How to Do a Leg Press

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 29, 2022
5 min read

The leg press is a popular piece of gym equipment that plays a key role in strengthening important and major muscles in your legs. We look at the different types of the equipment that are widely used, the correct way to do a leg press, and the benefits of this exercise.

A leg press machine usually comes in two types – a horizontal leg press, which is the standard version of this equipment, and the inclined leg press, which comes with a seat that reclines at a 45-degree angle. When using the inclined leg press, you’ll need to sit at an angle and press your legs diagonally upward.

The leg press is used to work the quadriceps and the hamstring muscles of your thighs and the gluteal muscles (in your buttocks).

Quadriceps are a group of muscles at the front of your thigh containing more mass than all other muscle groups in your body. These muscles are used to perform several movements such as walking, running, kicking, and jumping.

The hamstrings are tendons at the back of the thighs that link the large thigh muscles to the bone. It also refers to the group of three muscles that run behind the thigh, stretching from your hip to your knee.

This equipment is typically used as part of a leg strengthening program and sometimes in a machine-circuit workout routine. Although the exercise is fairly straightforward, it’s important to understand how to use it correctly.

Pay close attention to your form while you do the exercise. Follow these steps to make sure you get the best out of this routine.

Step 1. When you sit on a leg press machine, your back and head should rest flat on the machine’s padded support. Place your feet on the footplate with your toes pointing upwards. Your feet should be spaced apart from each other, roughly the width of your hip.

You should be sitting in such a position that your feet, when placed flat on the footplate, make your knees bend at approximately 90 degrees. Hold on to handles on either side to give you extra support when you push on the footplate using your feet.

Avoid moving your lower back muscles when you push the footplate and remember to contract or tighten your abdominal muscles to brace your back.

Step 2. It’s good to regulate your breathing while exercising on the leg press. Ideally, you should push the footplate while you exhale and breathe in as you bend your knees to get the footplate closer to you. Tighten your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstring when you push the footplate and keep your upper body steady.

Step 3. Push the footplate using your feet until your legs are extended, but make sure that you don’t extend your legs completely and lock your knees. That puts additional strain on your knees and could lead to injuries in the long run.

Place your body on the seat that you’re sitting on and avoid lifting your buttocks or curving your back.

Step 4. When you’ve extended your legs, you should stay in that position momentarily before you return to the starting position.

Letting the footplate come down too far lifts your buttocks from the seat that you’re sitting on and, in some cases, also lifts your lower back region. This puts your lumbar disks at risk as they tend to bear most of the weight. That’s why it’s important to make sure that the weight on the leg press is light enough that you remain in control of the movement rather than letting the weights dictate your movements.

Don’t let your legs come down to such an extent that your thighs start to compress your ribcage. 

Once you’re sure about these movements, you can repeat them.

Step 5. You can also use a variation of a leg press by using just one leg instead of two to push the footplate. Remember to reduce the weights on the footplate before you do this. You can alternate between both legs to strengthen them.

Incorrect posture is one of the most common causes of injuries when using any gym equipment. Remember to stay in control of your movements at all times and prevent your knees from locking (i.e., straightening your legs completely) when you’re pushing the footplate.

Keep your legs straight and avoid bending them inward or curving them outward when you push the footplate as well as when your knees are coming closer to you. This would put undue strain on your knees and could lead to an injury.

Also, make sure that your feet are flat on the footplate and that your weight is evenly distributed across the foot once it’s placed on the footplate rather than placing weight only on your toes or heels.

One of the most common mistakes is taking on too much weight than you can manage. Proper form while exercising is critical for both muscle gains in the right areas and to minimize the risk of injuries.

It’s also important to complete the full range of motion to give your muscles the proper workout. Doing this is more important than the number of reps.

The leg press develops and strengthens several muscles, such as the quadriceps, hamstring, and gluteal muscles. Since the calf muscles play a critical role in supporting these muscles, the calf muscles also become stronger.

The quadriceps are the primary muscles that are used while pushing the footplate, while the hamstring is the main muscle used to control the footplate and return it to the initial position. This phase also activates the gluteal muscles.

The leg press offers a stable foundation that could help beginners strengthen their lower body before moving on to advanced leg exercises. It shapes and strengthens your hamstring muscles and improves flexibility and endurance. 

The risk of injury when you use the leg press is lower when compared to other exercises such as squats and deadlifts, making it a good choice for people with weak knees or back issues.