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How to do the Leg Press: Alternatives, Benefits and Videos (2019)

Leg Press Banner Image

Using a leg press machine is a great way to strengthen and define your muscles. The leg press is a great way to warm up those key muscles if you’re going to squat or deadlift. 

If you are a beginner at the gym and always wondered how to use a leg press machine, OriGym have created an in-depth guide for the leg press to ensure you are safe on the machine and help you improve your physique.

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What is the leg press?

The Leg press targets multiple muscles in the legs as it's a great compound exercise. This is supported by Jones and Sencil

 A leg press machine for exercising groups of muscles located in the legs, mainly the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

In most gyms there are two types of leg press machine to choose from: 

One of those is called a horizontal and vertical leg press. This means you will need to add weights on either side of the machine. The person using it will be below the sled and pushes upwards with their feet.

It’s important to note there is adjustable safety brackets that prevent the user from being trapped under the weight.

The seated leg press has a cable with weighted plates and the user will sit upright and will push their feet that is attached to the weight stack.

How to use the leg press?

It’s important to mention that you will need to warm up before using the machine. We suggest doing some walking, cycling or jogging. This can be followed up by some stretching just to loosen those muscles, this will ensure you will get all the leg press benefits.

Dynamic stretching is a great way to warm muscles up before performing any exercise. As said by Herman, SL and Smith:

The goals of the pre-exercise warm-up should be to promote an increase in core body temperature and blood flow, to increase muscle tendon suppleness, and to enhance free coordinated movements, which, in turn, help prepare the body for exercise. 

An example of a dynamic stretch could be a jog to quad stretch or hip circles to ensure all joints are loose before performing the exercise.  

Once you have warmed up follow the steps below carefully to ensure you do not injure yourself. Below will be how to use the leg press machine:

Starting position

Leg press machine: Correct feet position  

  • Place your feet on the pad shoulder-width apart.
  • Point your feet slightly outward so they aren’t pointing straight forward.
  • Your bottom should be flat than raised
  • Your legs should form an angle of about 90 degrees at the knees
  • Your knees should be in line with your feet and neither be bowed inward nor outward.

Once you’ve got all of the above done correctly, you are ready to take the next stage to execute the press. 

It’s important to note when you sit down at a leg press machine, ensure that seat is positioned which is comfortable to you or you could risk injury.

We advise you to use a lighter weight so you can get the technique right, when you are more comfortable, you can increase the weight slowly.

Here’s how to use the sled leg press if you’re pressing with a vertical, horizontal or 45 degree:

Sled Leg Press

  • Release the leg press handles and slowly straighten your legs
  • Keep your entire back, particularly your lower back firmly against the set. This ensures that this mainly focuses on the that this focuses on leg press for glutes and removes any strain on the back.
  • Keep your feet set and try not to move it as it could be potentially dangerous.
  • As you press ensure that you do not lock your knees and over stretch as it could potentially injure you.
  • Pause at the top, as you lower your legs be careful to not bounce your knees off your chest then press again.
  • Once you have finished your repetitions, ensure that you lock the handles in place. If you are using a vertical leg press always

Leg Press from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Here’s how to use the leg press machine If you’re pressing with a ‘cable’ type leg press:

Cable Leg Press

  • Grip the assist handles to provide support, ensure your head is rested on the pad and back in position.
  • Push the plate with your heels and forefoot. The heels should remain flat as you press.
  • As you exhale, extend your legs and keep your head and back flat back against the seat. Try to go slow rather than using any sort of explosive movement.
  • Once you have reached the top of the movement, pause. Ensure that you do not lock your knees to prevent any injury.
  • As you inhale, return the footplate to the starting position by gradually bending the knees. Keep the feet and back flat throughout.
  • If you are a beginner, start at a modest weight and do a standard 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Once you are more comfortable you will be able to increase the weight as you increase your strength.

The advantages and disadvantages of each Leg Press

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages for each of the horizontal and vertical leg press. Of course, it’s entirely up to you on how comfortable you are feeling to try these machines out.

You would need to look at both the advantages and disadvantages of the leg press. As said by Simonsen:

Leg press machines, however, do not provide an effective counterbalance over the full range of motion, particularly in view of the different initial positions for exercisers of varying stature.

If you’re using the sled leg press advantages:

  • These machines will enable you to add more weight to the machine, which means you can push your workouts to the hypertrophy zone to increase muscular size.
  • You will see fast progression in leg development as it’s a compound exercise.

Disadvantages of the sled leg press:

  • Poor form would cause injury to yourself so ensure that you get the movement done correctly before putting weight on the machine.
  • If you add too much weight on to the machine of course means that you could injure yourself so always ensure you apply the weight that’s needed correctly.

Advantages If you are using the cable leg press:

  • This machine will be great if you are a complete beginner to the gym, this will enable anyone to get the technique correctly and safely at a lower weight.
  • It will help anyone who has been injured previously to get back in to fitness and can be used for muscular endurance.

Disadvantages to using the cable leg press:

  • Unlike the sled leg press, there is a restriction on to how much weight you’ll be able to put on it as there is a weight limit to the plates.
  • The weighted plates may mean that you can hide strength inbalances

Leg Press Benefits

The leg press machine provides a number of benefits that helps with your strength of your lower body and a great compound exercise. The leg press muscles worked are listed below as well!

1. The Leg Press is great for all stages of fitness and variation to the exercises.

Leg press made for everyone

The leg press is a useful tool for those who are complete beginners who decide to join the gym. The machine is relatively easy and safe to use. It’s a great muscle builder as long as the machine is used correctly.

With the vertical leg press, you can work various parts of your legs by adjusting your feet on the plate. To get the benefits of the leg press for glutes and hamstrings If you place your feet higher up on the plate,

If you decide to lower your feet you could workout your calves by stretching them and it’s a great leg press calf raise exercise. If you decided to have your feet in a slightly wider stance, you will be working out your thighs.

Using foot placement is vital by focusing on different areas of the lower body, even though you are concentrating on one muscle group, you will still be working different areas as well but not as much since it’s a compound exercise.

2. Strengthening glute muscles.

Glute Muscles Worked: Leg Press

Your glutes are one of the main groups of muscles in the lower body. The leg press muscles worked is great as it uses your gluteal muscles as stabilisers. This will help strengthen and engage your muscles.

Having strong glutes means that you will be able to execute a wide variety of lower body exercises. This has to be one of the best leg press benefits.

3. Building strong hamstrings

Hamstring Muscles Worked Leg Press

The benefit you get from doing the horizontal leg press on a regular basis, this will help develop your hamstrings by shaping and strengthening them. Having strong hamstrings ensures a good push off power which will benefit any other exercises. 

The leg press muscles worked ensures stronger hamstrings will go a long way from preventing injuries or pulled muscles as well.

4. Building stronger calves

Calves Muscles Worked Leg Press

This is a great leg press calf raise, if you adjust your feet on the plate towards the bottom, you will be able to strengthen your calf muscles. Even though the calf muscles may not benefit as much as the other muscles in the leg press.

By positioning your feet lower on the plate, this will help you stretch and strengthen your calves. Having strong calves is very important for preventing injuries and pulled muscles as well. This is definitely a leg press for a calf raise to consider!

5.Strengthening Quadriceps

Quadriceps Muscles Worked

The horizontal leg press also fantastic for strengthening your quads. The leg press engages your quads on the initial push off and in reality, most of the power that you will generate is from the quadriceps. You could even strengthen further to a single leg press which can be an alternative to strengthen the quadriceps. 

As you retract the weight back your quadriceps will be used as secondary stabilisers. Having strong quadriceps is important for everyday activities such as walking and standing.

6. Improve Jumping and Running Speed

Sprint Leg Press Benefits

The seated leg press will improve your endurance of your legs and strengthen the power in your legs. If you decide to use the seated the leg press in your routine regularly, you will find that you will have an increase in explosive strength and you’ll be able to exercise longer due to its endurance.

In terms of jumping, once you start using the leg press machine in your normal workout routine, it will provide a much more stable base which could be used for any.

7. Greater Balance

Balance Leg Press Benefits

One of the best leg press benefits of using this machine is that you will achieve a better balance as you will be using this machine more often. 

Your balance is key for strength in your legs, your muscles will adapt accordingly to positional changes.

The seated leg press machine does help over time provide your body with a more stable foundation to stand. This will prevent any sort of injuries to bones or your hips as you will get stronger once you get more comfortable with the machine. 

The Leg Press Alternatives

Sometimes in the gym, there could only be just the 1 leg press machine, you could be lucky to get 2. Here are some leg press alternatives which would be useful to you if the machines are busy.

You will be able to do the workouts with either dumbbells, no weights, or a barbell. These exercises target different muscle groups and these alternatives will help you get stronger. From the smith machine squats to a single leg press, find out more to improve your workouts!

1.Resistance Band Broad Jumps

If you’re looking for a leg press alternative, you’ve definitely found a great alternative! This exercise are fantastic for developing power through your legs. Using resistance bands for this exercise makes it even more challenging to anyone who does it.

This is a great exercise for targeting your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and your glute muscles.

Here’s on how to do this alternative to the leg press exercise:

  • Attach a long resistance band to a tower of any cable machine.
  • Step into the resistance band and place the band around your hips.
  • Walk out, slowly of course! Until there’s tension in the band.
  • Bend the knees, bring your arms backwards and with explosive power jump forwards and remember, drive from your hips!
  • Once you land, you should be in a semi-squat position. Remember, to land with your knees bent to absorb the impact of the jump.
  • Walk back slowly whilst maintaining tension and get ready to perform your next rep. If you’re feeling up to it we suggest to do 10 to 12 reps.

2.Toes Up Landmine Squats

If you’re looking for a leg press variation, this exercise is great for those who are more experienced in the gym! This exercise focuses not only on pushing weight like a leg press, this specific exercise helps you work different areas of the muscles that a regular leg press may not target.

Here’s how to do the following exercise:

  • Set the barbell in a landmine attachment, load an appropriate weight. We suggest starting off light so you can get used to the technique.
  • Place 2 weighted plates on the floor in front of you.
  • Face away from the landmine, place the barbell on one of your shoulders and position your toes on the plates on the floor so your heels are only on the ground.
  • Lean back on the barbell, bend your knees and lower yourself in to a squat and pause.
  • As you push up, do not lock your knees at the top of the movement.
  • Once you have finished the reps on one side, repeat on the other side and we suggest 10 to 12 repetitions each side.

3.Barbell Front Squats

The front and back squats are very similar however, if the weight is loaded on front of your body rather than the back, this will work your quadriceps more than the glutes.

This leg press alternative is great If you feel like you want to challenge yourself, try this front squat exercise.

Here’s how to do the following exercise:

  • Ensure a should width stance. Load the barbell in to the front track positions and place the bar across the collar bones. Your hand positioning is vital so ensure that you have loose hands, the wrists flexed back and elbows facing upwards.
  • Engage your core and drive through your hips, always bend your knees to lower your down in to a squat position. Also ensure that the lumbar curve is maintained.
  • Keep the chest and point the elbows up as you don’t want to lean too far forward in to the squat. This will ensure that when you do squat, the heels will be flat.
  • When you push back up, ensure that you squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. We suggest doing 10 to 12 repetitions per set.

Front Squat from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

4. Single Leg Dumbbell Step Ups

If you’re looking for a leg press variation with using dumbbells this exercise is fantastic as it focuses on unilateral strength. The continuous load on the single leg helps build muscle through your glutes. This is a great alternative to a single leg press. 

Here’s how to do the following exercise:

  • Have dumbbells on either side and have them extended.
  • Have a bench at knee height and stand in front of a bench or box at an appropriate height.
  • Place your weaker leg on the bench, this leg will stay there until the end of your set.
  • As you drive your heel through, push upwards so that you are standing on the bench.
  • Prevent yourself from resting your other leg on the bench or box, leave it in the air for a second before putting it back to the ground.
  • Complete all repetitions either changing sides or alternating. We suggest if you are completely new to the exercise to aim between 10-12 reps on each side, once you are more comfortable aim to do 12-15 on each side.

Dumbbell Step Up from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

 5. Bulgarian Split Squats

This exercise is fantastic for the quadriceps as there should be constant tension at one leg at a time. This leg press alternative is a great exercise to without placing pressure or tension on your spine. 

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Have your arms extended by your sides.
  • Stand and face away from the bench, preferably a bench which is knee height.
  • Place one of your feet on the bench and slowly edge forward until you are in a lunge stance.
  • Once you’re in the right position, bend both knees and lower your body towards the ground. This specific exercise will make you feel tension in the front part of your leg and glute, you will also feel a stretch through your quad and hip flexor.
  • Always make sure to keep your chest up, the weight will be on the front heel and your knee must always be behind your toes.
  • Push back so your front leg is straight and always make sure you do not lock your knees.
  • We suggest doing 10-12 rep on each side before changing sides.

Bulgarian Split Squat from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

6. Dumbbell Walking Lunges

Another leg press alternative exercise would be walking lunges. This alternative to the leg press is great for building muscles through your glutes and quads.

Here’s how to do the dumbbell walking lunges:

  • Ensure you have a dumbbell in each hand and keeps your arms by your side.
  • Stand in a neutral stance.
  • Take a big step forward and bend both knees, then you can lower your body towards the ground.
  • Ensure that the chest is up and like the Bulgarian Split Squat ensure that the weight is on the front heel and your front knee is behind your toes.
  • Push back upwards whilst taking your next stride.
  • We suggest if you are a beginner to choose lighter dumbbells so you can get the technique right. We also suggest to either do 10 to 12 repetitions on each leg.

Dumbbell Walking Lunge from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

7. Barbell Step Ups 

This exercise is great for people who want to do a leg press without a machine. This unilateral, multi-joint exercise which is great for quadriceps, your glutes and fantastic for your core.

This is a great workout as it helps your balance and symmetry and is a great alternative to the leg press.

Here’s how to do the Barbell Step Ups:

  • Place the barbell on your back like as if you are performing a back squat.
  • Stand in front of the bench, choose a bench which is knee height so you would be able to step up on to it.
  • Step up on to the bench or box with your weaker leg first, drive through your heel and the middle of the foot.
  • Ensure both feet will be on the bench before stepping back down.
  • When you next step up on to the bench it will be the alternate leg.
  • As you continue with the reps, alternate both legs from one to the other.

Barbell Step up from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

8. Barbell Hip Thrusts 

If you’re looking for a good hip extension exercise, the glutes and hamstrings. This specific workout is great for power, strength and power. It has to be important to get the technique correct for the exercise to be effective.

Some people may find the barbell to be uncomfortable when performing this exercise. We suggest purchasing a barbell pad to perform this exercise. We feel like it’s a great leg press without a machine

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Find a stable bench and sit leaning up against it.
  • Roll the barbell over the lap so it meets the crease of your hips.
  • Bend the knees and have your feet close to your hips, when you thrust, your knees should be at a 90 degree angle.
  • Once you take a deep breath, push your hips until your shoulders are on the bench and your hips are fully extended.
  • Once you have reached the top of the movement, squeeze those glutes and hold between 1-2 seconds.
  • Lower your back and repeat the exercise. We suggest doing between 12 to 15 reps.

Barbell Hip Thrusters from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

9. Weighted Wall Sits 

If you wanted to target your quadriceps in a similar way if you’re going for a narrow leg press, this is a great alternative to a sled leg press for you.

We suggest if you are brand new to the exercise to just try body weight, if you add weight to the stance, this exercise is going to be more challenging.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Have a suitable weight in your hands that would be ready to go.
  • Stand against the wall and slowly walk your feet out.
  • Lower your body downwards until the thighs are parallel to the ground, please make sure your knees are behind or in line with your toes.
  • Once you are in a stable position, hold the position and we suggest between 30 to 60 seconds!

Weighted Wall Sit from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

10. Smith Rack Squats 

If you’re looking for an alternative to the leg press, the smith machine enables you to load a significant amount of weight on in comparison to a regular standard barbell squat.

The exercise is very similar to the leg press but instead, it’s in reverse. This is a great leg press without a machine.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Load the machine up with an appropriate weight, do not overload the machine so you can prevent any injury.
  • Stand within the rack and place the bar on your back like a regular back squat.
  • Have your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Engage your core and send your hips backwards, ensure that you keep the weight in your heels and squat by bending the knees.
  • We advise once the squat is complete, your thighs should be parallel to the ground.
  • Push back up to the standing position and ensure you do not lock your knees.
  • We suggest doing 10 to 12 repetitions per set.

Smith Rack Squat from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

11. Resistance Band Leg Press

If you’re looking for a leg press variation, this exercise is great as it replicates the leg press as you are pushing the weight away from the body. This exercise is perfect for beginners as you’ll be able to learn the technique of the leg press.

Of course, you cannot achieve the same results as a regular leg press but it’s a great start and a great leg press without a machine!

Here’s how to do the exercise:

Lie on your back and bend your knees, attach the resistance bands on the arch of your feet.

  • Hold the other end of the resistance band with both hands and to maximise tension in the band, hold the band to your chest.
  • Bring the knees towards your chest without lifting the hips of the ground.
  • Push your legs away from you, ensure you go slow until your legs are straight.
  • Squeeze the quads at the end of the movement and bring your knees back to your chest.
  • We suggest doing between 12 to 15 repetitions per set.

Resistance Band Leg Press from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

12. Single Leg Press/ Unilateral Leg Press

We left this one till last as even though you will still need to use the leg press, this exercise is great for solving an imbalance in legs. Usually there is one side which is usually stronger or bigger than the other.

When you do a single leg press, you are ensuring each side to perform an equal workload.

Here’s how to do the single leg press:

  • Load the machine at an appropriate weight. Ensure that you pick a weight which even your weaker leg will be able to complete the set.
  • Seat yourself on the machine and adjust the seat accordingly. Plant one foot on the platform in line with your hip.
  • You free foot can either be relaxed on the ground, ensure that you have your head on the rest and spine rested against the seat.
  • Fully extend the knee but do not lock your knees, once you are ready, unlock the sled.
  • Lower the weight by bending the knee and hold the handles as you do the manoeuvre, ensure you do not move your lumbar spine whilst doing this exercise.
  • Pause briefly when you have finished the motion and return back to position by extending the hip and knee. Ensure you do not lock your knees at the top.
  • Complete the exercise and We suggest that you do 10 – 12 repetitions per set!

Unilateral Single Leg Press from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

 Before you go!

We hope that you found our guide useful to use the leg press. If you are looking for more interesting workouts check out these exercise articles!

If you are interested in a new career in fitness, why not download our prospectus or check out our Level 2 Fitness Instructor and Level 3 Personal Trainer Courses which are accredited by REPS and CIMSPA.

References:

Herman, Sonja L1,2; Smith, Derek T2,3 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2008 - Volume 22 - Issue 4 - p 1286-1297

R Simonson - US Patent 5,616,107, 1997 - Google Patents

AA Jones, P Sencil - US Patent 5,484,365, 1996 - Google Patents

 

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Written by Zac Yeo

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

With a BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations from Kingston University and previous experience working in the finance sector, Zac’s passion for fitness brought him to OriGym, and ultimately led him to become a qualified Personal Trainer. With a keen interest in developing consumer trends, Zac enjoys the creation of deep, insightful content catering to new trends and has contributed to various publications including the Daily Star. Outside of work, Zac can be found watching football, either in-person supporting Charlton Athletic or virtually on Fifa.