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How to Use a Leg Press Machine: Let's Make It Simple

How to Use a Leg Press Machine

Understanding the Leg Press Machine

Do you ever stand in front of the leg press machine and wonder how to use it right, or how you can properly use it to get the best results? No matter if it's your first time at the gym or you’re a professional athlete who wants to improve your technique, this machine will be a powerful tool to increase your lower body strength. Leg press machines are widely accessible and effectively target your quads, glutes, hams, and calves, helping develop your leg muscles in a stable, controlled manner. 

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use it properly from choosing among the different types of leg press machines, proper form, amount of weight to use, and what mistakes to avoid. Keep reading to get tips on how to get the most out of your leg day workout safely and efficiently!

Types of Leg Press Machines

To help you find the best leg press machines you might want to add to your workout routine, here’s a rundown of the common types:

Incline Leg Press

The incline leg press, also referred to as the 45-degree leg press, has you lying back and pushing the weight in an upward motion. This machine’s movement pattern is very natural and really targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Horizontal Leg Press

This machine has a seat that moves horizontally. This variation is commonly applied in rehabilitation because it has minimal strain on the joints and the back, and is thus ideal for people with joint problems or those who have injuries.

Seated Leg Press

The seated leg press exercise positions you upright and you push the weight forward. This machine has a backrest which can be a great comfort for beginners who often need help with stability.

For a closer look at the different types of leg press machines, check out our comprehensive guide on the 8 Types of Leg Press Machines.

How to Use the Leg Press Machine

How to Use a Leg Press Machine: Proper Form

Proper Form When Doing Leg Presses

Maintaining proper form is crucial for muscle activation and injury prevention [2]. Follow this step-by-step guide:

  1. Preparation: Begin with a general warm-up consisting of 5-10 minutes of light cardio exercises to increase blood flow and reduce the risk of injury.
  2. Starting Position: Sit comfortably with your back and head pressed against the padding. Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the weighted platform.
  3. Adjust Settings: Ensure the seat and backrest are adjusted so your knees form a 90-degree angle when starting.
  4. Executing the Press: Grasp the handles for support, disengage the safety locks, and push the weight away by extending your legs. Avoid locking your knees at full knee extension.
  5. Controlling the Descent: Lower the weight back slowly, maintaining control and keeping your leg muscles engaged.

During the leg press exercise, the primary muscles engaged include the quadriceps (front of your thighs), hamstrings (back of the thighs), and gluteal muscles [1]. Proper form ensures these muscles are optimally activated, preventing strain on your lower back and knee joints.

How to Use a Leg Press Machine: Leg Press Variations

How to Adjust the Leg Press Machine

Every leg press machine will have a few adjustment settings that you will want to go through to ensure proper fit when using the machine. 

You will want to pay attention to the positioning of the backrest and the seat. Some leg press models allow you to adjust one or both of these positions. When adjusting the seat, you will want to make sure that you are the appropriate height and/or angle to use the machine. The backrest can affect this as well, so make sure to adjust them accordingly to your size and comfortability. 

Most seat and backpad adjustments are made using a pop-pin. Make sure that the pin is fully inserted into the distance setting your choose and tightened up prior to use.

Some leg presses also allow you to adjust the footplate. This can be a to move it closer or farther away from your starting position. On a traditional incline leg press, there may only be 1 or 2 settings that are dictated by the safeties on the machine. 


Leg Press Machine Foot Placement and Variations

Your foot placement on the leg press machine’s foot plate can target different muscle groups:

  • High Placement: Emphasizes the glutes and hamstrings.
  • Low Placement: Targets the quadriceps more intensely.
  • Wide Stance: Engages the inner thighs and glutes.
  • Narrow Stance: Focuses on the outer quads.

Switching up your workout routine with different leg press foot placement variations can help target different muscle groups and keep your leg day workout diverse and challenging. 

Weight Selection and Progression for Leg Presses

Ensuring you’re not using too little or too much weight makes for safe and effective training. Remember these tips:

  1. Start Light: Begin with lighter weights to master your form.
  2. Progress Gradually: Increase the weight incrementally to match your growing strength.
  3. Prioritize Form: Always maintain proper form, regardless of the amount of weight.

Leg Press Machine Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Beginners or those who may have certain physical limitations can have the leg press machine modified to suit their needs. Weight and range of motion can be adjusted to match your fitness level. When it comes to the range of motion, greater knee flexion engages the quadriceps muscles and hip muscles more effectively, while altering leg rotation (inward or outward) shifts muscle recruitment [3]. 

Up for a Challenge?

Level up your leg-pressing game! Try the single-leg press exercise or incorporate a resistance band to increase the intensity of your workouts. Unilateral movements that demand better control enhance muscle imbalances, balance and coordination, while resistance bands can increase muscle activation. When doing leg presses, add in wall sits and other isometric exercises such as planks and static lunges to strengthen the same muscle groups.

Tip! If you’re looking for a leg press machine that’s safe for home use, one of the vertical leg press benefits is that it’s perfect for home gyms to save space.

How To Use a Leg Press: Benefits of the Leg Press Machine

Benefits of the Leg Press Machine

Incorporating this machine into your workout routine can bring numerous leg press benefits, including:

  • Overall Strength: Enhances lower body strength, supporting daily activities and sports.
  • Muscle Isolation: Allows focused training on muscle groups.
  • Safety: Provides a controlled environment, reducing risk of injury compared to free weights.
  • Rehabilitation: Suitable for those recovering from injuries due to its adaptable and supportive nature.

How to Properly Use the Leg Press: Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

To get the best results from your leg press exercise, avoid these common mistakes:

  • Using Too Much Weight: Start with a lighter load to focus on form before increasing weight. Excessively heavy weight can lead to improper technique and risk of injury.
  • Buttocks Not Flat Against Seat: Ensure your buttocks remain flat against the seat to maintain stability and reduce strain on your lumbar disks.
  • Placing Hands on Knees: Keep your hands on the handles to maintain proper form and balance.
  • Short Range of Motion: Use a full range of motion to engage muscles completely. Half-repping limits muscle activation and growth.
  • Raising Head: Keep your head and back firmly against the padding to avoid neck strain.
  • Incorrect Breathing: Exhale during the extension phase (pushing the weight) and inhale during the descent to maintain proper breathing and core stability.

Workout Routines Incorporating the Leg Press

Sample Leg Press Workouts

  • For Beginners: Start with a light weight to master proper form.
    Begin with 3 sets of 12-15 reps, focusing on a slow, controlled movement to engage the muscles properly.
  • For Intermediate Users: Increase the weight moderately and integrate variations like single-leg presses to challenge stability and strength. Suggested routine: 4 sets of 10 reps each leg, with moderate weight.
  • For Advanced Users: Focus on high intensity and heavy weight. Advanced routines can include pyramids or drop sets, starting with the heaviest weight for fewer reps and reducing the weight to increase number of reps over successive sets.

Integrating Leg Press into a Full Leg Day Workout

  • Start with a Warm-Up: Light cardio followed by dynamic stretches.
  • Progress to Compound Movements: Include squats or deadlifts before moving to the leg press to pre-exhaust the muscles.
  • Follow with the Leg Press: As a core part of your workout, focus on controlled movements to maximize muscle engagement.
  • Finish with Isolation Exercises: Such as leg curls or extensions to fully fatigue the muscle groups.

How to Use a Leg Press: FAQs

What are the downsides of the leg press machine?

The leg press machine can lead to lower back strain if not done correctly, especially if the seat adjustment and foot placement are not ideal for your body type. It also isolates the movement which can mean less engagement of stabilizing muscles compared to free weights like squats.

Learn more about how these two exercises fare against each other here: Leg Press vs Squat: A Showdown for Lower Body Strength.

How much weight should a beginner leg press?

A beginner should start with a weight that personally feels challenging yet manageable to complete 3 sets of 12-15 reps. It's crucial to focus on technique and proper form before gradually increasing the weight.

What muscles does the leg press machine work?

The leg press exercise primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and calf muscles. Get detailed information on how leg presses target these muscles and how they help you build lower body strength from our article: Leg Press Muscles Worked: Your Guide to Leg Day

How to Use a Leg Press Machine: Conclusion

Incorporating the leg press into your workout routine can lead to significant gains in lower body strength and muscle definition, especially when you do it right. Understanding the different types of leg press machines, avoiding common mistakes, and practicing proper form will help you achieve the best results of a comprehensive and effective workout. Avoid the common mistakes we’ve shared here, explore foot placement variations, and gradually increase the weight to match your comfortability and fitness level.

Ready to smash your leg day workout? Check out our collection of the best leg press machines — this is going to be a valuable addition to your journey to transforming your lower body muscles. Keep your momentum going, prioritize proper form, and enjoy the ride to stronger, well-built legs!

Leg Press Continued Reading


  1. Escamilla, R. F., Fleisig, G. S., Zheng, N. A. I. Q. U. A. N., LANDER, J. E., Barrentine, S. W., ANDREWS, J. R., ... & MOORMAN III, C. T. (2001). Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(9), 1552-1566.
  2. Rossi, F. E., Schoenfeld, B. J., Ocetnik, S., Young, J., Vigotsky, A., Contreras, B., Krieger, J. W., Miller, M. G., & Cholewa, J. (2018). Strength, body composition, and functional outcomes in the squat versus leg press exercises. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 58(3), 263–270.
  1. Signorile, J. F., Lew, K. M., Stoutenberg, M., Pluchino, A., Lewis, J. E., & Gao, J. (2014). Range of Motion and Leg Rotation Affect Electromyography Activation Levels of the Superficial Quadriceps Muscles During Leg Extension. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(9), 2536–2545.
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About the Author: Joe Serrao, Owner of Strength Warehouse

Joe leverages over 20 years of intense workout experience and six years in the fitness industry. As a former collegiate football player, Joe knows what it takes to stay in peak physical condition. He's dedicated to providing straightforward, expert advice on setting up home gyms, personal training spaces, and commercial facilities. Balancing his passion for fitness with being a devoted family man, Joe’s rigorous full-body and metcon workouts exemplify his commitment to staying strong and being a role model for his kids and customers alike.

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