Switch Up Your Leg Press with These Foot Placement Variations
Different foot placements on a leg press machine can dictate which leg muscles you use during exercise.
The leg press exercise should be a fundamental part of anyone's leg development program. It is a great tool to build leg strength without the risk of injury by minimizing the stress on your spine. This article will explain how to vary your leg press foot placement to target different muscles and maximize your use of this piece of equipment.
What is a Leg Press anyway?
A leg press is a strength training exercise where the individual pushes a weight away from their body using their legs. This exercise is performed on a leg press machine, where the user sits and pushes a platform equipped with weights, with the weight resistance set by the user. The leg press effectively works a variety of leg muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, with the targeted muscle groups varying based on foot placement. It's particularly valued for its capacity to build leg strength while minimizing stress on the spine, offering a safer alternative to exercises like squats and deadlifts.
The 6 Best Leg Press Foot Placements
There are six (6) standard leg press foot placement styles. Each of these different foot positions can help you target leg development in the specific area of your choosing.
- Traditional Foot Placement
- High Foot Placement - Leg Press for Glutes and Hamstrings
- Low Foot Placement - Leg Press for Quads
- Narrow Foot Placement - Leg Press for Outer Thighs
- Wide Foot Placement - Leg Press for Inner Thighs
- Toes Only - Leg Press for Calves
Remember, the leg press primarily works your quadriceps muscle. The glutes, hamstrings and calves are not as active during this movement. Below we'll explore how to target specific parts of your quad and also how to lessen the load up front and get more muscle activation on your glutes, hamstrings, and calves by changing up your foot placement during the leg press.
Traditional Leg Press Foot Placement
The most popular and standard starting position for your feet on a leg press is very similar to a squat or deadlift. You'll want to keep your feet about shoulder width apart, in the middle of the platform. This positioning is going to target your leg muscles in the most balanced way possible.
The regular stance is probably the best leg press foot placement and what you'll use most often on a 45-degree leg press. Leg presses are a great way develop strong, sturdy legs without having to barbell squat.
High Foot Placement - Leg Press for Glutes and Hamstrings
A high foot position is a popular way to do leg presses. You will move your feet up on the platform, meaning your toes will be closer to the top edge and remain about shoulder width apart.
Using a high foot placement technique is going to reduce the range of motion at your knee, while increasing both hip flexion and extension compared to the normal leg press set up.
This is the best leg press variation to target activation in both your hamstrings and gluteal muscles and strengthening your posterior chain. The leg press by nature, cannot isolate these muscles however. Your quads will still get a lot of work done - specifically the inner vastus medialis muscle.
Low Foot Placement - Leg Press for Quads
Want to use the leg press for big, strong quad muscles? Low foot placement is the set up you'll want to use. A lower foot placement is going to decrease both hip flexion and extension while increasing the range of motion needed at your knee - isolating the quad mucles.
This movement is perfect to really engage your quadriceps with minimal glute and hamstring activation. A few sets of these will have your legs burning!
Another variation of this would be the "duck stance" - combining both the low and narrow foot placements. At the bottom of the platform position your heels together and point your toes angled outward towards the sides of the platform instead of straight forward. This will really emphasize the use of your quadriceps and help with developing a that coveted teardrop shape!
Setting up on the lower end of the leg press platform may be more difficult or problematic for someone is prone to or has pre-existing knee injuries because of the range of motion, ankle and hip mobility required. It is really important to strengthen your feet, ankles, hips, anterior tibialis and more to have healthy, strong and secure knees.
Narrow Foot Placement - Leg Press for Outer Thigh Muscles
Using your leg press with a narrow foot placement will help target the outer muscles of your quad and thigh in an effective way.
Starting from your traditional leg press foot placement, move your feet closer together (less than shoulder width apart). While hip width is the most common, you can even put your feet all the way together so that they are touching.
This is a good change up to target the development of your outer quad muscles, including the adductors and vastus lateralis.
Wide Foot Placement - Leg Press for Inner Thigh Muscles
Inner thigh muscles, also known as adductors, consist of five main muscles: adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, gracilis, and obturator externus. These muscles are essential for stabilizing movement and are actively involved in activities like running, jumping, and balancing. They play a critical role in bringing your legs together and in maintaining overall lower body strength.
To accentuate the use of your abductors, inner hamstrings and inner quads, place your feet wider during your leg press. You can go anywhere from your traditional setup to having your feet all the way on the edges of the platform.
Another wide stance leg press variation of this would be "sumo stance", where you turn your feet out a bit.
Toes Only - Leg Press for Calves
This one is simple for most to understand! If you want to target your calves while using a leg press machine, you need to treat it like you're doing calf raises.
For this movement, you'll want to position your toes on the very bottom of the leg press platform. The majority of your foot will be off the platform completely.
Next, push away the platform by extending your knees, but don't lock out all the way. From this position, move the weight carriage up and down by pushing through your feet and flexing your calf muscles.
Slowly lower the weight carriage back down to complete the rep. You can do a lightweight, high rep sets to really burn out your calves!
Leg Press Foot Placement Conclusion
Now that you've learned about these leg press variations, it's time to put them into practice during your leg workouts. We've told you how to target the quads, glutes, hamstrings an even calves - so let's go build some strong legs using the leg press machine.
If you'd like to learn more about leg press machines, please read our Ultimate Guide to Leg Press Machines.
What do you think the best foot placement variation is? Let us know in the comments!