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The muscles in your legs are some of the largest muscles in the body, and responsible for moving you through some of your most demanding tasks.1 Having well developed quads, hamstrings and glutes is essential for sculpting a balanced physique and building functional strength. One of the most common exercises used for working out this huge and important muscle group is the leg press. Here, we’ll discuss the benefits of using the leg press, how it holds up against the barbell squat, as well as alternative exercises you can use to develop the same muscles.
Leg Press Machine
Leg press machines are common and popular workout machines that can be found in most gyms. There are a few different styles of leg press, and gyms will usually have at least 2 to choose from. Most leg press machines are made up of the same basic parts – a bench, a plate for your feet, and a mechanism of applying weight. The variation comes from bench placement, and how you can adjust the weight.
Horizontal Leg Press: This is the standard leg press, and has the user sitting upright on the bench with a back support. The foot plate is directly across from the bench, and moves horizontally on a track away from the user. On some machines, the bench will slide backwards on a track rather than the footplate moving. These machines are usually set up with a plate and pin mechanism for increasing weight at set intervals.
Incline Leg Press: On this machine, the bench is positioned so the user’s back is at a 45-degree angle from the floor. The foot plate is stacked on top, and the user pushes the plate up and away from them with every extension. Weight is usually applied by adding independent plates to bars on the machine, giving the user a bit more control on the weight increase.
Vertical Leg Press: The vertical leg press positions the back parallel to the floor, with the foot plate directly above. The user then pushes the foot plate upwards and away from them. This machine also allows the user to add weight using independent plates.
Leg Press Benefits
Here are just a few of the benefits of using the leg press:
- Heavier Weight: While free weight exercises may involve more muscles, that also means you have to adjust your lifting weight to accommodate your weakest muscles so you don’t sacrifice form and risk injury. While form is equally important in the leg press, as a targeted exercise you have the opportunity to really work the muscles in the leg to their full capacity. The added bonus here is that you can safely lift to failure without a spotter as most machines have a safety catch, giving you the freedom to push your limits during any workout.
- Targeted Workouts: As just mentioned, the leg press is a targeted workout machine, but small adjustments in foot placement can change the focus of the same movement. By moving your feet closer to the top of the foot plate, you can engage both your glutes and hamstrings more. By moving your feet farther down the plate, you can really focus on your quads. Wherever your feet are placed, it’s important to remember to never let your knees extent over your toes to prevent injury.
- Single Leg Movements: The leg press also allows you to target each leg individually with heavier weight. The same kind of muscle targeting mentioned above can be used in this setting as well. If one foot is higher on the foot pad, it will target the hamstring and glute, and a lower placement will target the quad.
- Good for Beginners & Injuries: Free weight exercises can be daunting for beginners, as there is a lot more to learn to maintain good form. Using the leg press is a great alternative if you want to lift heavy, but aren’t quite ready to put that barbell across your back. It also allows those with shoulder, neck, and some back injuries to continue to avoid the bar but still work out their legs efficiently.
Leg Press Vs. Squat
Thought of as the king of exercises in many bodybuilding circles, the barbell squat sometimes overshadows the leg press. But what are the major differences between these two popular exercises, and which is better?
As a large, compound movement, the barbell squat involves not only the major leg muscles, but also small stabilizer muscles all throughout the core to complete the movement properly.2 These stabilizer muscles work to keep your torso in place so that the only part of the body moving are the muscles in the legs. Because of this, you exert much more energy and to complete the movement. The squat also allows for a larger range of motion in the hip, which in turn helps to activate your hamstring, glute, and adductor muscles. The leg press limits this range of motion in the hip, therefore limiting adductor, hamstring, and glute activation.3
The barbell squat is a great exercise for targeting the entire lower body, and this makes it a superior move for some lifters. However, the leg press is an excellent tool for targeting specifically the quadricep muscles in the legs. As the machine doesn’t activate all the other muscles the squat does, more of the weight is being moved by this muscle, allowing you to really work and develop it.3 Both exercises have their place in a balanced workout routine. To get the most out of either exercise, try adding a testosterone support supplement to your daily routine like HexoFire Delta Prime. Strength training provides a natural testosterone surge for your body, and Delta Prime can help support the body’s natural testosterone production.
Leg Press Calf Raise
The leg press can also be used to work out the calf muscle – a sometimes forgotten muscle that can be difficult to train and develop. To use the leg press to target your calves, push the foot plate out to the top of the leg press movement so your legs are extended. From this position, use your calves to extend your foot, and then release so your feet are flat on the plate again to complete one rep. Because the calf muscles are used to push around your entire body weight all day, higher reps per set will be needed to fully fatigue them. You can also try this exercise using only one calf at a time. Just make sure to do your calf exercises at the end of your lower body workout so you can complete your bigger, compound movements properly and with higher weight.
Leg Press Alternatives
As functional as the leg press is for targeting specific muscle groups, other machines and exercises can target the same groups if you don’t have access to one, or are looking to change up your current routine:
- Leg Extensions: This is another machine commonly found in the gym, but unlike the leg press, this machine is made to specifically target the quads, usually by extending the legs straight out from a seated position.
- Hamstring Curls: Hamstring curls focus specifically on the back of the legs, a muscle group that is only secondarily targeted when using the leg press. From a seated or face down horizontal position, the hamstrings are activated by bringing your ankles towards the back of your legs.
- Calisthenics: You can also look at exercises don’t involve any machines, such as calisthenics, or body weight exercises. These include a bodyweight squats, squat jumps, and a variety of different lunges that can target all the different muscles in the leg.
By changing up your routine and including new and different exercises along with the leg press, you can activate and target different muscle groups to help you develop strong, muscular, and sculpted legs.
- 1Gomez, T. (2017, August 14). Biggest Muscles in the Human Body. LiveStrong.com. Retrieved May 10, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/120404-biggest-muscles-human-body/. View link.
- 2 Dale, P. (2017, October 5). Which Muscles are Used While Squatting with Weights? LiveStrong.com. Retrieved May 10, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/340572-which-muscles-are-used-while-squatting-with-weights/. View link.
- 3 Fritz, T. (n.d.). Quad Squad: The Squat and Leg Press. Muscle & Fitness. Retrieved May 9, 2018 from https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/legs-exercises/quad-squad-squat-and-leg-press?page=3. View link.