Get the most out of the leg press!

January 1st 2019

I was wrapping up squatting session today and was wondering...what is the best leg press advice? The leg press is one of the most universal machines in the fitness industry; I see them everywhere in all the gyms. With this very well-known piece of equipment, it seems that there is a lot of strategies in order to grow huge legs.


First, you would need to have good form. Once that is figured out, you can figure out what weight you will do your working set with. Do something that is moderately challenging, not too light but not too heavy. Doing multiple sets of 10-15 reps seems to be a nice sweet spot that most people aim for.


Leg Press Form


When people are doing a standard leg press, you will usually have your legs around shoulder width apart. It could be a little narrower or a little wider, it just depends on what you feel comfortable with. For me, I tend to have my feet around shoulder width apart.


When I do leg presses, I do them with a goal in mind - to increase my squat max. As a result, I want to try to mimic my squat stance, which is around shoulder width apart.


As far as the movement is concerned, you want to make sure your feet remain flat on the machine. When performing the leg press, also make sure that your butt does not come off the seat. Do not lock out your legs at the top of the repetition. This will make sure that you have constant tension during the entire set. Locking out your legs at the top of the repetition may damage your knees because you may hyperextend your leg at the top portion of the movement.

Also, you can use the handles beside the leg press machine for extra support.


Always before you start your working set, make sure you properly warm up. Get your muscles and joints warmed up before you hit your working set. It will help minimize your injury rate.


Summary of Leg Press Tips


  • Warm up with lighter weight
  • Around a shoulder width stance
  • Use the handles for extra support
  • Have your feet flat against the machine, do not come on your toes
  • Make sure your butt does not come off the seat
  • Do not lock your legs on the top portion of the movement; have constant tension during the entire set


How to Adjust the Leg Press Machine


Your leg press machine will usually have a handle beside where you are sitting. To adjust the leg press machine, you will need to push the machine up, turn the handle and have it adjusted higher or lower, depending on your needs.


Leg Press Muscles Worked



The leg press primarily targets the quadriceps, which is a group of four muscles on the front of your leg. The four muscles of the quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius. They work on extending (straightening) the knee and various parts of the quadriceps are responsible for flexing the hip, adducting, extending and externally rotating the thigh, and stabilizing the kneecap.


The quadriceps are used in everyday activities such as walking and standing to complex activities like cycling, jumping and running.


Gluteus Maximus


The gluteus maximus is the largest butt muscle in your body. It also helps the quadriceps provide force to move the leg press resistance. The gluteus maximus helps extend and rotate your leg from the hip joint.


The gluteus maximus is used in everyday movements such as jumping, running, and kicking.




The soleus and gastrocnemius are the two muscles that make up your calves. The soleus, which is a small flat muscle deep in your lower leg, actively works to help move the resistance in the leg press. The gastrocnemius, which is the largest muscle in your body, supports the leg press motion by stabilizing your leg during the movement.


Your calves are responsible for walking, running and standing on your toes.


Hip Adductors


The hip adductors are located on the inner parts of your thighs. They are responsible for a number of functions, which as flexion, rotation, extension, and adduction of the leg. During the leg press, the hip adductors are actively working to stabilize your leg, preventing it from moving out of proper alignment during the leg press movement.


Similarly, the hip adductors help you maintain proper form during everyday activities such as walking and running.




Your hamstrings are located behind your leg and are made up for three groups of muscle,  the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The hamstrings help extend your leg and bend your knee and are working to help support your leg when you perform the leg press.


Leg Press Benefits

1. Increase your squat

One of the best ways to increase your squat is by having an accessory that works on the same muscles as the squat. With great fortune, the leg press is THE accessory that works on the almost the same muscles as the squat.

You can overload your legs by adding this accessory exercise after doing your main set of squats. You will find that you are still able to do a good number of sets and reps of leg presses even after you are fatigued by your squatting sets.


2. Takes the load off your back

The leg press does not require you to place any weight on your spine. As a result, this exercise does not really involve your back muscles too much. This is great because we can still get in a leg workout done even if we have a fatigued back.

3. Great alternative if you cannot squat

If you are not planning to compete in a competition that requires squatting, like powerlifting, this is a great alternative exercise. While I still highly recommend that you focus on building a bigger squat by working on your squat, doing leg presses every so often is still a great way to get in some leg volume.

4. Great leg development

This exercise is perfect for adding more size to your legs. Since the leg press targets the major muscle groups in your legs, this allows you to work them harder. You can add more weight and as a result, get better results in a few weeks.


Leg Press Variations


I found a great infographic about the different leg press variations you could use in order to develop huge legs. I have summarized the difference stances so that you can have different leg press variations:


Leg Press Variations

Photo Credits to SimplyGym


  • Shoulder width stance - Overall leg development
  • Wide stance (outside shoulder width) - Focuses on inner thigh muscles
  • Narrow stance - Focuses on outer thigh muscles
  • High feet (placing your feet higher on the sled) - Focuses on your glutes and hamstrings
  • Low feet (placing your feet lower on the sled)  - Focuses on the quadriceps


Seated Leg Press Machine

Different leg press machines


The seated leg press, also known as the horizontal leg press, is a little different than your traditional leg press machine, also known as the 45-degree leg press. While the traditional leg press has you seated at a 45-degree angle with the resistance platform, the seated leg press allows you to set more upright and has you pushing resistance parallel to the ground. Depending on how old your gym is, you may not see the vertical leg press, where your back on the seat parallel to the ground and you push the weights upward vertically.


Which one is better?


Should you do the seated leg press? Or the 45-degree leg press? Or if your gym has a vertical leg press, should you do that instead? I also wondered the same and decided to do a little bit of research.


Seated Leg Press (Horizontal Leg Press)

Traditional Leg Press (45-degree Leg Press)

  • Seat position feels more natural; feels easier
  • May feel harder due to the seat positioning
  • Usually comes with a weight stack; no time wasted loading/unloading plates
  • Will need to load/unload plates
  • Safer
  • Potential to do very heavy sets

You can interchange the vertical leg press and the traditional leg press since not many gyms have the vertical leg press.


Leg Press without the machine?


Sometimes, the leg press machine may be broken. Maybe there are too many people at the gym waiting for the leg press? If you are looking to leg press without the machine, here are some alternative exercises you can do.


Leg Presses with bands


If you insist on doing a leg press variation, you can try doing leg presses with bands. You will hold the band with two hands and loop the band around your feet. Then, you will roll on your back. Firmly plant your arms on the ground so that the band is not loose. And you press upward with your legs as if you are doing a standard leg press.




Squats are a universal and versatile exercise. There are so many variations of squats that you can do in your workout to substitute for the leg press.


Front squats, dumbbell squats, goblet squats, paused squats, Zercher squats… there are hundreds of squat variations you can do.




Similar to the squats, you can also perform lunges to substitute for the leg press. And just like the squat, there are a ton of variations.


Walking lunges, reverse lunges, lateral lunges, alternating lunges…. there is no short of exercises you can do to have a good leg press substitute.


Can I leg press with a barbell?


You sure can.


But I must warn you though. It is not that safe to do if you do not have the coordination. It will be safer to do on a Smith machine but it is doable. Here are some tips to safely leg press with a barbell:


  • Make sure you are in the middle of the barbell
  • Make sure both sides have equal amounts of weight
  • Use the edge of the power rack as a guide for your leg press


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