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August 9, 2019

5 Leg Press Variations for Lower Body Strength

The good old squats are one of the best leg training exercise to strengthen your legs and lower body, including improving muscular endurance. Those interested in muscle building know that doing different leg press variations of this exercise will give the best results. 

The leg press exercise comes a close second to squat for lower body exercise. Legs press is meant to develop leg size and strength. As you get comfortable with the presses, you can add more weights and grow your legs even more. It comes as an alternative for squats especially for people who have back or spine problems. 

1. Standard Foot Position

Here, you place your legs on the foot press machine shoulder width apart. This exercise is meant to enhance the whole leg power and strength. However, this leg press variation is mostly for quads.

 How to do the Standard Leg Press

2. Wide Stance Variation

When you place your legs wider apart on the leg press machine, emphasis will be placed on your inner quad muscles thereby developing them more. This leg press position is equivalent to the conventional sumo squat. 

How to do the Wide Stance Leg Press

3. Narrow Stance Position

For the narrow stance bring your feet together, until they are almost touching. By doing so, you will be working out the muscles of your outer thigh. You will also work the hamstrings, glutes and calves. In that position, it is easier to push more weight up. However, this may not be a move for short people as they may not be able to push the weights all the way up. 

How to do the Narrow Stance Leg Press

4. Single leg press variation

If you have a spine or lower back problems, a single leg press might be the best way to use leg press machines. The foot placement keeps your pelvis in a neutral position ensuring your spine or lower back problems are not exacerbated. 

When you push with a single leg, you can rectify leg strength imbalances. In this great glute workout, you should push hard with the heels of your feet until the toes come up. When starting, incorporate leg press into your workout programs. Start pushing with no weights on your leg press machine; it will be heavy enough. Place the other leg on the ready in case the weight becomes too heavy. 

How to do the Single Leg Press

5. High Feet and low feet leg press 

When you place the feet high on the pad, you will lessen the effect on the quads and activate the hamstrings and glutes. This exercise is a great alternative to deadlifts. In this position, it is easier to lift heavy weights.

Placing your legs at the lowest position on the pad ensures shifts stress from the hamstrings to the quads. This is the best alternative to squats if you are comparing leg press vs squat. However, if you suffer knee pain, you should go easy on these presses as they may exacerbate the pain. 

When you are starting exercise on leg press machine, start by placing your feet on the machine with no weight on it. Add weights gradually as you get comfortable with the machine.

How to do the High feet and Low Feet Leg Press

What About the Leg Extension? 

The leg press, in all its variations, is a very effective builder of power and strength in your leg muscles ( quads, glutes and hamstrings ). But what should you follow it up with?

 

We recommend the extension exercise.

 

Unlike the squat, the leg extension is not a compound exercise. It totally works the quadriceps, which is a good thing. It is, in fact, one of very few exercises that works the quadriceps muscles in isolation. As the name suggests, the quadriceps are a group of four muscles located between the knee and the hip. The extension exercise works all of them.

 

The job of the quadriceps is to extend the knee. Leg extensions do that job perfectly. In fact, the leg extension is to the quads what the triceps pushdown is to the triceps.

 

To get the maximum benefit from the leg extension exercise, you need to firstly set the machine up properly. Adjust the backrest of the machine to be as far back as possible. This will allow your femur bone to be almost parallel to your torso, rather than at a the usual 90-degree angle to the torso which would be the case if you were sitting in more of an upright position.

 

You should also tuck your tailbone in a little as you perform the leg extension exercise. This will allow your quads to be more fully engaged. That is because it prevents the sending of an inhibitory signal from the stretching of the hamstrings that would otherwise be sent to the quads as the legs are straightened.

 

Adjust the ankle pads and the extension arms to allow you to get a full extension and contraction on every rep.

 

To perform the exercise, load the weight stack with the required weight. Your starting position should be with the knees bent at a right angle, your hands grabbing the side handles and your torso in the lean back position described above. Lift the lower legs to full extension so that the legs are almost straight (do not lock the knee joint). You will feel the intense contraction of your quads in the top position. Hold this position for a second and then slowly lower all the way down.

 

Be sure that you don’t kick the weight or otherwise use momentum to make the exercise easier. You should perform the exercise in a slow, controlled manner.

 

Contrary to what many people think, the combination of the leg press and the leg extension is an excellent way to build strength and power as well as mass in the thigh muscle. A third exercise to add in is the Farmers Walk.

 

There is a belief that the leg extension is bad for the knees, but this is not the case, so long as you do not lock out at the top. As a general guide, you should stop short of the last 10 percent of the exercise.

 

Contrary to what many people believe, the leg extension will not etch definition into your quads. The only thing that will achieve this is a diet that brings down your body fat level.

To conclude the benefits of the leg press

As you can see the leg muscles should never be overlooked as part of your training routine for overall fitness. Also remember to do a pre workout warm-up before you start your leg workout to condition your leg muscles for the exercises. To improve results and performance consider pre and post workout nutrition.   

We have gone through a range of leg exercises. These were some of the best leg press alternatives you can try and add in your workout routine. In case, you want to learn more about leg press benefits, you can check our other article.

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Steve (Qualfied Personal Trainer and Nutritionist)


Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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