What Muscles Does Leg Press Work?

The legs make up the biggest muscles in the human body, and are by far the strongest and most dynamic muscles, allowing us to cover large distances at pace. They are powerful and our biggest asset. But a lot of people struggle to develop the various leg muscles effectively and evenly.

One of the exercises people rely on to develop muscle strength and mass is the leg press, however, this machine is quite controversial among weightlifters, and many people doubt its effectiveness.

This is because the king of leg exercises is the squat, due to the fact that it’s a compound exercise and highly dynamic, while the leg press is more of an isolation exercise that targets particular muscles and is less dynamic.

However, the leg press is very effective at what it does, and shouldn’t be disregarded entirely as for some people it can lead to significant improvements in strength and definition for key areas of the lower body.

In this guide, we’re going to break down these key areas that are targeted by the leg press, as well as the key benefits and drawbacks of the exercise to give you a better understanding of how to use this exercise as part of your overall leg workout.

But first, let’s establish what the leg press actually is.

Leg Press

What Is Leg Press?

The leg press is a lower body exercise that involves an individual pushing heavy weight away from their body using their legs. Usually, this exercise is done using a specific leg press machine designed to safely position the user below the weight and allow for maximum weight to be used for the exercise.

What Muscles Does Leg Press Target?

In this section, we’re going to look at the specific muscles the leg press targets, to give you a better understanding of how to use the exercise within your workout regime.


One of the main muscle groups exercised by the leg press is the glutes, one of the biggest muscles in the lower body. 

Located in the buttocks area and all around the hips and lower back, the glutes are incredibly important to all manner of exercises, as well as maintaining a good posture which is key to almost every exercise and sport.

The glutes are targeted particularly effectively by doing heavy leg presses with the feet positioned higher up on the press, as this helps to engage the glutes more.


The hamstrings are also targeted by the leg press, particularly when positioning the feet high in the same manner when attempting to target the glutes.

The hamstrings are located at the back of the legs and run up behind the knees and are critically important to almost all exercises. This makes developing their strength and power really important and is one of the best reasons for considering the leg press as a key part of your leg workout.


The main muscle targeted by the leg press is the quadriceps muscle. This is a muscle that many people find very difficult to build and is one of the most impressive-looking muscles if you can manage to develop them properly.

It is located just above the knee on the inside of the leg and is crucial for walking, running, and squatting. Developing powerful quads are really important for improving the power of your lower body, and also helps prevent injury.

The Benefits of the Leg Press

  • The key benefit of the leg press is that it allows you to fully isolate and focus on the lower body while doing this exercise, as your back and upper body is supported by the chair and the handles.
  • Adjusting the position of your feet on the press allows you to target various muscles more effectively making the exercise easy to tailor to your own goals.
  • The leg press is more effective than any other exercise at targeting the quads as there is a more restricted range of motion than with other exercises like the squat.
  • Leg presses can be done alone without a spotter and take a lot of strain off the upper body making it ideal for people who are injured.

The Drawbacks of the Leg Press

  • It can be hard to do a leg press anywhere other than a gym that has a proper leg press machine.
  • The leg press isn’t as dynamic as a squat.
  • Locking the knees can be risky and damage your knee or leg.
  • There is a risk of rounding the back due to pressing too much weight.
  • It can be hard to tell if you’re working one leg more than the other.

Leg Press Tips

Single-Leg Press

To avoid issues with uneven progress or working one leg more than the other, consider using a single leg on the press, reducing the weight, and focusing on one leg at a time.

This will allow you to avoid issues with uneven progress and help prevent issues with rounding of the back or safety issues.

Foot placement

Proper foot placement is key for getting the most out of the leg press. Higher foot placement will allow you to develop the glutes and hamstrings far more effectively, however, a lower foot placement will isolate the quads more, so try mixing up both depending on your own personal need and goals.

Final Thoughts

While the leg press isn’t the most popular exercise and isn’t used by everyone who lifts weights, it’s definitely something you should consider making use of as it does offer very specific benefits for key areas of the lower body, particularly if you struggle with quad development, hamstring strength, and better glutes.

Thinking of the leg press as a direct competitor or replacement for something like the weighted squat is a mistake, but using the leg press to bolster your leg workout regime is a great way to accelerate your progress and strength.

Check our list of the best vertical leg press machines here. 

Kevin Harris