat Against Seat

If your buttocks are raised off the seat, your legs are at too sharp of an angle. You will need to move the seat back until your knees and buttocks are comfortably positioned. You can recognize poor positioning when you feel cramped, and/or your knees seem to be directly in front of your eyes.

Placing Hands on Knees

Placing hands on the knees is a common mistake that will break your form. Grip the assist handles instead.

Short Range of Motion

Always follow through the entire range of motion without lifting your hips. If needed, adjust the seat and/or lower your weights. This means getting deep into the position with your butt below your hips, and your knees wide at How to Do the Leg Press.

Raising Head

Focus on the position of your head. It should be steady and laid comfortably against the seatback. If you are jerking your head forward, you are using too much weight.

Breathing

Remember to keep breathing during the effort phase and to avoid holding your breath. If you focusing on exhaling on exertion and inhaling on release, your breathing will eventually become automatic.

Modifications and Variations

You can adjust the leg press to make it more accessible as a beginner and to use it to progress.

Need a Modification?

You need to adjust this very individual exercise to fit your body. As machines can vary, you may want to ask a trainer to show you how to adjust it safely before starting.

Beginners should use lighter weights and develop good form. Concentrate on slow and deliberate movements rather than how many reps or the amount of weight you’re lifting. Ask a trainer to review your form and get personalized advice if you notice any unwarranted stress or pain at How to Do the Leg Press.

Up for a Challenge?

Foot positioning can be used to work muscles in different ways. Using a wider foot placement will work the inner thigh muscles. Using a narrower foot placement will work the outer thigh muscles.

Placing your feet higher on the footplate will work your gluteus maximus and hamstrings to a greater degree. Placing your feet lower on the footplate will emphasize the quads more, but this also puts more stress on the knees and should be done with caution.

You can also use the leg press one leg at a time if you are working to overcome imbalances.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid the leg press if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, as it puts much stress on the pelvic floor.5

Due U, Brostrøm S, Lose G. Lifestyle advice with or without pelvic floor muscle training for pelvic organ prolapse: a randomized controlled trial. Int Urogynecol J. 2016;27(4):555-63. doi:10.1007/s00192-015-2852-0

You should not use this machine if you have a knee injury. Instead, do safer leg press alternatives or strengthening exercises as your doctor, or physical therapist recommended at How to Do the Leg Press.

Do not push through the pain if one or both of your knees hurt. Pushing through will only cause injury. This exercise can also place stress on your back, so it should be avoided if you have a back injury or back pain.6

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

  • Full-body strength training routine for beginners
  • Leg exercises for strength and conditioning
  • Glute, hip, and thigh exercises