When it comes to leg day at the gym, there is a wide variety of machines to choose from which can feel overwhelming.
But what are the best leg machines? In this article, we will take a look at the best leg machines at the gym to make sure you know exactly what each machine does along with tips and tricks so you can get the most out of your leg workout.
Leg Press Machine
One of the most popular leg machines you'll find at the gym is the leg press machine, which many consider a great alternative to squats as shown in our leg press vs squat guide.
The most common type of leg press you will find at a commercial gym will consist of a seat close to the ground with a footplate above, connected to a guide rail set to an angle of 45 degrees.
The user can then use their legs to lower and press the footplate up and down.
One of the main reasons why the leg press is a great alternative to squats is that the guide rail removes the need to balance or coordinate as much. This means that you can really focus on targeting your leg muscles.
However, this does mean you will be able to lift a lot more weight on a leg press than performing a normal squat.
There are also other leg press machines available, which include the vertical, the horizontal, and the 45-degree leg press, all of which work your leg muscles in slightly different ways. But the 45-degree variety is the most common.
An added bonus of a leg press machine is that depending on how you place your feet on the footplate, it can target different muscles.
For example, the further in and down you put your feet, the more it trains your quads, and the further up and out you put your feet, the more it trains your glutes and hamstrings.
Alright, so what many people will say is that the Smith machine is not actually a leg machine, but this cannot be any further from the truth.
Of course, the Smith machine is great for doing bench presses, shoulder presses, and much more.
However, this doesn't mean that it can't be used for the legs and can be used as an alternative to almost all barbell leg exercises such as deadlifts, squats, lunges, and hip thrusts.
It is one of the most versatile leg machines in the gym and can often be used to target any muscle in your legs, even your calves.
For even more exercise options, it is great to also use a weight bench to perform exercises such as hip thrusts to target your glutes and hamstrings. It can also be used for exercises such as Bulgarian split squats.
The Smith machine makes a strong case for being the best leg machine at the gym but we have more options to come yet.
Leg Curl Machine
Now we get into our first leg machine which is designed to focus on a certain area of your legs.
The leg curl machine was designed to target your hamstrings so you can effectively train them.
There are three main types of leg curl machines, which are seat, standing, and lying.
Commercial gyms most commonly have seated leg curls as some users don't like the lying option because it has you lying on your stomach with your butt in the air, but it is a great exercise for your hamstrings nonetheless.
The main goal of the machine is to create resistance as you pull your heels to your glutes by bending your knee.
All leg curl machines will have a pad to keep your knee still and another pad behind your ankle which will be connected to the resistance. Then you have to squeeze your hamstrings to pull your heel towards your glutes.
So, if you are looking to focus on your hamstrings, the leg curl machine is a fantastic choice.
Leg Extension Machine
Another very popular leg machine at most commercial gyms is the leg extension machine. It is a relatively straightforward machine to use but is great for targeting your quadriceps.
The leg extension machine works similarly to the seated leg curl but in reverse. Here, you're in a seated position with a pad in front of your shins, close to your ankles.
The point here is to straighten your legs from a seated position so that your toes are pointing toward the ceiling.
There are a few small variations that you can use to adjust how the machine works your legs, you can firstly train one leg at a time or both together. Also, the positioning of your toes can make a significant difference in how your quadricep works.
For example, if you angle your toes to point inwards, it will focus the resistance onto the outer side of your quads (Vastus Lateralis). Or, point your toes outwards to target the inner side of the quads (Vastus Medialis).
But the most common position is with your toes pointing straight.
Hack Squat Machine
If you break down a hack squat machine, it is actually quite similar to a leg press machine but in reverse.
However, the way in which the load gets applied to your body is a little different on a hack squat machine.
Here, you're standing underneath some shoulder pads and against a backrest with your feet firmly planted on the footplate. You then lower your body down the guide rails which are generally at a 45-degree angle and then stand up again.
Here, you press your whole body upwards, as opposed to the leg press machine where you press your legs and the weight upwards.
As a result, your upper body has to support the weight as you would with an ordinary barbell squat, but you have the added support from the backrest to help ease the pressure on your back.
It's not uncommon for people to be able to press much less weight on a hack squat machine than on a leg press machine as you also need to take into account your body weight and the movement targets more muscles and the load goes through your body.
Furthermore, just like on the leg press machine, if you're using the hack squat, changing the position of your feet can also change which muscles are targeted the most.
Calf Raise Machine
If the name of the game is getting some big and juicy calf muscles, then the calf raise machine is one that you absolutely need to try out.
When it comes to calf raise machines, there are a number of different types of machines but the main two are the standing calf raise machine and seated calf raise machine.
The seated version has you sitting on a seat, a pad above your knees, and the balls of your feet resting on a bar so you can raise and lower your calves.
The standing version is basically the same, but instead of the pads being on your knees, they are on your shoulders. This way you will have to engage your core and keep your body tight as you perform your reps.
These are fantastic machines to isolate your calf muscles and are relatively straightforward to use, and you can start with a very low weight.
Hip Adductor Machine
If your interior thigh muscles are what you're looking to train, then the hip adductor machine is what you need.
The hip adductor machine has you sitting down with your knees bent and your legs spread apart, with the pads resting on the inside of your knees.
The point here is to push your legs inwards. Not only does this machine train your adductors, but helps improve your overall hip strength which will carry over to a number of other lifts and make you generally stronger.
Hip Abductor Machine
Just like with the hip adductor machine, there is also the hip abductor machine. The main difference between the hip abductor machine and the hip adductors machine is that you're pushing outwards instead of inwards. You can learn more our hip abduction vs adduction machine post.
Remember that with these machines, you don't really have to use a whole lot of weight, but you do need to perform the motion properly.
The hip abductor machine is also a great option for targetting your glutes and you can lean forward slightly to focus the resistance onto different parts of the muscle.
Hyper Extension Machine/ Back Extension Machine
Interestingly enough, the hyperextension machine is also considered a back exercise machine and you will sometimes hear it called a back extension. But it still works to strengthen your calves, glutes, and hamstrings.
Here, you’re using your legs to support your weight, with the back of your ankles resting against a pad, your quads supported by pads in front, and your upper body hanging over the front of the machine.
In essence, here you are using your legs and back muscles to do what is essentially a reverse sit-up.
Like with any of the machines in our list, there are ways to focus each rep onto certain muscles.
For example, if you are looking to target your glutes, you can keep your back rounded slightly and your chin tucked towards your chest to focus the resistance onto your glutes.
Final Thoughts on the Best Leg Machines at the Gym
When it comes to finding the best leg machine at the gym, the answer will depend on your training goals. But by using a mix of the machines listed above, you will be able to target all the muscles in your legs and produce an effective workout.
But as with any exercise at the gym, it is important to maintain proper form, so if you are unsure of how to use a machine we recommend you have a personal trainer walk you through it.