The leg press is a compound movement for the legs which mainly focuses on the quadriceps. Depending on how you angle your feet and how wide or narrow you place them, it’s also possible to place more emphasis on the hamstrings and 'glutes'.
This article will include a step-by-step guide on how to perform the seated leg press, along with some different variations you could use to target specific areas of the lower body.
Lower Body Anatomy & Leg-Positioning Variations
The three main groups of muscle in the lower body are the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
Primarily, the leg press will place most of the load on the quadriceps, as the standard posture set-up consists of your legs being at shoulder width apart and your body being at a 90° angle to your legs on the seated machine for a starting position.
A plate-loaded machine or a resistance machine for this exercise.
Your quadriceps are a very large group of muscles which contain 4 portions or 'heads’.
1) Rectus femoris
This is the muscle located in the centre of the thigh, which covers most of the other three heads of the quadriceps as it stems from the ilium as opposed to the femur.
2) Vastus medialis
This is located on the inner part of the thigh and lies underneath the rectus femoris.
3) Vastus lateralis
On the outside of the thigh is the vastus lateralis.
4) Vastus intermedius
Between these is the vastus intermedius.
These are all large muscles and each has certain exercises and leg-variations that can place more emphasis on them.
Targeting Different Parts Of The Legs
In order to target the outer portion of your quadriceps (vastus lateralis) you can adjust your foot stance to become narrower. The rest of your form is the same, apart from you’re now performing the ‘close’ leg press as opposed to the conventional method.
On the other hand, if you wish to target the inside of your quadriceps (vastus medialis and adductors) you can use a wide stance. This movement typically becomes harder the wider your stance becomes.
Isolating the Quadriceps
By placing your feet closer to the bottom of the leg press (low stance) you’ll be able to isolate the quadriceps and place more of the load onto the vastus lateralis and rectus femoris as a whole more throughout each leg pressing movement, meaning that the glutes and hamstrings are less involved. However, the standard variation of the leg press does a very good job of this also.
Hamstrings & Glutes
Oppositely, if you place your feet at a high stance you’ll shift more of the load onto your hamstrings and glutes. This is a very popular variation as there aren’t many other resistance machines that allow you to target your glutes and hamstrings with heavy weight.
How To Perform The Leg Press
Conventional Method/Plate Loaded
1) Load your desired amount of weight onto the machine and sit down on the leg press seat.2) Place your legs on the pressing platform with a shoulder width stance in front of your torso in the centre of your body.3) Disengage the safety levers either side and take hold of the handles to your sides.4) Press the weight until your legs are extended but not locked out.5) Take a deep breathe and lower the weight slowly until your upper and lower legs make a 90° angle (this is the eccentric portion of the movement).6) Exhale and drive back up through your heels (quadriceps focused) until the platform returns back to the starting position.7) Continue to perform your desired amount of repetitions.
Tip | Try creating a slight arch in your lower back, and pushing your chest out while keeping a tight core throughout the movement to implement a stronger form
Note | Each different foot variation follows the same range of motion so feel free to use any of the mentioned variations above
Suggested exercise volume: 3-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions per variation.
Suggested amount of variations per training session: 2
Take Home Message
Try incorporating some of these variations into your leg routine in order to target multiple heads of the quadriceps in your workouts.
If performing leg presses on the same day as squats, carry out the squats beforehand and then move onto your leg press variations, as the free weight exercise of squatting with a barbell requires more assistance muscles and balance!