The leg press machine is one of the most popular pieces of gym equipment when it comes to strengthening the key muscles in your legs. Whether you’re looking to develop your quads and hamstrings or build up the strength in your gluteus, the leg press machine is unrivalled in its efficiency.
However, while the leg press might seem like a relatively straightforward machine to use at first glance, it’s incredibly important to learn how to use it properly if you want to enjoy some of the best strength gains.
Set-Up And Positioning
When you first sit down at a leg press machine, your body needs to be in the correct position. To do this, simply sit on the machine with both your back and head resting against the padded support, and your feet positioned roughly hip-width apart on the footplate.
What’s more, your bottom should be placed flat against the seat, with your legs at an angle of 90 degrees at the knees. This is because if your feet are too high on the plate, it’ll place too much stress on your glutes, whereas if your feet are too low, it’ll put an unnecessary amount of pressure on your knees.
As you press, make sure to keep this alignment for the perfect form. Take a firm grip of the handles for support and keep both your spine and head in position.
Keeping your abdominal muscles tight, push the leg press platform away from you using your heels and forefoot evenly. Ideally, your heels should remain completely flat on the footplate, as the last thing you want to do is use the front of your foot or toes exclusively to move the pad forward.
Extend your legs in a slow and controlled manner rather than an explosive movement, and pause for a second at the top of the movement. Make sure you don’t lock out your knees and that they’re not bowing in or out.
Gradually return the footplate to the starting position by slowly bending your knees. It’s important to keep your feet and back flat throughout this whole movement.
If you’ve never used the leg press machine before, it’s a good idea to start modestly with three sets of 8-10 leg presses. This way, you can slowly advance as you build strength.
Mistakes To Avoid
When you hop onto the leg press machine, it’s vitally important that you use the correct form and technique to get the most out of your workout. Listed below are four of the common mistakes that people often make which can reduce strength gains and increase the likelihood of injury.
- Raising your bottom off the seat - while it might be tempting to raise your bottom off the seat when pressing a heavy weight, do your very best to avoid it. This is because it places your legs at too sharp of an angle, increasing the strain on your knees.
- Locking your knees out - locking your knees out at the top of the rep is something to definitely avoid as this can shift most of the tension away from your quads and onto your knee joint, causing pain and injury.
- Placing your hands on knees - this is a common mistake that can often break the perfect form you’re trying to use. Instead of placing your hands on your knees, grip the assist handles.
- Using too much weight - lifting more weight than you’re comfortably able to can make it incredibly difficult to control the movement. Keeping this control is essential for perfect form and optimum levels of strength development, so avoid falling into the trap of lifting the heaviest weight possible for a couple of reps.
If you have particularly weak pelvic floor muscles, you should probably avoid using the leg press machine due to the fact that it places a significant amount of stress on the pelvic floor. Similarly, you should also avoid this machine if you have a serious or long-term knee injury.
Instead, it’s much more beneficial to perform suitable leg strengthening exercises as recommended by your physical therapist or doctor. These are considerably safer and won’t worsen a pre-existing injury or condition.
So, if you have one knee that’s hurting, try not to push through the pain as this will only make matters worse. What’s more, the leg press machine can also place a fair amount of stress on your back muscles, so avoid the exercise if you have back pain or an injury.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Correct Breathing Important When Using The Leg Press Machine?
Yes, it’s extremely important to keep breathing during the effort phase of the movement and to avoid holding your breath. With enough practice, your breathing should eventually become automatic, so long as you focus on exhaling on exertion and inhaling on release.
What Are The Benefits Of The Leg Press Machine?
The leg press machine is a great exercise for developing the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles. What’s more, because the machine promotes a controlled movement pattern, it’s a safe exercise for stiff knee after surgery, and a great option for beginners who might be a little intimidated by free-weight exercises.
Another clear benefit of using the leg press machine is the fact that it allows you to do reps with just one leg. This is great for working on single-leg strength without having to worry too much about balance (as you’re seated).
You can also vary the position of your feet when using the leg press machine to emphasize different muscles. This is useful for overcoming imbalances, such as when athletes have more developed quadriceps than hamstrings.
Check out our list of the best vertical leg press machines here.
What Are The Downsides Of The Leg Press Machine?
Despite the fact that the leg press is a brilliant machine for building leg strength, the movement isn’t quite as effective as other exercises such as squats and lunges when it comes to translating the strength gains to real-world movements. In other words, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever need to push against a heavy weight with your feet, while also sitting down, in real life.
It’s also worth noting that standing moves like the squat and lunge engage your core considerably more than sitting down and using the leg press machine. This is because they require you to balance while performing the movement.
Some people may also not have access to a leg press machine, or would just prefer to exercise at the comfort of their homes. If that is the case for you, check out our guide on how to do leg press at home here.
All things considered, the leg press machine is definitely a fantastic choice for building leg strength in your workout routine - just try to use some other lower body exercises too.