The leg press machine can come in the form of a horizontal leg press machine or a 45-degree leg press machine. Both forms of the leg press machine consist of a platform, free weights placed on top of the platform or weight stacks, and locking mechanisms to hold the platform in place.
The leg press machine promotes lower body development, targeting the major lower body muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and calves. The leg press machine isolates the lower body from the upper body during the exercise. This makes it useful for physical rehabilitation as it avoids putting significant stress on the upper body
This article will discuss some of the benefits of the leg press machine in terms of lower body development, injury prevention, and athletic performance. It will also highlight some of the variations of the leg press machine that can be used to target specific muscles.
The Leg Press Machine promotes leg development by isolating the muscles that comprise the leg. This machine mainly engages the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings. The calves act as supporting and stabilizing muscles throughout the movement. It also engages the gastrocnemius and the adductor magnus.
The quadriceps femoris muscle is composed of the vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and the rectus femoris. These muscles are engaged when a person extends the knees during running, jumping, and squatting.
When using the leg press machine, the quadriceps become the primary target muscle during the push-off and lifting phase of the exercise.
Afterward, the quads become the stabilizing muscles during the control phase and weight return phase, in which the hamstrings become the primary target muscle.
The glutes and the hamstrings are always engaged, but to different degrees; Gluteal engagement can also be altered based on the orientation of the feet on the footplate.
Strong gluteal muscles can help in doing other lifting exercises such as squats as well as recreational activities such as hiking. It also helps in performing basic functions like lifting objects and holding weight. Strong hamstring muscles, on the other hand, promote greater jumping ability and more explosive power for sprints.
The leg press machine helps overcome muscular imbalances in the lower body.
There is less risk of injury when using the leg press machine as compared with using free weights like squats and deadlifts.
The leg press machine eliminates the need for barbells and other free weights when leg training. At the same time, it can also be incorporated as a warm-up exercise for these barbell exercises to stretch the joints and muscles and avoid injuries.
The leg press machine is easy to use and does not require any technical skill or experience, unlike squats. It also eliminates the need for help from other people at the gym as a spotter and it is also good for beginners who want to build leg strength before doing squats and deadlifts.
The leg press machine has a seat and a backrest which effectively isolates the leg muscles from the upper body during the leg press. This machine attempts to simulate squats in a seated position, targeting similar muscle groups but without spinal and knee loading. Thus, there is no need to balance weights to maintain an upright position when using the leg press machine so there is a lesser risk of overworking the muscles and suffering injuries.
Aside from avoiding upper body and knee related injuries, using the leg press machine can also prevent pulled or torn hamstrings. In sports, the hamstring is usually injured due to extensive movement. The leg press machine conditions and strengthens the hamstring muscle to enhance flexibility and endurance necessary to avoid injury.
The leg press machine can help beginners gain more strength and endurance in the lower body to perform more advanced leg exercises including powerlifting exercises such as squats and deadlifts. It is also a good exercise machine for people with weak knees or back problems because most of the pressure of the weights during the leg press is on the glutes and hamstrings.
The leg press machine is also stationary and promotes a fixed pattern of movement that primarily serves to provide a stable foundation for the exercise. There is no need to balance the weights across the bodies to train the leg muscles when using the leg press machine. Thus, it is easier to gain muscle and improve strength when using the leg press machine than free weights.
While it is certainly beginner friendly, it also assumes you have access to the machine itself. For people without a gym membership or a gym without a leg press machine, there are alternatives like squats, step-ups, walking lunges, wall sits, and broad jumps - which use much the same muscles.
The leg press machine also promotes bone development in the same way as muscle development. Weight-bearing exercises like the leg press increase the pressure and stress on the bones which is essential to produce osteoblasts that produce bone mass for greater bone density. Optimal bone density is essential to prevent musculoskeletal degenerative diseases associated with age such as osteoporosis.
Along with stronger bones, the leg press machine can also help in neural growth and development. According to the Frontiers of Neuroscience, doing weight-bearing activities such as the leg press can increase brain function and promote neural cell development. They note that performing these types of load-bearing exercises at least two days a week can stimulate a healthy level of neural cell development.
The leg press machine can enhance strength and endurance for better lower body stability. Using the leg press machine regularly can increase balance and ability to retain stability through positional change.
It also enhances speed and explosiveness necessary for running and jumping. Doing leg presses at lower repetitions and greater volume can increase explosive strength for better sprint speed and vertical leap.
It is also well-documented how leg muscle mass can increase sprint speed because of the stronger and more efficient use of force to propel the legs forward. The leg press machine engages fast-twitch muscle fibers in the legs that are required for stronger leg thrusts.
This can also translate to enhanced performance in other exercises like squats and deadlifts as well as cardiovascular performance,
You can incorporate leg press variations by changing the position of the feet on the platform, adjusting the distance between the feet, or using specific parts of the feet to push the platform during a leg press.
Using the toes and the balls of the feet to push the platform can increase the engagement of the quad and calf muscles while pressing using the heels can increase the engagement of the glutes.
Pushing at the top of the platform can also increase glute and hamstring engagement while pushing on the lower part will engage the quads.
It is also good to perform isolateral presses by using one leg at a time with reduced weight or doing reverse leg presses to activate the posterior chain.
Using only the balls of the feet on the end of the platform can target the calf muscles. In a similar way, can you turn your feet in-ward and outward to induce portion-specific gastrocnemius muscle hypertrophy.
1. Adami, Raffaella & Pagano, Jessica & Colombo, Michela & Platonova, Natalia & Recchia, Deborah & Chiaramonte, Raffaella & Bottinelli, Roberto & Canepari, Monica & Bottai, Daniele. (2018). Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 12. 10.3389/fnins.2018.00336.
2. Nunes, João Pedro1; Costa, Bruna D.V.1; Kassiano, Witalo1; Kunevaliki, Gabriel1; Castro-e-Souza, Pâmela1; Rodacki, André L.F.2; Fortes, Leonardo S.3; Cyrino, Edilson S.1. Different Foot Positioning During Calf Training to Induce Portion-Specific Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2020 - Volume 34 - Issue 8 - p 2347-2351