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Did you know former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once claimed in an interview that she could leg press 400 pounds? Way better than this CPT. The leg press workout is often slept on because some lifters think of it as a cop-out or a way of avoiding more difficult quad exercises like the barbell squat. But the leg press workout is a fantastic exercise to build the quads and glutes while giving your spine a break. The leg press is also a legitimate way to add lower body muscle and a viable alternative to build strength in your legs. 

RELATED: What Muscles Do Squats Work?

The leg press is a less technical exercise due to the stability of the machine and the fixed range of motion, making it an excellent introductory movement for beginners and a valuable lower body strength developer for advanced lifters. Here, I’ll get into all things leg press for your quad-building pleasure. 

RELATED: Lower-Body Workouts

How to Leg Press

Trainer note: There is the 90-degree and 45-degree seated leg press, and the instructions below work for both. Depending on your limb length, the leg press will look different for different lifters. Before starting, adjust the leg press machine to provide maximum safety and comfort.

  1. Sit on a leg press machine and place your feet in the middle of the platform around shoulder-width apart.  
  2. Release the safety catch and press until your legs are extended, leaving a soft bend in your knees.
  3. Lower until your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Push the platform back to the starting position.  
  5. Reset and repeat for desired repetitions. 
leg-press

Trainer Tips for Form

There isn’t much to the leg press, but paying attention to a few form pointers will help you get the best out of this exercise. 

Take The Time To Set Up

You’ll need to take the time to adjust the seat and foot position and perform reps with the empty platform to see if you can get a 90-degree angle with your knees without any compensation from the lower back.

RELATED: Lower Back Exercises

Lock It Down

The only body parts that should flex and extend during the leg press are your knees, with a little effort from your hips. Otherwise, you should aim to be glued to the seat and the foot platform.  

Control

To get the full effect from the leg press exercise, it’s best to control the eccentric (lowering) until your knees reach a 90-degree angle and be explosive on the concentric contraction. Select a weight that allows you to do this within your rep range. 

Coop performing leg presses on the Titan Leg Press Hack Squat Machine

Leg Press Benefits 

Machine-based exercise like the leg press workout is an excellent tool in your exercise toolkit.  Besides building beefy quads and glutes, here are a few benefits of using the leg press machine. 

Easier On The Back

Because you’re sitting at an upward angle, the leg press machine reduces spinal loading compared to free-weight (dumbbell and barbell) lower-body variations. The leg press is a viable alternative for those with lower back pain.

RELATED: Hyperextension Exercise – The Key To A Stronger, Healthier Lower Back

Great For Beginners

The leg press has a fixed ROM and increased stability, so less motor control and fewer technique considerations are involved compared to free-weight squat and deadlift variations. Plus, there is a reduced chance of getting hurt because the leg press machine has built-in safety mechanisms.

Image of the Titan Leg Press Hack Squat Machine

Lift More Weight

Due to the increased stability, fixed ROM, and the safety mechanisms built into the leg press, you’ll be able to lift more weight compared to other lower body exercise variations.

Common Leg Press Mistakes

The leg press is not difficult or technical, but that doesn’t mean mistakes can be made. Here are three to watch out for to get the best out of this wonderful exercise. 

Loss Of Control

The leg press adds muscle to your quadriceps and glutes, but only if you lift with control. The best way to do this is to slow down the eccentric (lowering) contraction. When the weight is too heavy and if you cannot control the eccentric contraction, it is time to lighten the load.  

Man adds a weight plate to the Titan Leg Press Hack Squat

Lower Back Rounding

The only parts you should move and feel during this exercise are your knees and glutes. You are doing it wrong if your feet aren’t glued to the platform or your lower back and hips aren’t secured to the back of the seat. Pay attention and take the time to set up the leg press to avoid this. 

RELATED: Lower Back Exercises

Reducing The Range Of Motion

For maximum leg day effectiveness, your knees should get to 90 degrees.  It might feel good for your ego to half-rep a massive weight to put on a show, but it will do nothing for your quads and glutes, and your knees will not like you one bit. 

Leg Press Variations

Exercise variety is essential for preventing strength training boredom and overuse injuries and to stay aboard the gain train. Here are three leg press variations that utilize foot placement you should consider for shaking up your routine.

Single-Leg Leg Press

Why do it: Many single-leg exercises (AKA unilateral exercises) rely on balance, like the Bulgarian Split Squat,  which limits the weight you can use. But not with the single-leg leg press with its fixed range of motion (ROM) and the increased stability of sitting down.

How to do it: 

  1. Set up as you would for the bilateral leg press.
  2. Place your right foot in the middle of the platform.
  3. Release the safety mechanism and lower your right knee to 90 degrees. 
  4. Push back to the starting position, reset, and repeat for even reps on both sides.  
single-leg-leg-press

Wide-Stance Leg Press

Why do it: The wide stance variation works the same leg muscles as the regular leg press but focuses more on the adductors and inner quad muscles. 

How to do it: 

  1. Set up the leg press for your limb length.
  2. Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart on the platform and press up.
  3. Release the safety mechanism and lower your knees to 90 degrees. 
  4. Push until your knees are extended, reset, and repeat for desired reps.
wide-stance-leg-press

Narrow-Stance Leg Press

Why do it: The narrow stance trains similar muscle groups to the regular leg press but emphasizes the outer quads. 

How to do it: 

  1. Set up as you would for the bilateral leg press but with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Press up and release the safety mechanism.
  3. Lower until your knees reach a 90-degree angle.
  4. Press the starting position, reset, and repeat. 

RELATED: Quad Exercises

narrow-stance-leg-press

Leg Press Workout: FAQs

What is a good leg press workout?

A good leg press workout depends on your fitness goals. If it’s your goal to increase your muscular endurance, then 15 reps with minimal rest between sets should work. But when you want to build muscle using a rep range of between eight and 15, taking it close to muscular failure works well. 

Can you build legs with just leg press?

The leg press primarily trains the quads and glutes with minimal hamstrings, adductor, and calf involvement.  To improve muscular development of your lower body, it’d advise incorporating other leg exercises to target these muscles. 

How many sets of leg presses should I do?

How many sets is dependent on your goals.  If your goal is hypertrophy, 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps work.  If you want to build strength, performing more sets (four to five) and fewer reps (3 to 6) is a great starting point. 

How heavy should the leg press be?

How heavy or light you have the leg press depends on your strength level. If you reach your rep range and it feels easy, bump up the weight. If you cannot reach your rep range, the weight is too heavy, and you must lighten the load. 

Is a leg press better than squats?

There is no better or worse exercise, only a better fit for you and your goals. If you’re a beginner, the leg press is a better fit for you. If you’re an advanced lifter, then you should focus on squats. Both deserve a place in your workout routine because they complement each other, and improving one means you’ll get better with the other. 

RELATED: Benefits of Squats

Further reading

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