The Ultimate Guide to Leg Press Machines
The leg press machine is one of the pieces of equipment that fitness enthusiasts are the most excited to add to their home gyms.
Most models are easy for beginners to use, but they also can handle lots of weight for more advanced fitness enthusiasts. These machines optimize each rep to build optimal lower body strength safely. Strong legs and glutes look great, but they also help you run faster and jump higher.
If you’re considering adding a leg press machine to your home gym, you should first consider the differences between a leg press machine and a squat machine, as both work similar muscle groups and have similar benefits. Then, you’ll want to compare the different types of leg press machines available, and then compare the features on each model.
In this article, we’ll take you through all of these steps so you have the information you need to choose the right leg press machine for your home gym.
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How a Leg Press Machine Works
When using a leg press machine, the user typically sits in a semi-reclined position, places their feet on a platform, and uses their leg muscles to push the platform forward with their feet until their legs are almost fully extended (not locked). The plates or platforms are weighted with barbells or a weight stack.
This movement works muscles including the quadriceps (“quads”) in the front of the thigh, the hamstrings of the back of the thigh, the gluteus muscles (“glutes”) of your backside, and, to a lesser degree, your calf muscles.
You can vary your foot position to engage different muscles as you do the exercise.
Leg Press vs Squat
The leg press and the squat are essentially the same exercises. What’s different is the position of the weights. In a leg press, the weights are pushed forward by the feet, and in a squat, they’re resting on the shoulders and you push them up by fully standing up.
Experts continue to debate the benefits and drawbacks of traditional strength training on machines vs. functional training exercises.
Strength training machines, leg press machines included, squats included, tend to focus on very specific movements and muscles. On the other hand, functional training exercises allow the person exercising more freedom to emulate how they’d naturally move in real life. For example, people have to squat multiple times throughout the day to bend and pick things up off the floor. Functional exercises also tend to engage more muscles at once. A weighted squat exercise also engages your core, back and hips, in addition to the muscles in your legs and backside.
For that reason, many fitness experts advise incorporating both exercises into a fitness routine. The leg press can help beginners establish greater leg strength before someone moves on to weighted squats. Machines also have the benefit of reducing potential injury or wear and tear that are more common with less restricted exercises — namely, it’s much more difficult to injure your back on a leg press machine than it is on a squat rack. Finally, leg press may help those who are looking to even out their training by focusing on, say, quads if their hamstrings are already strong from another exercise, such as running.
Types of Leg Press Machines
There are two types of leg press machines commonly seen in commercial gyms, and a third that is relatively rare but has some benefits. Let’s explore each type.
- Leg Press Hack Squat Combo Machines - These are ideal for home gyms, garage gyms or smaller spaces that need to be selective in what types of equipment they're adding. There are major benefits to having one machine to perform both hack squats and leg presses, especially in a home gym. However, there are some downsides that are almost universal to these machines, such as a narrow footplate and shorter range of motion during the hack squat.
- Horizontal Leg Press Machine - This is the model that you’ve probably seen the most in gyms. The user sits almost fully upright and pushes the platform outward away from their body. These machines are typically weighted with selectorized weights (users simply insert pins at their desired weight), which makes them relatively safer to use and easier to adjust than leg press machines that use plates. In some machines, you can move the position of the seat to perform weighted calf raises in addition to the leg press.
- Incline Leg Press Machine - The back of the seat of this machine sits at a 45-degree angle. The foot platform is weighted with plates, and when you use the machine you push the platform in an upward direction, fighting both the weight of the plates and gravity. The main advantage of this machine is that you can load more weight than you can with a traditional machine.
- Vertical Leg Press Machine - Though it might look odd, these machines can mimic a full-blown weighted squat while keeping your back and neck completely safe. Instead of crushing your spine with a loaded barbell, you can stack plates on the top of this setup, get underneath the machine, and squat straight up into the air. Make sure you’re limber; that way, you can do this exercise safely, without worrying about getting stuck at the bottom of a rep.
Leg Press Machine Features
- Friction-free movement - Pillow block bearings generate a motion that simulates the experience of squats, yet with an increased level of both guidance and safety.
- A solid frame - A uniframe base ensures a solid, firm, and completely stable experience.
- A comfortable, durable seat pad - Just like any other piece of exercise equipment, you should look for a seat or padding with high-quality foam that will last and keep the exercise inviting and comfortable.
- A wide foot plate - A wide foot plate helps make sure that the people who use the machine can secure their bodies properly and align their joints correctly.
- Pre-start lever - A pre-start lever allows users to start leg presses from the extended position, which minimizes knee joint strain and risk of injury.
- Seat-back adjustments - A wide range of adjustments will maximize the range of motion that the machine can accommodate, making more exercises possible for a wider range of people.
- Built-in weight storage - If you choose a leg press machine that uses plates, choosing a model with built in storage for those plates can make your gym planning easier.
- Adjustable safety stops - Some models come with adjustable safety stops so you don’t injure yourself if your legs give out during a workout.
Before You Buy
Before you make a final selection on your leg press machine, make sure that your purchase is protected by a warranty. What would you have to do to return the machine? How would the retailer or manufacturer handle things if the machine arrives damaged or defective? You may also want to invest in professional delivery and installation, especially if you end up choosing a larger or heavier model.
At Strength Warehouse USA, we’re committed to supporting our customers throughout each purchase they make. We guarantee our products and offer delivery and installation services, even for the largest pieces of equipment.
If you’re ready to start comparing specific models of leg press machines, check out our suggestions: The Best Leg Press Machines of 2021
You can also check our full collection of leg press machines here: Leg Press Machines for Sale