Leg Press Foot Placement: Tips for Optimal Muscle Engagement

When it comes to leg day, the leg press machine is one of the most common and most popular machines in the gym.

However, something you might not know is that where you place your feet on the platform of the leg press can make a big difference to the muscles being worked.

So, let's get right to it and talk about all of the different leg press foot placements, what muscles they exercise, and how to perform each variation.

 

The Main Leg Press Foot Placements and Positions

Leg Press Foot Placements

There are five main foot placements for leg presses, as well as two secondary placements which are as follows:

  • Regular Stance
  • Wide Stance
  • Narrow Stance
  • High
  • Low
  • Single Leg
  • Calf Raise Placement

 

The five main placements are regular, wide, narrow, high, and low.

However, you can then also do a single-leg press variety, which I'm sure you can guess means only using one leg at a time.

Then you can also use a leg press machine to do calf raises if your feet are positioned correctly.

This means that there are a total of seven different foot placements that you can use for the leg press machine.

However, keep in mind that there are different combinations here. For instance, you can have a regular and high placement, a regular and low placement, a wide and high placement, a wide and low placement, a narrow and higher placement, and a narrow and low placement.

Remember, regular, wide, and narrow refer to how far your feet are apart horizontally, whereas high and low refer to how high or low on the foot pad your feet are. 

The height that you have your feet at and the width that your feet are spread apart are not mutually exclusive.

Now that we have some confusion out of the way, let's take a look at each of these seven main leg press foot placements that you can use.

 

Regular Leg Press Foot Placement

regular leg press foot placement diagram

As you can probably tell by the name of it, the regular foot placement, also known as the standard placement, is when you have your feet spread out at roughly shoulder width, and you have them at about midway between the top and bottom of the pad or platform. 

For this particular stance, your toes can be facing straight up or you may choose to flare them outwards just slightly, but it depends on what feels the most comfortable for you.

If you are looking for the best foot placement for the leg press machine that will work out all of your muscles evenly, then this is best. 

Yes, the main focus of this foot placement for the leg press machine is your quadriceps muscles, although both your glutes and your hamstrings also get activated.

This is especially the case if you take advantage of a full range of motion. The bottom line however is that this motion is focused on the quadriceps.

 

Wide Leg Press Foot Placement

Wide stance leg press foot placement

 

Second, we have the wide leg press foot placement. Here, you still keep your feet about halfway between the top and bottom of the foot pad, but you also spread your feet wider apart, generally wider than shoulder width.

Exactly how wide you keep your feet depends on your comfort level, and to a certain degree your size.

For instance, very short people may have problems spreading their feet wide apart, because they may not be able to reach the foot pad anymore.

However, for the most part, your feet will usually be spread about 1.5 times as wide as they would usually be.

Here, your feet will be right near the edge of the foot pad or platform. If you are using this wide foot placement, it's best to have your toes flared slightly outwards, at roughly a 45-degree angle.

The primary focus of this exercise is still your quad, although there is a slightly decreased focus on your quadriceps muscles in comparison to some others.

For instance, this wide foot placement has greater activation for your glutes and your hamstrings than the regular foot placement.

As you will have your feet slightly angled outwards it will also help activate your hip abductors.

What is however interesting to note is that whereas the regular stance activates your full quads equally, for the most part, this wide stance activates the outer quadriceps or the vastus lateralis more than anything else. This is also the case for the rectus femoris, another part of the quadriceps muscles.

Now, if we are talking about regular foot placement, you'll usually use a full range of motion.

However, for this wide foot placement, you have to be aware of just how flexible your inner thighs are. This position makes it a little harder to leg press quite as deep as you usually would, so you need to be cautious, or else you might tear something in your inner thigh. However, as you practice this exercise and motion, your flexibility should increase.

 

Narrow Leg Press Foot Placement

Narrow Stance foot placement

Third on the list, we have the narrow foot placement. This is where your feet are no wider than hip-width apart, and they're placed about halfway between the top and bottom of the platform.

If you choose, you can even place your feet slightly closer together. For this stance, your toes should be pointed straight up and not flared out.

If working out your quadriceps muscles is your main goal, then this narrow stance is the best way for you to use the leg press machine.

In simplest terms, this exercise, the leg press with the narrow foot placement, more or less isolates your quadriceps.

This is especially the case for your vastus medialis, which is the muscle at the top of the quad.

To get the full activation however, you want to make sure that your feet always remain flat on the platform, that you don't lift your heels up, and that you go as deep as you humanly can.

Make sure that just like with all the other foot placements, the force should be coming from your heels.

 

High Leg Press Foot Placement

high Stance Leg press Foot placement

Fourth on the list, we then have the high foot placement. As you can tell, before we were talking about how wide your feet were spread apart, and now we're talking about how high or low you place them on the platform.

Here, with the high foot position for the leg press machine, your toes should be right near the top of the platform.

Your feet should be completely on the upper half of the sled, and you can still choose a narrow, wide, or standard foot placement. However, if you are doing the high stance, most people recommend using a regular or standard placement.

If you are somebody who wants to work on your hip extension, and you want to activate your glutes and hamstrings, then this high foot placement is the best option for you.

It is of course very effective for your quadriceps muscles as well, particularly for the rectus femoris, but with that being said, this type of foot placement is much less focused on your quadriceps when compared to your other leg muscles.

 

Low Leg Press Foot Placement

low Stance Leg press Foot placement

Fifth, we have the low foot placement, which sees your heels right at the bottom of the platform. Here, your feet are only on the lower half of the platform, and you can use any foot width you want, although a regular stance is usually best.

If you want to work out your quadriceps muscles, then this is the height that your feet should be placed at. Your knees can travel well beyond your toes, which therefore increases your range of motion, which ultimately produces more attention and stretching for the quadriceps muscles.

If you like isolating your quadriceps, then the lower leg press foot placement combined with a narrow stance is the best way to go.

You need good ankle mobility for this exercise because to activate your quadriceps to the fullest degree, you have to be able to go as low as possible.

 

Single Leg Press Foot Placement

Single leg press foot placement diagram

Now that we have all of the normal foot placements covered, let's take a quick look at the single-leg press.

If you have muscle imbalances, or you just like working out one leg at a time, then doing the single leg press is great.

Furthermore, when you do a single leg press, you serve to activate your hamstrings and your glutes, more so than the other foot placements that we've talked about up until now.

Using only one leg doesn't just train one leg instead of the other, but also changes the way that you have to use your muscles.

As for where you place your foot on the platform, it should be on the side that you're working, but quite close to the middle.

You want to keep your foot relatively close to the center because if you have it too much to either side, you run the risk of injury.

 

Calf Raise Leg Press Foot Placement

Calf raise foot placement

The seventh and final foot placement that you can do on a leg press machine doesn't involve doing leg presses at all but rather changes the way in which you use the leg press machine. 

What we're talking about here are calf phrases. In this case, you would take your feet and place the balls of your feet, just behind your toes, on the platform, right at the bottom.

You only want your toes and the balls of your feet being on the platform, with the main portion of your foot and the heel being below the platform, not touching it at all. Here, you keep your legs extended and your knees slightly bent.

You would then push up with your legs slightly so that the weight is no longer resting on the rack, and you would then use your toes and the balls of your feet, and of course, your calves, to push the weight up.

Just make sure that your toes don't slip off of the bottom of the platform, or else you could cause serious injury to yourself.

Leg press foot placement

Other Factors to Consider

While your foot placement will have a big impact on the muscles being targeted there are also a few other factors to consider.

For example, if you are wearing weightlifting shoes with a deep heel, then this will add slightly more pressure to your quads as opposed to shoes like Converses which have a very small heel.

Also, the shape and size of the platform can vary depending on the manufacturer of the equipment.

If you look at something like the York STS leg press it has a large flat platform. Whereas a model like the Rogue ISO leg press has a slight fold in the plate which can affect what muscles are engaged.

While it won't make too big a difference, it is something to consider and pay attention to, and feel how your muscles feel on each rep.

 

 

Which Muscles Does the Leg Press Work?

To fully understand how to use the different foot placements on a leg press machine, let's quickly talk about all of the different muscles that are leg press machine targets. 

The leg press machine is mainly a quadriceps exercise, but it also targets the hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

However, as you have seen above, the position of your feet determines exactly which muscles are targeted.

For instance, if you have your feet narrow, it targets your quadriceps more than anything else, but the wider you spread your feet apart, the more it targets your outer thighs and hamstrings.

Leg Press Machine

The Quads

As mentioned above, the main muscle group targeted by a leg press machine is the quadriceps, which consists of four different muscles, the vastus intermedius, the vastus medialis, the vastus lateralis, and the rectus femoris.

Your quadriceps muscles are extremely important, and realistically, without them, you can't walk, run, jump, or anything else. 

The reason for this is that your quadriceps mainly are responsible for the extension of your knees and for allowing you to flex at the hip. If you can't extend your knees, then there's not much at all that you can do.

 

The Hamstrings

We then have the hamstrings, which consist of three separate muscles. Your hamstrings extend along the back of your thigh, all the way from your hip to below your knee.

These muscles are also very important because they are responsible for helping you extend your leg and bend your knee. As you might be able to tell, if you can't bend your knee or extend your leg, then you really can't do much at all.

 

The Glutes

Then we have the glutes, which consist of your gluteus minimus, your gluteus medius, and your gluteus maximus.

Your glutes are very important for many different reasons, mainly for supporting your lower back during lifting, for keeping you upright, for pelvic alignment, for propulsion when running and walking, and even for standing on a single leg. If you don't have strong glute muscles, your whole lower body won't be very strong either.

 

The Calves

Finally, we have the calves, which are mainly responsible for allowing you to flex your foot forward and backward at the ankle. 

As you can imagine, if you can't flex your foot, you can't really walk at all. Although the leg press machine doesn't primarily target the cabs, it certainly helps.

 


Leg Press Machine Foot Placements – Final Thoughts

Leg Press Foot Placement

Although it might seem like you're just pressing a platform up into the air, as you can now see, the leg press machine is actually very versatile and diverse. 

Whether your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, or calves, you can target all of them by using different foot placements on the leg press machine.