Leg Press Muscles Worked

One of the most common leg machines that you will see at any gym is the leg press. The leg press machine is very useful for the development of several muscles in the legs, mainly the quadriceps and the glutes, although other muscles are activated with this fantastic exercise.

Today, we want to take a look at all of the muscles worked when using a leg press along with various tips on how to do this exercise properly.


What is the Leg Press Machine?

For those who don't know, the leg press machine is a popular leg workout tool at your local gym. The leg press machine has you in a seated position with your legs facing upwards at roughly a 45° angle. Your feet are pressed against a plate, which is either attached to a weight stack or can be loaded with weight plates for added resistance.

You start with your legs almost straight then slowly lower the weight by bending your knees. Once your knees are completely bent you push against the plate to straighten your legs again. But don't completely straighten your legs or you can pick up an injury.

It's a fantastic exercise as it engages a range of muscles in your legs. But exactly what muscles does a leg press machine work? Let us take a closer look.


Leg Press Muscles Worked

There are a few main muscles that the leg press machine targets, so let’s find out what these are.

Glutes and Hamstrings

Glutes and Hamstrings

First and foremost, the leg press machine is ideal for targeting your glutes and your hamstrings. Your glutes, in simplest terms, are the muscles in your buttocks, whereas the hamstrings are the muscles that attach at the bottom of your buttocks and run down to the back of your knees.

Both the glutes and the hamstrings are very important, as they work together to stop you from falling over, they assist you with stretching and bending, and overall, they help to stabilize the body. The hamstrings are also responsible for controlling movement within both the knees and the hips.

The hamstrings and glutes are both engaged when you move your hips both backward and forward, and they are responsible for thigh rotation as well. Without strong hamstrings and glutes, your mobility would be greatly hindered. Both of these muscles are very important, really for anything that involves walking or being upright.

When you do the leg press machine, it is the downward motion when you release, where your hamstrings and glutes are worked.

This is not unlike doing a squat. Being forced to hold up a heavy weight while slowly going into a squatting position, which is essentially what the first part of the leg press machine exercise involves, serves to strengthen these hamstring and glute muscles.


The Quadriceps


The other main muscle or muscle group targeted by the leg press machine are quadriceps. These may otherwise be known as your thigh muscles, and they are located on the front of your legs attach below the hip, and extend down to the top of your knees.

The quadriceps are also very important muscles. Mainly, the quadriceps are responsible for allowing you to extend your leg at the knee, and to flex your thigh at the hip joint.

At the same time, the quadriceps muscles help to stabilize your knee by holding the patella inside of a small groove in the thigh bone. Quadriceps are very important for running, kicking, and jumping.

When you do leg press, it is the pressing, extension motion that targets the quadriceps. It’s when you push with your legs and extend your knees that the quadriceps are worked. In fact, the leg press machine is fantastic for working these muscles. Let's move on and take a look at some nuances in terms of proper technique and placement.


Leg Press Machine Proper Form and Technique

As is the case with any exercise in the gym, having proper form is essential. Without proper form, you risk injuring yourself, and nobody wants that. Let's take a look at how to properly do one Rep on the leg press.

  1. Start by centering your feet on the platform, with your toes pointed slightly outward, and your feet at shoulder width apart. Depending on exactly which muscles you'd like to target, you can change the positioning of your feet, something that will touch on further below.
  2. One thing to keep in mind as you do the leg press is to engage your core and back during the movement. You want to engage your core and hold the handles on either side of the seat. This will help stabilize your upper body. You also don't want any movement happening in your lower back, as this can be quite dangerous.
  3. You should start the movement with your legs extended, although your knees should never lock out, as this can be quite dangerous. As you bend your knees and retract your legs towards your body, slowly inhale, until your thighs are as close to your chest as possible.
  4. Hold this position for a second, and then push through your heels with as much force as you can, extend your knees at the legs, and exhale sharply. Return to the starting position, but remember to not lock out your legs, as this can be very dangerous.


Adjusting Foot Position To Target Different Muscles

Leg Press Muscles Worked

We already noted that the leg press machine primarily targets the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. However, what you might not know is that exactly which muscles are targeted the most depends on your foot placement.

For instance, if you have your feet wider apart, closer to the outside of the platform, and your toes pointing outwards more, this will primarily target your hamstring muscles. The wider your legs are apart, the more your hamstrings are targeted during this exercise. Therefore, keep your feet wide apart and point your toes outwards if you want to target your glutes and hamstrings.

On the other hand, if your main goal is targeting your quadriceps, then you want to keep your feet closer together, closer to the center of the platform, and your toes pointed directly upwards. If you want a balanced approach, keep your feet somewhere in between those two positions, and you should equally target your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.

Related: Looking for exercise ideas? See our guide to alternative exercises to leg press.


Common Mistakes to Avoid When Doing the Leg Press

Although the leg press machine is quite easy to use, there are some mistakes that beginners often make, so let's take a look at these to make sure that you avoid them.

Not Going Deep Enough

Perhaps the biggest mistake that most beginners make when doing the leg press is not going deep enough. In order to fully work out all three of those major muscles that we've been talking about, you want to go quite deep.

You want to go deep enough so that your thighs get close to your chest. If you cut the motion off too short, you won't get the full benefit of the exercise. 

It's all about doing full reps, not maximum weight. If you have too much weight on the machine, you won't be able to engage in a full range of motion, and therefore won't reap the full benefits of the leg press.

Each machine can vary so it is important to know the starting weight of the leg press you are using.


Going Way Too Deep

You also don't want to go too deep, as this can cause injury. If you go too deep, you might even get stuck in that position and require some help. If you go too deep, it's going to put a lot of pressure on your lower back and puts you at risk of injury.

Therefore, when you are doing the leg press, make sure that your butt and lower back stay firmly planted on the seat. 

As soon as you feel your butt leaving the seat or your lower back rounding or bending, that is when you are officially too deep. If you happen to touch your knees to your face, it's also a sign that you're probably going a little bit too far.


Locking Out the Knees

Something you might see beginners doing on the leg press machine is to fully lock out their knees when they extend their legs, or in other words, fully extend the legs.

This can be extremely dangerous because if your knees are fully extended, there is a risk that they may buckle in the reverse direction and overextend the joint. This can cause extremely serious and permanent knee injuries, so be sure to avoid this.


Adding Too Much Weight

Something that everybody should avoid at the gym, no matter what machine is being used, is ego lifting.

If you can't comfortably lift the weight, or at least lift it without feeling like your eyes are going to pop out of your head, then you want to dial it back a bit. There's no point in using too much weight and risking an injury when using proper form is so much more important.


Leg Press Machine Muscles Worked – Final Takeaway

Leg Press Muscles Worked

The leg press works your quadricrps, glutes, hamstrings and calves making it a great compound exercise to strengthen and develop your lower body.

The bottom line here is that the leg press machine is by far one of the best tools at the gym to exercise your leg muscles. 

It's a great machine because it helps beginners learn the proper motion for doing a leg press, which also transitions into proper form for squatting. 

Just remember that proper form is essential when doing a leg press, and keep in mind that depending on the position of your feet, you'll work different muscles.

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.