One of the best gym exercises for building legs of steel, the leg press should be a consideration for any leg day workout.
As I’m sure you’ll agree, the leg press is a challenging exercise that will not only test your ability to push explosively from the legs, but also walk straight after you’ve finished a few sets.
In this article we’re going to break down the exercise, the main muscles worked, the benefits, and then discuss the correct form and how to perform the exercise as safely as possible.
- What is the Leg Press?
- Why Use the Machine?
- Benefits of the Leg Press
- Form Guide for the Leg Press
What is the Leg Press?
For the benefit of the few of you that don’t already know what the leg press is, I’m going to quickly go over the basics to get you up to speed.
The leg press is a machine commonly found in most gyms. The exercise has you pushing the weight away from your body using your legs, primarily by engaging the glutes and quads.
The exercise targets lower body strength, and is great for developing explosive strength as you are required to push hard from the start to shift the weight.
Check out this video from Colossus Fitness to get a solid idea of how to perform the leg press, as well as a few of the variations you can do to mix it up.
The exercise is typically performed in an upright seated position, but there are some variations such as the vertical leg press, which has you pushing the weight up rather than forward.
The vertical leg press benefits are much the same, so it’s really just a case of personal preference which one you use.
Why Use the Machine?
While there are plenty of alternative exercises for the leg press, which are fantastic in their own rights, using the leg press machine is most people’s first choice given the option.
So why use the leg press machine?
Well, as with most exercises, the machine version will usually be better than the bodyweight alternative when it comes to building serious muscle mass.
Plus, the leg press is a unique exercise, in that you can’t really do it without the machine. Unlike the bench press which can be done with a machine or with a barbell, the leg press must be performed with the help of the machine.
For that reason, if you really want to work your leg muscles with one of the more satisfying leg exercises, then you should check out the best leg press machines and consider investing in one for your home gym.
Benefits of the Leg Press
To assess the benefits of the leg press exercise, we must first take a look at the main muscles worked, to see where it could potentially fit into our workout regime.
The Main Muscles Worked
Building a strong base is crucial for developing balance, and strength throughout the body.
The more strength you have in your lower body, the better able you are to do the fundamental exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and cardio such as running and jumping.
Not only that, but you’ll find by building a strong base you will improve your balance and your posture, which are both critical for moving around the world with confidence.
The main muscles that will be activated during the leg press are the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Not bad for one exercise, right?
The leg press exercise is, as a result, a fantastic way to get more out of your leg day workouts, and a way to reduce the number of different exercises needed to hit different muscles.
Aside from working the aforementioned muscles in the legs, what else can you expect to gain from pushing huge weights away with your legs?
The leg press machine benefits are numerous, and will all go toward helping you become the strongest version of yourself.
It’s an Effective Warm-up Exercise
So first up we have to address the fact that one of the most underrated benefits of the leg press is how it can serve as an excellent warm-up exercise before getting stuck into your workout.
Put simply, nothing gets the blood pumping and the heart beating faster than the explosion of energy from the legs required to budge the stubborn weight of the leg press machine.
Bringing so many muscles into play, the leg press will adequately prepare your body for whatever crazy workout you have planned for leg day.
Plus it’s a very straightforward exercise to start the workout with. We all get to the gym a little groggy and unmotivated sometimes, so it’s nice to be able to start with an exercise that requires little thought or preparation.
It will Help You with Other Exercises
Next up, when discussing the benefits of the leg press, it’s worth mentioning the impact it can have on your workouts in general.
By this I mean the leg press has a good reputation for helping people smash plateaus with other exercises and reach new heights and personal bests.
Much more than being just a solid exercise to build strong legs, the leg press can be the key to unlock further success with the fundamentals such as the classic squat.
While they are great complementary exercises, they both have their own distinct benefits, so why not take a look at our article examining the leg press vs the squat.
By incorporating the leg press into your workouts, you’ll find that you build the strength in your legs to squat a little deeper, or push up harder, not to mention the added stability you’ll develop.
To really get the most out of the exercise, experiment with variations such as the vertical leg press, or simply placing your feet more narrow or wider.
It can Boost Performance in Sports
The benefits of the leg press also extend to sports. By building strong, well-rounded legs, you will perform better in gym exercises, but also in sports.
When you visualize the leg press exercise, and especially the explosive push off with the legs, you can understand why it would be beneficial for running faster or jumping higher.
That’s not to mention the endurance you will inevitably build as a result of sustained pressure on the legs, something which is invaluable for running for longer periods of time.
Then there’s the improved balance and stability which will give you the edge if you play sports which require you to stay on your feet, which is most sports.
Plus the leg press will be a great help to runners looking to gain an advantage and beat their time.
One of the specific benefits of the vertical leg press is that it is like doing an inverted jump, so you can visualize the jump while performing the exercise.
It’s a Beginner-Friendly Exercise
Lastly, when it comes to benefits of the leg press, there’s the fact that the leg press is a great exercise for anyone new to the gym or working out.
If you’re looking to build some strength in your legs, you can’t go wrong with the leg press on your first outing to the gym.
As I mentioned before, the leg press machine is incredibly simple to operate, and that makes it a fantastic choice for those looking to ease into a workout.
Lifting free weights can be intimidating when you first go to the gym, so it’s nice to have an alternative which takes care of the weights for you, so you can just focus on your form.
It is worth mentioning though that although the leg press has many benefits, there are a few drawbacks too.
Firstly that you might not receive the same stabilizing benefits as you would if you were to use free weights. Though this isn’t a huge deal since there isn’t really a direct free weight alternative to the leg press anyway.
The other thing, and a genuine reason to consider, is that the leg press gives far more emphasis to big muscles than smaller muscles. Your major leg muscles will get a fantastic workout, but some of the minor muscles around the knees and ankles especially won’t.
Form Guide for the Leg Press
As with any exercise you do in the gym, and especially when weight is involved, it’s critical that you perform the leg press with correct form to reduce the risk of injury.
As well as preventing injury, performing the exercise with correct form will also help you maximize the benefits you get from the movement.
With that said, what is the correct way to perform the leg press, and what should you keep in mind before attempting it?
This first tip is obvious, but important nonetheless. The last thing you want to do is pull a muscle trying to push too much weight at one time.
Start off with a light weight, as reluctant as you might be to do so, then slowly build up to a heavier weight once you get the hang of using the machine.
Keep Your Lower Back Against the Seat
This one is less obvious, but equally as important. When performing the leg press exercise, if you bring your legs all the way back, there’s a chance your tail bone or lower back will come off the back of your seat.
This is very dangerous as it can put pressure on the lower back, which is the last thing you want to do, especially with a heavy weight.
Don’t Lock Your Knees Out
If you lock your knees out when your legs are straight at the end of the movement, you risk knee injury, which are notoriously difficult to fully recover from.
When performing the leg press, ensure that you go all the way out, but without fully locking out your knees and resting with your legs fully straight.
Controlled Movement is Best
This is a universal rule for exercises in the gym or at home. The controlled movement will yield the best results 9 times out of 10, and reduce the risk of injury due to going too fast.
While you want to exert significant force in the beginning to shift the weight, you don’t want to explode all the way up, since this jerking motion can be harmful for the joints.
As you can see, the leg press is a versatile and important leg exercise which has the potential to significantly improve your leg day results.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can read our article on the leg press vs leg extension machine.
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