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The leg press is one of the key lower body exercises. We’ve all seen the big old leg press machine in the gym.
But, what does the leg press do? In this article, we’ll look at some of the key leg press benefits.
If you’re interested, check out our article on the top leg press machines for a home gym.
Does the Leg Press Work Abs?
The leg press machine works the quads, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus while reducing strain on the back.
Leg presses are done using a leg press machine. The leg press machine contracts the abs, glutes, quads, and hamstrings through a series of repetitive, resistance-based movements.
There are two basic configurations of the leg press machine – the standard horizontal leg press and the 45-degree leg press that seats the user at a diagonal. Both types can be programmed to a chosen resistance weight, and the user can place their feet at different points on the resistance plates for working particular groups of muscles.
When using the leg press machine, the user sits with both feet evenly spaced on the resistance plates of the leg press. Shoulder-width placement is ideal, although you can vary your footing depending on the muscles you want to work. The user then adjusts the machine to a selected resistance weight and presses the body away from the machine by extending the legs against the weights. Three to five sets consisting of eight to 12 repetitions is a great start for the basic leg press.
The leg press is a compound movement, meaning that it targets multiple muscles at once. It is also an alternative abdominal workout for doing crunches and planks on the floor. The key to engaging the abs while using a leg press machine is to keep the abdominal wall tightened for the duration of the workout. Your abs should feel fatigued afterward, and you should aim to train until you can power through leg presses predominantly using your core.
Does the Leg Press Work Calves?
Aside from the quads and hamstrings, the leg press machine secondarily works the glutes and calves. The particular calf muscles that leg press movements target are the soleus and gastrocnemius. The soleus is a long muscle that runs from below the knee to the Achilles’ tendon. It is crucial for flexion in the upper ankle joint, as well as maintaining an upright posture. The gastrocnemius muscle is the larger of the two calf muscles. This two-headed muscle runs from just above the knee, through the back of the leg, and down to the heel. Both the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles are essential for running and walking.
Proper foot placement is essential to targeting specific groups of leg muscles. Different variations of the leg press can even function as substitutes for squats. For instance, a narrow stance leg press works the same outer muscles as a narrow squat, and the wide stance leg press engages the inner thigh muscles that the sumo squat targets.
The seated calf raise is the primary way to tone the calves while using the leg press machine. It is also known interchangeably as the calf press.
To perform the seated calf raise, sit down at the leg press machine and place your feet so that your toes are on the resistance plates. The movements of pushing off with your toes and retracting the body on the bend of the ankle should create an immediate stretching sensation in the calves. 15 to 20 repetitions are a good starting point for a beginner.
What are some safety considerations for using the leg press machine?
One of the main benefits of the leg press is the option to scale resistance weight as needed, even to a degree higher than allowed in bodyweight exercises. Gradually increasing weight carried over time strengthens both muscles and bones. However, certain safety considerations should be made when using the leg press to target leg muscles.
Experts do not recommend the leg press for anyone with an existing knee injury due to the strain that the weights can place on the knees. If the pressure becomes too much, you can place your feet higher on the resistance plates, as this effectively transfers some of the tension from the knees to the glutes and hamstrings. Alternatively, placing the feet lower on the resistance plates shifts tension from the knees to the quads.
Always remember to breathe when exercising! Exhale as you push the weights with your legs extended, and inhale while releasing the weight. Breathing at systematic points of your workout allows a natural escape for some of the tension your body has just experienced.
Never lock your knees when using a leg press machine, as this can improperly shift weight to the knee and cause damage to the knee joint. Leg presses should also be done with caution for someone with a pelvic floor injury. Overloading weights or performing excessive repetitions can weaken the muscles of the pelvic floor, leading to prolapse and incontinence problems. If you are ever in doubt about the safety of the leg press, please contact your physician for further guidance. Your physician can guide you in safely strengthening and toning your muscles.
What is the Recommended Weight?
While there is no standard numerical weight that a man or woman should be able to lift when using a leg press, testing for your 1RM is a good way to gauge your ability. You should be able to press a little more than your own body weight.
The 1RM describes the amount of weight a person can lift while maintaining proper form. Five to 10 repetitions using the highest weight you can handle is sufficient for testing. Scale this weight or series of repetitions up or down as your comfort level permits. Finally, input the resulting weight in a weight load calculator for a sense of what you are able to lift right now reasonably. It is a good idea to test your 1RM over time – imagine your glowing confidence boost from all the future gains!
The leg press machine is a great way to engage the muscles of the lower body. While the primary focus of leg press movements is the quads and hamstrings, leg presses still target the glutes, abs, and calves. Different machine configurations and foot placements on the resistance places allow the user to customize their leg press workouts to increase muscle size, strength, or both.
Extended Reading on Leg Press
If you want to read more about the leg press, check out the following: