Leg Press In The Gym And Bodybuilding

For the training of the lower limbs in the gym, one cannot but think of the leg press. Although it may seem like a trivial exercise, often present in bodybuilding cards, it also needs a correct execution to train the muscles appropriately involved.

What Is The Leg Press? What Is It For?

The leg press is generally considered a complementary exercise to the squat. Even if, as stimulus completeness, we could consider it an essential exercise. It is also an exercise accessible to almost all gym users (also used in rehabilitation), as it requires less technical skill than the squat. The leg press exists in two versions: one horizontal and one at 45 °. The goal of this exercise is to train the lower limbs.

Depending on the press, whether horizontal or 45 °, we will have different characteristics:

  1. Horizontal leg press: the hip is less flexed, the movement is more dependent on the knee (which flexes and extends), so the stimulation of the quadriceps is generally greater.
  2. Leg press bench 45 °: in this case, the hip extension is greater than the knee. Consequently, the stimulation of the quadriceps is slightly less.

Leg Press: Correct Execution

The press provides an almost complete stimulation to the lower limbs; anatomically, we have:

  1. Incomplete hip extension: Generated mainly by the hamstrings and only marginally by the buttocks.
  2. Knee extension: originates from the first mover of the exercise, which is the quadriceps.
  3. Ankle extension: consequently, the calves also participate in the movement.
  4. The variable intervention of the adductor muscles concerning the width of the feet was adopted.

Position Of The Feet

The feet can be positioned at different heights on the platform according to the emphasis we want to give to the muscles.

Let’s see the key points :

  1. The foot must be adherent to the plate during the execution. The heels must not come off.
  2. The tips of the feet are slightly rotated outward, except if we keep the feet very close together, they can be parallel.

Foot Height Notes :

  1. Feet high on the platform: in this case, we will have less movement on the knee and more on the hip, resulting in less work on the quadriceps and more work on the hamstrings and buttocks (but incomplete).
  2. Feet low or in an intermediate position on the platform: here, we will have a more significant knee movement with consequent greater stimulation on the quadriceps.

Feet width :

  1. Keeping the feet close together will emphasize the work on the quadriceps.
  2. Keeping your feet further apart will see less quadriceps involvement in favour of adductors, as well as hamstrings and glutes.

Back Support

The back during the movement maintains its physiological curves. You do not have to be “hunched over and bent”. This decreases the contraction of the back muscles with consequent more significant stress in the lumbar level. So you do not have to have the sacrum detached from the pillow. This in subjects with little mobility at the hamstring level can occur if they go down very low. In these individuals, it may make sense to keep the feet slightly lower on the platform.


In healthy subjects, in work with high loads, we could perform each repetition breathing: inhale, execute a repetition in apnea, exhalation at the end of the repetition. Each repetition repeats this cycle. Vice versa, we could carry out continuous breathing with light loads: I inhale in descent, and I exhale in ascent.

Muscles Involved In The Leg Press: What Does It Train?

The leg press is often identified in the gym as an “exercise for the legs”, but we can, as seen in the previous paragraph, emphasize some muscles based on some precautions.

Emphasis On Quadriceps:

In this case, we will modify our executive technique by using a  horizontal press to obtain:

  1. Emphasis on the movement of the knee: we will keep the feet lower on the platform. This will emphasize the flexion-extension of the knee compared to that of the hip.
  2. Distance between the feet on the platform is not too high: to provide a general guideline, you could keep your feet at a distance between them equal to or less than the shoulders’ width.

Emphasis On Hamstrings And Partially On Buttocks:

Choosing the press for this purpose is limiting, as we do not have a complete movement at the hip level (it remains flexed at 90 °). This provides incomplete stimulation to these muscles.

In any case, the measures we will implement will be:

  1. Choice of a 45 ° rather than a horizontal press.
  2. Emphasis on hip movement: keeping feet slightly higher on the footplate.
  3. Distance between the two feet greater, width equal to or greater than that of the shoulders.

Benefits Of The Leg Press

The leg press has, like all exercises, pros and cons; let’s analyze them to understand how to choose or not to include it in our training program. Let’s start with the points in favour:

  1. It removes the present technical difficulty of the squat: this didactically makes it “simpler” and easily executable even for novices and beginners.
  2. It allows you to load much more safely: in general, even if you fail a repetition, the platform or the seat (depending on the type of press) are not at a height to cause the subject to remain “crushed”. In some machines, you can even select the range of motion.
  3. Eliminates the limiting component of the back: often in the squat, the legs could continue the series but is weak in the back (paravertebral, great dorsal, etc …), the subject stops, under penalty of deteriorating the executive technique.
  4. It allows you to efficiently perform sets of many repetitions or intensity techniques, which are unlikely to lend themselves well to a free squat.

Let’s see the negative points :

  1. It does not have an excellent coordination component: this in novice/beginner subjects is a limitation. They also need to improve this motor capacity, as it is baggage that will be helpful in many exercises.
  2. Less activation of the hip extensor muscles: Glutes and hamstrings are less active as the movement of the hip is limited.
  3. Greater perceived safety: the subject being seated feels safer. However, this is a double-edged sword as it could lead him to pay less attention to some errors (position of the feet, back, etc …) that perpetuated over time can lead to more severe problems.

Leg Press Inclined At 45 Degrees

This type of press also lends itself well to jobs where the emphasis is on the posterior chain, although a partial emphasis remains for the reasons analyzed. The advice that we can add to the already considerations is that, if possible, tilt more it back to the bottom than to the top, where the objective is to stimulate the quadriceps maximally. This will allow for a more excellent range of motion and a more significant stimulus.

Leg Press With Dumbbells And Barbells

In the absence of a “real” leg press, we can try to reproduce a similar movement in which we have an axial load, however more significant than the machine, and a movement that is not identical. Let’s see two possible ideas :

  1. Wall squat with a foam roll or fit ball and dumbbells: perform a squat movement similar to the squat, but lean your back against a foam roller/fit ball that is leaned against the wall. We have a more significant hip movement than a press, therefore a greater activation of the buttocks.
  2. Leg press barbell: with the barbell, the advice is to perform it at the multipower, positioned lying under the barbell with your back on the ground, rest the soles of the feet against the barbell. The movement will take place here by bending and extending the legs almost as during a leg press.

Bodyweight Leg Press

If we do not have any overloads or elastic bands available, we could evaluate some free body variants :

  1. Sissy squat: however, it is very stressful as an exercise at the joint level.
  2. Free body leg extension with feet on the box: hands on the ground, forefoot resting on a rise like a box, let’s flex and extend the knee. Movement is more similar to leg extension in reality but a good alternative in the absence of overload. There is also the possibility of doing it with only one leg if we increase the intensity.
  3. Pistol squat: The muscular involvement, as the movement at the hip level is more expensive, will also involve the buttocks and hamstrings more.

Conclusions On The Leg Press

The leg press is an excellent exercise that allows you to provide a powerful stimulus, especially to the quadriceps; on the other hand, it has a minor coordinating and stabilizing component, for example, in the squat. The advice is not to think in terms of absolutisms. Doing the press does not mean not doing squats and vice versa. The intelligent approach is to analyze and understand which exercises and variants go best with the subject’s goals, parameters we work on, and the body’s response over time.


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