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Home » Leg Press Guide | Form, Proper Foot Placement, and Muscles Worked

Leg Press Guide | Form, Proper Foot Placement, and Muscles Worked

The leg press is what I consider a staple exercise when it comes to building leg strength and mass. There are countless ways to program the leg press based on your training goals.

I like to use the leg press for myself and my clients by focusing on different muscle groups based on what we’re trying to accomplish. For example, programming leg presses for quads, glutes, and adductors.

In this leg press guide, I’ll discuss how to properly perform a leg press and how to set it up to hit different muscle groups, and I’ll discuss some of my favorite leg press variations.

The leg press is an awesome exercise for building overall strength and mass. If you have specific muscle-building goals, then you can bias your leg press to target the quads, glutes, and adductors by tweaking your foot position.

How To Leg Press Form

How To Leg Press

Brace and set the feet

The first step is bracing into your leg press’s seat correctly. To do this properly, make sure your hips are flush with both pads of the seat and grip the handles for additional support.

To set the feet, place them hip to shoulder-width apart and keep your shoes flat on the leg press. You may need to play with your positioning based on your leg press.

How To Leg Press Step 1

Press and establish your position

Once you’ve nailed your setup, press and extend the legs and unlock your leg press. From here, take a second or two to ensure your setup is solid and you feel comfortable before starting your reps.

How To Leg Press Step 2

Lower the weight in a controlled means

Lower the weight to yourself with a controlled tempo. Ideally, you want your feet to remain flat on the leg press platform through the entire range of motion and you want your hips to remain flush with the seat.

If your heels are coming off the platform as you lower the weight, then bring your feet up on the platform. If the hips are coming off of the seat, then limit your range of motion or place a foam pad in the seat as this can help with your positioning.

How To Leg Press Step 3

Press, squeeze, and repeat

Once you’ve hit your end range of motion, press away the leg press platform thinking about keeping a balanced level of force through the entire foot.

At the top of your press, squeeze the quads without rushing or overextending the legs. This should be a controlled and strong contraction. Your quad squeeze is your signal to start your next rep.

How To Leg Press Step 4


Leg Press Benefits

There’s a good reason the leg press is a staple in most workout programs. Below are three of my favorite leg press benefits that are worth keeping in mind when programming this exercise.

1. Great for Different Types of Goals

My favorite leg press benefit is that this exercise has a ton of versatility to it. I think when most lifters think about the leg press they think about a singular way of performing and using them.

Contrary to the norm, the leg press can be as dynamic as want it to be. For example, you can use the leg press to tackle all types of adaptations and training goals like increasing strength, leg hypertrophy, and power.

Single Leg Leg Press

On top of this, you can alter your leg press mechanics to bias different muscle groups like the quads, adductors, and glutes based on your leg press foot placement. Factor in this specificity with the adaptations above and you have a really dynamic exercise for tackling different goals.

As an added perk, the leg press is an exercise that lifters of all skill levels can perform and utilize. Beginners and experienced lifters can use the leg press to experience awesome gains in the gym.

2. Can Be Pushed Heavy While Limiting Overall Fatigue

Barbell squat variations are awesome for building strength, but they can be pretty fatiguing depending on the volume and intensities you’re using. Compared to its barbell counterparts, the leg press can be a little less fatiguing overall when taken heavily.

Whether you’re run down from life, a tough training cycle, or your sport, the leg press can be a great exercise for keeping your training stimulus high while mitigating overall fatigue.

Leg Press Benefits

One way I like to use the leg press to keep my training stimulus high while limiting fatigue is to use heavier sets with a limited range of motion. This gives my nervous system exposure to heavier loads while not killing myself with a lot of volume and range of motion.

If you’re wanting to experiment with leg presses in the context of fatigue mitigation, then I’d suggest trying out different sets, reps, and intensity schemes to see what you respond best to.

3. Awesome for Working Around Injuries

Another lesser-talked-about leg press benefit is that it can be a viable exercise for working around injuries. More specifically, if you’re working around an injury that hinders you from doing things like back and front squats, then a leg press can be a good option to explore.

I’ll typically explore the leg press for athletes and lifters that may not be able to squat due to a back injury or lower-body injury that requires a little more stabilization.

Leg Press for working around injuries

The leg press gives us a lot of constraints. It doesn’t load the back, it’s easy to manipulate foot position based on what feels best, and you can adjust your range of motion seamlessly toward what you can handle.

If you’re wanting to push your legs and the intensity at which you’re training them and you’re currently limited by an injury, then the leg press can be a suitable leg exercise to explore.

Leg Press Muscles Worked

The leg press is great because you can set up and execute your reps to target and bias different muscle groups. Below I’ll cover what muscles the traditional leg press works. Note, different leg press machines can impact “how much” certain muscles are worked.

What muscles does the leg press work?

Leg Press Muscles Worked

Leg Press Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)
  • Tibialis Anterior

*bolded indicates a higher level of involvement

If you’re wanting to bias different muscle groups with the leg press, I’ll cover how to do so in the foot placement section below.

Leg Press Foot Placement

One of my favorite things about the leg press is how your foot placement can manipulate your outcomes. For example, by shifting your feet around you can bias different muscle groups which is awesome for hypertrophy.

How to Leg Press for Quads

If your goal is crushing the quads with the leg press, then you’ll want to bring your feet closer together and down a little bit on the platform. Now, this can vary depending on your anatomy and leg press machine, but the above is typically a good starting point.

Essentially, if we’re wanting to hit the quads more heavily with the leg press then we want the knees to track further over the toes when doing reps.

  • To leg press for quads, bring your feet down on the platform and bring them around hip to shoulder width apart

How to Leg Press for quads Foot placement for quads

By bringing the feet down and a little more parallel we can focus on stretching the quads more which can lead to a better hypertrophy stimulus when leg pressing.

If you find that you lack the mobility to keep the heel down while trying to leg press for quads, then I’d highly suggest using a heel wedge or wearing your weightlifting shoes for your quad-biased sets.

How to Leg Press for quads Foot placement

The elevated heel can help the feed more into forward knee translation so it’s a nice way to still get a quad stimulus without spending a ton of time doing “mobility work” which may or may not have a positive carryover in this context.

How to Leg Press for Glutes

When it comes to your foot placement for targeting the glutes with the leg press the name of the game is how you’re stretching the glute max.

For glutes, you’ll want to keep your feet relatively parallel, bring them on the platform, and keep them hip to shoulder width apart.

  • To leg press for glutes, keep your feet around hip-width apart and slide up on your leg press platform.

How to Leg Press for glutes foot placement

By bringing the feet up on the leg press platform, we can focus on getting more stretch for our glute max. This in turn will create a glute bias when performing leg press reps.

It might feel like you’re not working with a large range of motion when leg pressing for the glutes, but remember, for this context, we’re after a specific range of motion for the targeted muscles (the glutes) and more is not necessarily more here.

How to Leg Press for glutes

If you find that your hips keep lifting off of your leg press seat while leg pressing for glutes, then try setting a foam pad in the seat. This elevation may be enough to put you into a better position if your leg press seat is really deep.

How to Leg Press for Adductors

If your goal is building beefy adductors with the leg press, then you’ll want to bring your feet out wider than your traditional setup and then turn your toes out slightly.

By bringing the feet out wider, you can typically get a deeper range of motion regarding your peak hip flexion and with the toes out you can clear the knees easier to let the adductors take over and do their thing at the end range of motion.

  • To leg press for adductors, keep your feet around hip to shoulder-width apart and turn your toes out slightly.

How to Leg Press for adductors foot placement

The adductors will be most active towards the end of the range of motion with leg presses for adductors, and for this variation, I’d suggest trying to get as much range of motion as possible without compensating your form or losing contact with your leg press seat.

Keep in mind, that you don’t need to go “sumo squat” width with these. Generally, if you bring the feet out slightly while turning the toes out you’ll actually get more range of motion than going with the maximal width of the leg press platform.

How to Leg Press for adductors

However, this can be highly individualized based on your leg press machine, hip mobility, and anatomy, so don’t be afraid to play around with your foot placement as you add these into your training blocks.

Can Leg Press Replace Squats?

A question that receives a lot of attention and debate in the fitness industry is, “Can leg press replace squats?” A lot of lifters will look at this question from a black-and-white viewpoint and simply say yes or no, but that’s not the most productive approach.

Instead of simply rattling off a yes or no, I think it’s more useful to ask a follow-up question, “What are your goals?”

If your goal is building your squat specifically, then no, a leg press can’t replace squats. A squat, like a fine-tuned golf swing, is a skill that needs to be practiced, and if you want to get good at squats, then you need to squat.

Testing the Under Armour TriBase Reign 5 for Squats

To add to this, if you compete in strength sports like powerlifting or ever want to compete in strength sports, then you’ll need to squat and improve your strength with this lift.

Now that said, and this is where the gray area of this question resides, if you’re not worried about building your barbell squat or you don’t care to, then you can use leg press to build lower body strength just fine without squatting.

The leg press can be an awesome substitute for a squat for overloading your legs and giving you a high training stimulus, especially for recreational lifters wanting to build general lower body strength with no squat-specific goals.

Can leg press replace squats

Plus, if you’re following a well-rounded program that includes things like split squats, lunges, and other lower body accessories then you’ll be covering pretty much all of your bases regarding the ranges of motion you’re strengthening and working through.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Which leg press position targets the glutes?

To target the glutes with the leg press you'll want to pay attention to how you're positioning your feet. In general, to target the glutes with the leg press you'll bring your feet up on the platform and keep them parallel around hip-width apart.

Which leg press position targets the quads?

To target the quads with the leg press the name of the game is getting the quads to stretch more. Bring the feet down on the platform and bring them around hip-width apart. Use a wedge or weightlifting shoes to assist with your range of motion.

What is a leg press good for?

The leg press can be fantastic for building lower body strength and mass. It can be awesome for lifters at all skill levels because it's easy to learn and perform and can be taken heavily to produce a high stimulus with a lower learning curve.

What muscles does leg press hit?

The leg press will target the quads, glutes, adductors, and calves. By manipulating your foot position and range of motion with the leg press you can get more specific with the muscles you're targeting.

Is the leg press bad?

Not at all. Leg presses are not inherently bad and they can be a great tool for working around injuries and building strength and mass. If a lifter says a leg press is bad, then they're looking at this exercise through their biased lens and not as a tool for achieving different goals.

Why do leg presses feel easy?

Leg presses can feel easy compared to exercises like the barbell back squat because you have more constraints with the leg press. With the seat and handles you have a better means of creating stability and bracing. On top of this, the leg press moves through a fixed range of motion.

Takeaway Thoughts

In my coaching opinion, the leg press doesn’t receive enough credit regarding its versatility. This exercise can be great for building lower body strength for lifters from all walks of life.

The leg press is also awesome for building the glutes, quads, and adductors depending on your foot placement and how you’re executing your reps.

If you’ve never performed leg presses for different muscle groups, I’d highly suggest giving them a try for a few blocks and playing with your form while tracking positive training outcomes.

If you have additional questions about the leg press, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).


Jake Boly

I've been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I've trained hundreds of clients, written thousands of articles, reviewed over 100+ pairs of training shoes, and have produced a large list of training videos. I live and breathe fitness and training gear, and I think it's important that reviewers walk the walk with the gear they're testing. As for my educational background, I have my Masters in Sports Science, Bachelors in Exercise Science, and have my CSCS.

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