I’ve understood the benefits of leg press machines for a long time. When I started out as a personal trainer, I had to understand how the leg press worked, its advantages and precisely what muscles were engaged.
But I never really took to any of the leg press models available to exercise the lower body. Conscientiously, I did multiple versions of squats instead.
However, after gradually using them more and more, I have found an increase in my overall lower body strength; they’ve changed my workouts for good.
What Is a Leg Press?
They’re beginner-friendly and allow you to work on isolated muscles. Technically, a leg press is a lower-body exercise where you push against resistance using your legs.
Leg Press Machine
A leg press often refers to a workout machine that carries its name. This equipment typically comes with a seat and a plate to push against by the force of your legs.
Other Types of Leg Press
It’s important to note that a leg press can also be completed using equipment other than a heavy, expensive machine. Here are a few examples:
- The cable-type: This type of leg press uses a cable or resistance band as the resistance. Lay down on your back with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Place the band tightly over the soles of your feet and push against it.
- Total Gym: Those Total Gym models or similar that comes with a footplate are easily used for leg presses and with the change in incline, the bodyweight resistance can be varied.
- The wall-sit: In this exercise, you have your back against a wall, and your quads are parallel to the floor. Hold the pause for 60 seconds. You can even add weight over your quads to increase the challenge.
- Squats: This popular workout requires you to push over the floor to lift your body. Most people add weight or even a rack bar to increase resistance. We’ll elaborate more on squats later on.
Leg Press Benefits
Leg press routines using machines are popular for a reason—they’re efficient, and they work! Here are the main benefits of the leg press:
- Tighten and tone the glutes.
- Strengthen your hamstrings.
- Pump up your quadriceps.
- Carve your calves.
Tighten the Gluteus Maximus
The leg press should assist in tightening the gluteus maximus – the glutes. When performed correctly, the main muscles of your buttocks will be fully engaged during the entire movement. This includes when you push against the plate, but also it can be even more effective the slower you release it which is often the case.
Strengthen Your Hamstrings
The hamstrings are other important muscles that are activated during a leg press. They’re located on the back of your legs, from your glutes to your knees.
When you perform a leg press, hamstrings typically get engaged at the beginning of the movement as you push out. They also work hard when coming back to their original position.
Strong hamstrings allow more power during a jump or while running. And if you enjoy neither of those, you should still feel the benefits when walking upstairs.
Pump Up Your Quadriceps
If you admire well-shaped and toned quads, a leg press should slowly get you to the same results. The quads are the muscles located in front of your leg, from the hips to the knees.
They’re mainly engaged during the initial push-out. You’ll, of course, need your quads to release the pause, but to a lesser degree.
We may not realize it, but our quads work hard whether we stand up from a chair or walk upstairs. They can then make our daily lives just a little easier!
Carve Your Calves
The leg press can also work on the upper and lower calves. For this, you’ll need to sit further away from the plate, with your legs in an almost complete extension. Press on your toes rather than the entire foot for a calf raise.
Leg Press vs Squats
You typically find two kinds of people: the ones who swear by squats, and individuals who only use leg press machines. Let’s discuss how they differ.
Leg Press When…
You Are a Beginner
With access to one, leg press machines are ideal for beginners who may not yet have the squat form under their belt. The equipment makes sure you keep your back straight, and the plate often has marks to indicate where to place your feet.
Working on Isolated Muscles
As mentioned before, the leg press engages specific muscles in your lower body—calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Plus, by adjusting your foot positioning, you’ll be able to target isolated muscles even more. We’ll develop this point later on.
You Want to Avoid Spine Overload
When you leg press, you don’t have to bear any weight on your back or shoulders. This means that you can add more weight without running the risk of spine or back injury. Only your legs should be burning!
You’re Looking to Correct Muscle Imbalances
When some of your muscles are weaker than others, it puts an overload on other muscles and/or ligaments, creating muscle imbalances. Over time, they typically lead to pain and possible injuries.
As we mentioned, the leg press enables you to work on isolated muscles. If you’re looking to strengthen your hamstrings only, you’ll be able to focus on that muscle group exclusively.
You Want a Full-Body Workout
A squat activates many more muscles than isolated ones in your lower body. It improves the strength of the knee and hip extensor muscles. A squat performed at a 90-degree angle generally provides the most muscle engagement.
Some muscles work as principal movers—such as the glutes or quads—while others act as stabilizers. They make all muscles work together as a team to reach stability while doing squats in the lowering and lifting phases. Stabilizers include the abdominal muscles such as the obliques.
You Want to Work on Balance
Stability is a crucial component when working out. The more muscles you gain, the more challenging it becomes. A leg press doesn’t require much balance as you complete the move sitting down.
However, squats need both coordination and stability, or you’ll fall backward or toward your toes. Many athletes take squats a step further by performing squats on a soft Bosu ball to improve their balance.
You Want to Build on Muscle Mass
If you want to get rid of the famous “chicken legs,” squats are a great option. They’re the first choice of renowned athletes, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, as they’re an all-around workout, they prevent injuries caused by imbalanced muscle growth.
Can Be Performed Anywhere
A leg press machine requires the proper equipment, which is typically available in gyms. However, a basic squat only needs your body weight. It can be performed at home, in a park, or even in a hotel room.
If you decide to add weights to your squats, purchasing dumbbells, barbells or a rack requires a lot less space than a leg press machine.
Although it takes up a fair bit of floor space, for an indoor gym, the addition of a proper squat rack can open up a whole new dimension for your range of squats.
Both workouts provide intense exercise, especially on your lower body. They should get your heart rate up and your sweat on. They’ll each suit different uses and goals.
What About Leg Press Machines?
Three main types of leg press machines are available:
- Vertical type: You lay your entire body down on the floor and push the plate vertically above you. Although this type of machine typically saves space in a gym, they aren’t as common. They also tend to put more strain on the back and the neck.
- Seated type: This kind of machine allows you to press on the plate while sitting comfortably in a straight position.
- The 45-degree angle type: Between the vertical and the seated type, you’re laying down slightly off the floor. Users generally report this kind being the most comfortable, yet it can take a lot more space than other models.
Benefits of Leg Press Machines
This equipment is simple to use and accessible for beginners. It isn’t an impressive machine that may require complicated moves or positioning.
Set your desired weight and sit comfortably with your back straight and glutes against the seat. Some machines even indicate different foot positioning for variation.
Allow for Variations
This single machine can still accommodate different types of exercises, activating various muscles. Here are only a few examples:
- Basic leg press: Your feet reach the center of the place, shoulder-width apart.
- Wide stance: Push your feet apart to work harder on your inner thighs.
- Narrow stance: When bringing your feet closer together, you’ll engage the outer thigh muscles more.
- High stance: Place your feet towards the top of the plate to give more intensity to your hamstrings and glutes.
- Low stance: Positioning your feet lower down the plate will put a heavier load on your quads.
Leg press machines come with a safety catch. In case you’ve put too much weight than you can handle, you can quickly release the plate without fearing that it’ll crash onto you!
This may encourage you to go outside of your comfort zone and start pushing more weight.
Leg press machines come with a few disadvantages
Lower back or pelvic floor problems?
One of the reasons I was a little reluctant to go all in with a leg press machine was because, at the time, my back was a bit dodgy – yes technical term – and I didn’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on it.
Using a leg press machine can cause problems for a weak pelvic floor, lower back or knees. It’s okay as long as care is taken with ‘form’.
Whether you’d like to add one to a gym or your living room, their large footprint must be taken into account. This makes it difficult to have a leg press machine at home.
This is a popular machine in a gym but as we’re all about working out from home an associated problem is the fact that leg press machines have been quite hard to get hold of in times of pandemic.
Besides even if you can get out of one they can be expensive. Squats should be adequate for anyone starting out and they’re free to do.
In a Nutshell
The leg press benefits are many. It’s a user-friendly machine that’s fantastic for beginners and those looking to work on isolated muscles. If movements are carried out correctly they help prevent back injury and assist in keeping the right form.
Squats serve a different purpose. While you may not load as much weight as on a leg press, this workout provides full-body conditioning. I do love squats as effective, do-anywhere exercise. More details of the benefits of squats are here.
Both squats and using a leg press can help greatly with balance as both exercises strengthen the smaller connecting muscles that make micro-movements when performing day-to-day activities.
Because these two exercises are complimentary, you could alternate between a squat day and a leg press day. The best workout routines provide balance and subject muscles to different types of resistance.