The leg press is an excellent barbell squat alternative. If your looking to put mass on your main leg muscles this is an excellent exercise. You can press more weight compared to a traditional squat as you don’t need the balance or stabilisation.
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of the leg press including proper leg press form and giving you some tips on how to do this exercise properly. Let’s go!
Is Leg Press Form That Important?
The barbell back squat is one of the best exercises for lower body development you can do. This compound movement will build your quads like no other exercise, but also help you develop great looking glutes, and improve your hamstrings, even calves. Because of the bar placement, your lower back and core muscles will work too, which means it will activate your whole body.
However, to do the barbell squat with perfect technique, you need experience. It is one of those exercises you spend a lifetime mastering. Fail to execute it correctly, and you risk injuries. Also, if you don’t have the proper technique, you won’t reach your full potential, which will steal size and strength gains.
Leg Press—A Great Squat Accessory
Leg press machines are an excellent barbell back squat alternative as they eliminate the technique factor almost completely. Because you are inside a machine which stabilizes the weight for you, all you need to do is push. Therefore, people can usually lift more on the leg press than on barbell back squat. More weight means more muscle stimulation, which will result in bigger legs. Ideally, you would perform both leg press and squat.
So the leg press form doesn’t matter? Well, certainly not as much as the barbell squat form, but it still does matter. Proper leg press form will ensure that you don’t injure yourself, but will also help you hit different muscle groups by adjusting your feet position. When it comes to leg press form, only legs matter, as your upper body is fixed, which means that it is much easier to master leg press than the squat.
Best 5 Leg Press Form Tips
Tip #1: Correct Seat Position–Don’t Go Too Low
The only variable you can change on seated leg press machines (besides the weight of course) is the sled/seat height. However, this is where most people get it wrong.
While a bigger range of motion means more muscle activation, overdoing it will put you at injury risk. So, when deciding how deep you should go, you need to test first with no weight at all.
Your lower back and glutes should never lift off the seat, not even in the deepest position. So go deep, and when you feel your glutes rising, stop, and go back a little. The point above that spot is where your bottom position should be. This will allow you to get out of the hole without compromising your lower back while ensuring maximal muscle activation.
Tip #2 Don’t Lock Out Your Knees At The Top
Locking your knees at the top when doing leg press is where things can go really wrong. When under heavy load, your knees can go into hyperextension, turning the wrong way, which can lead to horror injuries. That is highly unlikely to happen, but it is better to be safe than sorry, especially when you have hundreds of pounds pressing down on you.
But even without the hyperextension, locking out your knees takes tension off your muscles, putting everything on your bones and joints. You don’t want to injure anything, but the knee is one of those things that you should be extra careful about, as it is involved in our day-to-day activities, and in almost every exercise and sport.
Tip #3: Don’t Go To Extremes
Leg press gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to feet position. You can put your feet central on the pad, lower or higher up. Putting it lower will hit the quads more, while a high position is more for the hams and glutes. You can also opt for wider or closer stance, targeting glutes/outer thighs more.
However, don’t try to rotate feet. You should keep them just like in a barbell squat, which means slightly pointing outward, but only slightly. People often use awkward leg press feet positions, trying to target quads/glutes, rotating the feet to the inside/outside too much. While it does work, your muscles will get more activation, excessive rotation puts more stress on your knees. Save those for leg extensions and leg curls.
Tip #4: Don’t Let Your Knees Collapse Inwards, And Don’t Lift With Your Toes
As you probably noticed, the knee is very exposed in every squat-like movement, and only proper technique will ensure you keep these important joints healthy.
Just like with (barbell) squats, when leg pressing, you should push into the pad with your whole foot planted, and your weight distributed through the middle of your foot and heels. Never let your heel lose contact with the surface!
Also, you should never let your knees collapse inwards (into “X”). That puts enormous stress on them. To prevent that from happening, your toes should point slightly out, and you should really squeeze your glutes while performing the exercise, focusing on preventing your knees from buckling in. This is very important on any squat, and learning how to do it will translate well to other exercises too.
Tip #5: Don’t Half-Rep!
For proper muscle development, according to exercise guides, range of motion is the key. Only by taking your muscles through their full range of motion, you will activate all of the muscle fibers, ensuring growth.
When you do half (or even quarter) reps, you accomplish nothing. Forget about ego boosting, nobody is impressed with quarter reps. Besides, you are going to the gym to build your own body, and improve fitness and health, not to impress others
It is a much better idea to execute the proper form, go deep (but not too deep, look at tip #1), and get stronger the right way. That way, you will add plates to the machine, taking the exercise through the full range of motion. That might actually impress someone, as it’s an entirely different story than half-repping!
Leg Press Variations
How to do the Standard Leg Press
How to do the Sumo Leg Press
How to do the Single Leg Press
How to do the Wide Stance Leg Press
How to do the Duck Stance Leg Press
For additional leg press variations please refer to our Build Strong Butt with Leg Press Exercises for Glutes article.
As you have read leg training is an important exercise to include as part of your total body workout routine. The leg press / leg curl should be a key piece of gym equipment for you to use at all gyms, or if you do home workouts you can buy this equipment for your home gym.
For those focused on weight loss you should include it as part of your total body workout routine, because the more muscle groups you exercise the better impact on weight loss.
If you’re interested in weight training and looking to build muscle it’s a great leg workout to build muscle on your legs. It will increase the strength and power in your legs in addition to muscle building. For more leg press variations read our article 5 Leg Press Variations for Lower Body Strength.
To build strong quads read our article on the best quad exercises.