Benefits of Leg Press: Build Muscle + Reduce Injury

The Benefits of Leg Press: Build Muscle, Reduce Injury-Risk & Fight Aging

The Benefits of Leg Press: Build Muscle, Reduce Injury-Risk & Fight Aging

If you could spend 1-2 minutes doing something that had the power to drastically reshape your body, would you do it?

We’re talking about the Leg Press.

Out of all of the exercises you do, the leg press may be the most important. If the leg press is not part of your routine, this article will make the case for why you should include it in your routine and how you can execute it.

Jump to Topic:
The Value of Doing the Leg Press
How to Set up the Leg Press Machine
How to Do the Leg Press
Injury Considerations
Choosing the Right Leg Press
Summary

Why You Should Do the Leg Press

The value of the leg press comes from the areas of the body that it targets. The leg press primarily targets the quads (front thighs) and gluteus maximus (butt), the two largest and strongest muscles in the human body. These two muscle groups are important for physical appearance and critical for physical functioning. The secondary muscle groups include hamstrings and calves.

As a whole, here are the benefits of regularly performing the leg press (Rhodes et al., 2000; Zampieri et al., 2015):

  1. Increases gluteal and quadriceps strength.
  2. Improves physical appearance of the thighs and butt by improving the size of both muscles. The thighs and hips become more shapely, which you could notice from front and side views.
  3. Strengthens the bones of hips and lower back.
  4. Improves functional ability. Daily activities (standing, climbing stairs, walking, etc.) become easier as the thighs and hips become stronger.
  5. Enhances balance. Balance is enhanced as the thighs and hips gain strength.

If you’re interested in performing the leg press on your own, keep reading.

Learn How Susan tripled her leg strength after total knee replacement with machines like the Leg Press.

How to Setup the Leg Press Machine

Fitness companies make leg press models that differ greatly. One leg press variation is that some are “selectorized” and some are plate-loaded. For selectorized machines, you select a weight by inserting the pin in the weight stack. For plate-loaded leg presses, you add the weight plate onto the arms of the machine. Our recommendation is to use a selectorized machine (we’ll come back to this later).

Image of a The Perfect Workout trainer setting up a Nautilus leg press next to an image of a plated leg press

Following these steps should help you with getting setup on any selectorized machine:

  1. Select the seat position. The goal is to get your torso as close to the footplate as possible without being very uncomfortable. Being more “crammed in” will give you a bigger range of movement, which is shown to improve strength and muscle gains (Pinto et al., 2012). Try a few seat positions. Move the seat and sit down to see how it feels. You should ultimately feel a little cramped in the seat, with your knees and chest only a few inches apart from each other. If your hips slide forward, you’re too close.
  2. Adjust the seat back. If the back of the seat reclines, then adjust that setting next. Similar to the seat, you will ideally be a little crammed. If you have a larger gut or a history of lower back pain, reclining the seat 1-3 notches may make the starting position much more comfortable.
  3. Find your foot position. Put your feet on the footplate. They should be about hip width apart. You should be able to see your toes just over your knees.
  4. Place your hands at the sides of the seat. There are typically handles near the sides of the seat. Avoid using a death grip on the handles as this could unnecessarily increase your blood pressure. Instead, let your arms hang and keep your fingers relaxed.

Read about how member Michelle P. was able to target, tighten, and lift her glutes with the Leg Press.

Image of a man being trained on a leg press by a female trainer

How to Do the Leg Press

Once you’ve set up the machine using the steps previously outlined, you are in the correct starting position and ready to work! Here are the steps for executing the exercise safely and effectively:

  • Select a proper weight. Ideally, if you were assessing the difficulty on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being impossible), the difficulty should start in the 6-8 range. Pick a random weight and try a repetition. Adjust the weight until you land in the desired difficulty range.
  • Push through your heels. The majority of your effort goes through your heels. As you begin the leg press, build pressure through your heels until the weight starts to move. Keep the focus through your heels as you push out and on the return. Your heels should never leave the footplate.
  • Move slowly. Keep the weight moving, but move as slowly as you can without stopping. Use the slow pace when lifting AND lowering the weight. The slow and consistent pace reduces the force of the leg press on your joints, making the exercise very safe.
  • Push…MOST of the way. You should push the weight until your knees are slightly bent. When you reach that point, reverse direction and bring the weight down slowly. Avoiding a fully straightened knee is important for safety purposes. Straightening the knees could expose the knee to hyperextending, which could cause an injury.
  • Do all that you can do. Continue performing slow reps until you can no longer lift the weight. Hitting that physical wall is a sign that you’ve fully (and safely) stimulated the muscle to grow larger and stronger. This point of physical fatigue is known as “muscle failure.”

Perform one set, to muscle failure, twice per week on nonconsecutive days. Ideally, you’ll complete around 3-6 slow repetitions before reaching muscle failure. If you completed six or more repetitions, increase the weight by 2.5-5 lbs in the next workout.

image of a trainer guiding a female with a leg brace through a leg press exercise

Injury Considerations

If you suffer from knee or lower back pain, you can still perform the leg press. Some adjustments may be needed, though.

Use a trial and correction approach. Try the previously mentioned setup. If you feel pain while using that seat position, then make adjustments.

If you have a knee injury or pain that is aggravated by the leg press, try one or more of the following strategies:

  • Rotate your feet outwards. Instead of having your toes pointing up, have them point outwards (think “10 and 2” on a clock).
  • Move your feet a little higher on the footplate. This will shorten your range of motion but reduce the stress on your knee.
  • If neither of the above works, move your seat back 1-2 notches.

If pre-existing lower back pain is irritated by the leg press, try the following adjustments:

  • If the seat back can move, recline it by 1-3 notches.
  • ‘If reclining the seat does not help, move the seat back by one setting. If that doesn’t create relief, move the seat an additional notch backwards.

Choosing the Right Leg Press Machine

Even though quality can differ greatly, selectorized leg presses are generally the best way to go. Nautilus, Life Fitness, Matrix, Cybex, and Technogym are a few of the companies that produce quality leg press machines which are often found in public gyms. If you have multiple options, choose the leg press that you find most comfortable.

As mentioned before, avoid the plate-loaded leg press machine. This machine typically features the trainee sitting close to the ground and pushing the weight up at an angle. It’s effective for producing results but can be stressful on the lower back. When lowering the weight, the hips often rise, which switches the force of the weight from the hips to the lower back. Put simply, it’s easier to strain or injure the lower back on a plate-loaded leg press.

Learn about another impactful lower body exercise – the Leg Curl!

Muscles used on the leg press machine

Summary

The leg press is the most important exercise in a workout. Regularly training with the leg press leads to strength and muscle gains in the largest muscles of the body. The leg press also improves mobility and overall physical function.

When using the leg press, choose a challenging weight and start in a cramped but not very uncomfortable position. Push until your knees are slightly bent (and no further!). Keep the focus on your heels, not your toes, throughout every rep. Continue until your hips and thighs are COMPLETELY fatigued, and increase the resistance periodically.

There are many quality models of the leg press. Pick one where you can pin the weight stack. If you have knee or lower back pain, you can still use the leg press. A few positional adjustments should allow you to train without pain!

If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a FREE workout with us.

We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.

  • Pinto, R.S., Gomes, N., Radaelli, R., Botton, C.E., Brown, L.E. & Bottaro, M.J. (2012). Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2140-2145.
  • Rhodes, E. C., Martin, A. D., Taunton, J. E., Donnelly, M., Warren, J., & Elliot, J. (2000). Effects of one year of resistance training on the relation between muscular strength and bone density in elderly women. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(1), 18-22.
  • Zampieri, S., Mosole, S., Löfler, S., Fruhmann, H., Burggraf, S., Cvečka, J., … & Kern, H. (2015). Physical exercise in aging: nine weeks of leg press or electrical stimulation training in 70 years old sedentary elderly people. European Journal of Translational Myology, 25(4), 237.

Leg Presses 285 Pounds + Amazing Core Strength!

shelly leg presses 285 pounds and has amazing core strength now!

Female client strength training on a machine

“The Perfect Workout has delivered on every promise. They’ve done everything they said they would do for me. They give 110%.” And the best part? “My core strength is amazing now!”

Two years ago, Shelly Cates barely had enough strength to walk throughout the day. Working 60 hours per week at a private equity insurance company, she was always on the move, but didn’t have any energy left after work. Tired of feeling weak, she wanted a workout program that would fit her schedule and make her stronger.

A New York Times insert for The Perfect Workout came to her office, and Shelly was intrigued with the whole concept of slow-motion strength training and 20-minute workouts. The Colleyville studio was conveniently nearby, and she booked her first session. It was much different than any workout she had done before, and she immediately felt its effects. She started toning up, and she no longer felt weak throughout the day.

From day one, Shelly was impressed with how friendly and helpful The Perfect Workout trainers were. Their coaching was encouraging, not “demoralizing” like she had experienced at other gyms. The positive atmosphere at the studio is one of the biggest reasons she keeps coming back twice a week. Having worked with four trainers, Shelly feels a connection with each of them, and loves how each one brings their personal style to the workouts.

Her hard work in the studio, along with her trainers’ dedication to her growth, gave her results that make her proud. She now lifts 285 lbs. on the leg press, 50 lbs. on the arm press, and 70 lbs. doing bicep curls. In addition to her muscle growth, some of Shelly’s old health issues have vanished.

She no longer needs to go to the chiropractor, and no longer struggles with colitis, something she took medication for before starting at The Perfect Workout. “The Perfect Workout has delivered on every promise. They’ve done everything they said they would do for me. They give 110%.” And the best part? “My core strength is amazing now!”

The Perfect Workout has given Shelly the freedom to do what makes her happy. Last year, she and her family took a vacation to Scotland and traveled 710 miles across Scotland’s islands and cities. Shelly had enough strength and energy to fully immerse herself in the trip, and she came back feeling alive and inspired.

Two years ago, she would have been too burnt out to appreciate it, but now she feels like she has the energy to do whatever she sets her mind to. Shelly has no plans to stop, and she can’t wait to continue her impressive progress. “It’s going to be part of my life for a long time.”