The Humble Leg Press

Oh the leg press, you either love it or hate it. If you’re the latter, I hope that after reading this article you can see the benefits of incorporating this exercise into your fitness program going forward.


Leg presses are performed on a leg press machine in a seated position. It is very simple to complete as you start by sitting into a padded backrest with your feet on the footpad with knees bent to start. You move the weight by straightening your legs (but don’t lock out your knees at the top!) and then returning back to starting position.


Primary Benefits


Leg Muscle Development

The leg press machine was designed to solely target your leg muscles and can be used to develop strength or size, depending on the type of training you complete.


The mechanics behind the leg press mean that the following leg developments occur in this exercise:

  1. The extension of the knees against resistance utilises your thigh muscles (predominantly your quads and your hamstrings to a lesser extent);
  2. The extension of the hips against resistance utilises your glute muscles; and
  3. The load bearing effect of the exercise strengthens your leg bones and the joints in your knees and hips


As you are in a seated position, you are not utilising stabilisers in other parts of your body to assist in the exercise, thus placing greater emphasis on leg muscle development.


Lower risk of injury

 There is a risk of injury when using free weights if an individual does not use proper form or has a pre-existing injury that could be exacerbated by a particular exercise. These risks are significantly lowered in the leg press machine as you are in a seated position that limits the use of your back or core to complete the exercise. In particular, if an individual cannot squat due to back or knee pain, the leg press is a great option for leg development that should not aggravate these issues.




(We don’t want this!)


The leg press is considered a fairly safe exercise and the main considerations are to keep your feet flat on the footplate, avoid locking out your knees at the top of the movement and to ensure you don’t load more weight than you are capable of pressing.


Leg Press Exercise Variations


Single Leg Press

A standard leg press uses both legs at the same time to move the weight up and down. By adjusting this to a single leg exercise, the movement is significantly more challenging. You will likely need to load the weight to less than half of what you would normally leg press with both legs.








High Feet Leg Press

Placing feet higher on the footpad places a greater focus on hamstring and glute activation than a standard leg press as there is increased extension and contraction of these muscles. This is an excellent substitute for deadlifts or hamstring curls.







Low Feet Leg Press

Conversely, placing feet lower on the footpad than normal places a greater focus on your quadriceps to perform this exercise. However, this also places greater stress on your knee joints, so if you feel pain in this area you may need to avoid this position. This one is a great alternative to squats.






Wide Stance Leg Press

This position will allow you to perform a similar movement to a sumo squat and will place greater emphasis on your inner quad muscles (adductors).









Narrow Stance Leg Press

By placing feet in a narrow stance you are working your outer thigh muscles (abductors) and this stance is very quad dominant.










Leg Press v Squat


The leg press and squat primarily work your quadriceps and to a lesser extent your hamstring and glute muscles. The squat tends to be a full body movement which engages your abs and hips while placing greater emphasis on glute and hamstring activation than the leg press. The leg press however, is primarily a leg movement with a strong emphasis on quad development. Assuming no pre-existing injuries and the exercises are completed with proper form, both the squat and leg press can have a place in your overall fitness regime, depending on your fitness goals.


Another fantastic feature of a leg press is that most styles/brands of leg press have a relatively light plate and carriage. This opens up the ability to use the leg press in a less than body weight capacity. Yes – a leg press is not all about pushing huge amounts of weight. It can be used effectively in lower limb rehabilitation so it really does show how versatile it can be!



Shayla is a Personal Trainer working from the EPIC WIN PT studio in Newmarket, Brisbane. Follow all the fun and adventures by liking the Facebook page here