The leg press is a strength training exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps muscles. It is designed to simulate movements performed in day-to-day life, such as sitting down and standing up.
Increases in muscle size (hypertrophy), muscle density (hyperplasia), and overall strength are achieved by pushing against resistance with the legs, specifically through the extension of the hip, knee, and ankle joints.
This action simulates bodyweight squat or leg press using added weight for extra tension placed upon the core muscles surrounding these points. Resistance may be generated by adding free weights to an exercise machine.
But there are also specialized machines that use hydraulic or pneumatic resistance, utilizing pressure suits or cylinders containing pressurized water for resistance.
The leg press can vary in style depending on the manufacturer and the machine’s model. It may involve two platforms, one moving up and down while the other remains still (double stacked), or it could be a single platform where both legs are moved simultaneously (simultaneous bilateral leg press).
Leg Press Variations
The leg press has three main variations: the standard leg press, single-leg press, and weighted vest one-legged press.
The Standard leg press
Standard leg presses involve individuals pushing a weight away from them using their legs while lying face-up on a bench. A typical machine has two-foot pads on which the user places their feet at hip-width.
The feet should be pointed slightly outwards, and the knees should be positioned just in front of the hips. The standard weight for men is 90 to 130kg (depending on experience) and 60-90kg for women.
However, this will depend on the type of machine used and whether it has rotating or sliding cams. The user should begin by slowly and carefully lowering the weight down until the thighs are just below parallel with the floor while exhaling.
To maximize pectoral activation, they should push the weight back up as they inhale before the lockout.
The Single-leg press
Single-leg presses involve using one leg at a time and pushing a weight away from them on a bench while lying face up. This exercise primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and gastrocnemius muscles, but to a lesser extent, the soleus muscle.
The benefit of this variation is that it reduces spinal loading compared to standard leg press since no weight rests on the spine or pelvis. Instead, the load is directed towards one leg at a time, which helps to improve the mind-muscle link and subsequently muscle hypertrophy.
The Weighted vest one-legged press
Weighted vest one-legged presses involve an individual pushing weight away from them using their legs while lying face-up on a bench. The weighted vests are adjustable via velcro straps around the waist and each thigh to accommodate different weights. A standard weight is 20kg for men and 10kg for women.
Once in position, the user should slowly and carefully lower the weight down until the thighs are just below parallel with the floor while exhaling. To maximize pectoral activation, they should then push the weight back up as they inhale before the lockout.
Leg Press Benefits
The leg press is a compound, multi-joint exercise for the lower body that primarily works the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles. The gluteus maximus, gastrocnemius, and soleus are also involved to a lesser extent. It has many benefits, namely;
- Development of functional strength (the ability to perform everyday activities)
- It can be used for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn fat and help with weight loss.
- Increase the range of motion to target more muscle fibers
- Help stabilize the body during movement, which is particularly important for athletic performance, balance, and injury prevention.
- It improves joint health through enhanced mobility and reduced chance of injury.
- Core stability; helps stabilize the body during movement, which is particularly important for athletic performance, balance, and injury prevention. Benefits can include improved posture, added stability and mobility, improved core strength, and increased coordination.
Leg press machine benefits
- Strengthens quadriceps and hamstrings
- Increases upper body pressing strength
- Stabilizes the vmo
- Reduces knee injuries in athletes
- Back and hip pain relief.
There are various risks involved with the leg press exercise. The main risk is incorrect form, which can cause injury to muscles, joints, or bones. It is essential to use a full range of motion when doing any exercise, focusing on each repetition’s stretch and contraction phases.
If muscles are not entirely stretched through a full range of motion, tendons and ligaments can be pulled too far, causing damage. Muscles should also be contracted fully to avoid any form of muscle strain or tear. It is vital that if an exercise causes pain, it should be stopped immediately.
Can I use Leg press for weight loss?
Yes, the leg press is a weight-bearing exercise and one of the best ways to lose weight. It also has many other health benefits such as;
- Increase in muscle mass
- Improved bone density, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis (weakening of bones)
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels over time
- Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Stronger muscles and bones can decrease the chance of injury
Leg Press: Best for Muscle Growth?
The leg press is not the best exercise for muscle growth. The leg extension and hamstring curl machines offer a more excellent range of motion which mimics natural movements more closely and therefore often results in more significant overall hypertrophy.
Leg Press Vs. Squats
The leg press is a compound exercise that involves more muscle groups than the squat. It can also be performed with heavier weights as it does not require as much balance and stability as the squat.
However, squats provide more significant benefits for growth in the quadriceps and hamstrings and allow for a full range of motion by flexing at the hips rather than the knees. But both the squat and the leg press are excellent compound exercises that should be included in any weight training routine.
The leg press is an excellent machine for developing lower body strength, particularly in the quadriceps and hamstrings. Absent of any spinal loading, it can create functional strength; however, for athletes that require core stability or hip mobility, squats or lunges are better choices.
For overall fitness, both squats and the leg press should be used in a routine to improve overall strength and fitness. The squat offers more excellent benefits for hypertrophy, while the leg press is a more functional weight-bearing exercise that can help develop core stability and balance.