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What are Leg Presses?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Leg presses are adjustable pieces of exercise equipment which work the hamstrings; quadriceps; and gluteus maximus and medius, collectively referred to as the glutes. Leg presses make it possible to perform calf exercises, also. In general, leg presses strengthen the legs.

Many versions of leg presses exist, including a seated version, a horizontal version, and a vertical machine on which the user lies horizontally with legs extended into the air. Whether in a seated or lying position, the user pushes the "sled," or footplate, away from the body. With some leg presses, the user can vary the foot position.

Seated leg presses are easier to enter and exit, and therefore preferable for users with difficulty moving fluidly. A leg press machine is helpful for people who are unable to perform squats due to back problems or other issues. Over time, many users progress to using a leg press machine one leg at a time. There are some precautions to consider when using leg presses:

  • Always keep the lower back flush with the back of the seat.
  • Do not lock your knees.
  • Use a seated version if you have high blood pressure.
  • Do not hold your breath for long periods while using a leg press.
  • Keep your knees in line with your toes.

To begin using a leg press, try a few repetitions before adding weight to the sled. Determine the proper alignment of the equipment and decide whether you are more comfortable with your feet pointed straight ahead or slightly outward. Unless your form is perfect, a few sets of five to six repetitions are more effective in the long run than performing fewer sets with many repetitions.

It is important to keep your abdominal muscles tight when using a leg press. When the legs are fully extended, your knees should still be slightly flexed. Aim for a smooth motion.

Most upright leg presses allow the user to adjust the slant of the seat. No matter what position, the exercise is effective, so using a variety of positions is acceptable. On a horizontal leg press, be sure to familiarize yourself with the location of the safety catches, which lock the weight in the event you need to stop suddenly.

Exercisers can use several types of leg presses at a training facility or gym, or buy a machine for home use. Each machine should contain a label with instructions for its use. As a weight bearing exercise, leg presses are effective for increasing bone density.

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Discussion Comments
By tolleranza — On Dec 10, 2011

Growing up, I had always had a love for physical exercise, especially physical exercise that included my legs. I used to love playing soccer, more for the running and friendship than anything else. I also loved track and running, just to run.

So naturally, when I got in high school, and our Fitness and Aerobics class had a gym, I was psyched to finally get to use the machines. One of my favorites was the sitting leg press. It was fun to see how many leg presses I could do and how much weight I could bare to put on the machine.

I was one of the only girls who did this machine on a regular basis, but I did not care. It was a lot of fun, and between the other leg machines and jogging occasionally, my legs stayed fairly toned, even though by high school I stopped playing soccer and running track.

I can see why the leg press appeals to so many people, as it is a great leg workout, while also not putting strain or pressure on your back. The key advice when using any equipment, or doing any new workout, read the instructions and/or ask a professional for help. It is easy to get injured by trying to figure out a machine or new workout routine, without even reading the instructions.

By Mae82 — On Dec 10, 2011

My husband and I are setting up a home gym and were wondering if anyone had tips for buying a leg press?

We have seen all kinds of leg press machines for sale online and want to make sure we get a quality piece of equipment, but at the same time we don't want to break the bank. We have also considered buying a used leg press from a gym, but are not sure if that is the best idea.

Both of us like to run so getting our legs in shape in the gym really appeals to us. We already have a all-in-one home gym, but really want to add a few specific pieces of equipment to our collection.

By lonelygod — On Dec 09, 2011

@letshearit - If you are a beginner I would stick with using the gym machines unless you have a personal trainer checking your form. It is really easy to get injured doing leg exercises with free weights.

I think that if you want some balance in your workout you should use the vertical leg press, do some leg curls, and find the machines that focus on the inner thigh and outer thigh. You won't be able to walk the next day but you'll get a great workout. Also, if you find the machines are a bit stiff you may want to adjust the weights. If they are too heavy that can really impact how smooth your movements are.

By letshearit — On Dec 08, 2011

As a beginner do you think it is better to use the leg press equipment at the gym, or use free weights to help do leg presses?

I have watched some of the people workout at my gym and a lot of them seem to stick with the vertical leg press machine, which I do like, but I've seen quite a few fit people doing lots of squats with weights. I wonder if one of these exercises is easier, or better.

I have tried the leg press machine and really liked the way it felt, but I find the motion very stiff. I am hoping that there is a way to get around that so the motion is more fluid and I get a better workout.

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