8 Leg Press Variations for Lower Body Strength

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Last updated on September 8, 2023

In the world of strength training and physique development, few exercises have as potential as the leg press. This adaptable compound movement is a mainstay in the routines of many gym goers. There are a number of variations to the leg press machine that can allow for more targeted muscle activation and greater gains. In this article, we lay them out for you, one by one.

The Importance of Foot Position When Leg Pressing

The leg press is a basic lower-body exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The position of your feet is key in deciding which muscles are emphasized and how well you can execute the movement. Yet, most people have no idea how important foot placement is when using leg press machines.

8 Leg Press Positions

1. Neutral or Standard Leg Press Position:

Muscles Activated: The quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes are all evenly activated while using the neutral or standard foot position on the leg press. This adaptable foot position provides a full-body lower body workout.

Leg press form Guide: Sit on the leg press seat with your toes pointed forwards and place your feet on the footplate about hip-width apart and centrally located. Make sure your knees and hips are in line with your feet. Extend your knees while keeping your spine neutral to do the leg press. Read our article for more leg press form tips.

Training Tips:

  • Use a weight that enables controlled repetitions with good form.
  • Keep your alignment correct and push with your heels throughout the action.

2. High Foot Placement (Quad Emphasis):

Muscles Targeted: The quadriceps are the main muscles that are worked when you place your feet high on the footplate and about shoulder-width apart. The vastus lateralis, medialis, and intermedius are activated when the foot is in this position, emphasizing the front of the thighs.

Leg press form Guide: With your feet elevated on the footplate (so that your big toes are at the very top) and your knees bent to around 90 degrees, sit back on the leg press seat. The feet should be hip-width apart. Keep your back firmly into the seat and concentrate on extending your knees as you push the weight away. To avoid undue strain on the joints, ensure your knees follow the same path as your toes.

Training Tips: 

  • Keep your core active to maintain stability and reduce lower back strain.
  • Avoid locking out your knees at the top to keep the muscles taut throughout the exercise.
  • For a controlled and efficient workout, manage the weight both during the ascent and descent.
  • Use a moderate weight that enables you to do controlled repetitions with good form for the greatest quad activation.

3. Low Foot Position (Hamstring and Glute Emphasis):

Muscles Targeted: The glutes and hamstrings are worked by placing your feet somewhat wider than shoulder-width apart and lower on the footplate. The posterior chain, which includes the gluteus maximus and hamstrings, is highlighted by this foot position.

Leg press Form Guide: Position your feet lower on the footplate (so your heels are at the very bottom) while seated on the leg press seat. Check to see that your heels are stable and in line with your hips. Extending your hips while keeping your spine neutral requires pushing through your heels. Allow your knees to flex as you lower the weight, but keep them parallel to the ground. Concentrate on driving the weight through your heels to effectively engage the glutes and hamstrings.

Training Tips:

  • Don’t push through your toes because doing so could put too much stress on your knees.
  • To maintain spinal stability and balance throughout the exercise, engage your core.
  • Use a moderate weight that allows you to maintain good technique and feel the muscles working to maximize glute activation.

4. Narrow Foot Position (Emphasis on Inner Thigh):

Muscles Targeted: The inner thighs (adductors) are worked by placing your feet closely together with your toes pointing slightly outward. This foot position activates the adductor muscles along the inner thigh.

Leg Press Form Guide: Position your feet closely together on the footplate (so that they are about six inches apart) when seated on the leg press seat. As you lower the weight, let your knees bend so that you can feel a stretch along your inner thighs. To extend your knees and get back to the beginning posture, drive through your heels.

Training Tips:

  • Use a slow constant pace of movement, controlling the descent.
  • Be careful not to use weights that could wreck form by being too heavy.
  • Feel the adductor muscles contracting as you move by concentrating on the mind-muscle connection.

5. Wide foot placement (Emphasis on glutes and outer thigh muscles):

Muscles Targeted: The glutes and outer thighs (abductors) are worked by spreading your feet apart on the footplate. The lateral region of the thighs and the gluteus medius and minimus are all activated by this foot position.

Leg press Form Guide: For proper form position your feet wider than shoulder-width apart on the footplate while seated on the leg press seat. Aim to feel a stretch in the outer thighs and glutes as you reduce the weight. The targeted muscles are activated while you extend your knees by pressing through your heels.

Training Tips:

  • For best results, concentrate on pushing through your heels to engage your glutes and outer thighs.
  • To reduce undue strain on your joints, keep your knees in line with your feet.
  • To guarantee appropriate form and avoid overworking the hip muscles, use a moderate weight.

6. Single-Leg Foot Placement (Unilateral Emphasis):

Muscles Targeted: By placing one leg on the footplate, you are able to target each leg separately, which helps overcome muscular imbalances and promotes stability. This variation emphasizes balance while using all of the leg muscles.

Leg press form Guide: Sit on the footplate of the leg press and place one foot there while leaving the other leg off to the side. Your entire foot should be placed centrally on the footplate. Slowly lower the weight. Push through the heel to return to the start position.

Training Tips:

  • Since the single leg press demands more stabilization than bilateral leg presses do, being with less than half of your normal two legged leg press weight.
  • Pay attention to your balance and control throughout the motion,
  • For balanced lower body development, alternate between legs.

7. Inward-facing toes (Vastus Medialis Emphasis):

Muscles Targeted: Pointing your toes inward engages the quadriceps’ vastus medialis oblique (VMO), sometimes known as the “teardrop” muscle.

Leg press form Guide: For proper form position your feet on the footplate with your toes pointing slightly inward while seated on the leg press seat. Your feet should be hip-width apart and centrally located on the footplate. As you normally would, perform a leg press, concentrating on extending your knees while maintaining active VMO.

Training Tips:

  • Use a moderate weight and concentrate on the appropriate form to efficiently target the VMO.
  • Avoid using too heavy weights since they could affect control and stability.
  • Use this variation as part of your routine to help the inner quadriceps muscles grow.

8. Outward-facing toes (Vastus Lateralis Emphasis):

Muscles Targeted: The vastus lateralis, the outside quadriceps muscle, is targeted as you point your toes outward.

Leg press form Guide: For proper form position your feet on the footplate with your toes pointing slightly outward while sitting on the leg press seat. Your feet shoulder width apart and ventrally located on the footplate. Perform the leg press exercise by extending your knees and concentrating on contracting the vastus lateralis.

Training Tips:

  • Use a weight that is moderate enough for you to maintain control and appropriate form.
  • To prevent stress on the knee joints, keep your knees in line with your toes.

5 leg press benefits from your foot placement

1. Muscle Activation and Emphasis

Place your feet higher on the footplate and closer to your hips if you want to emphasize your quads. This foot position is a good alternative for targeting the quads because it enables a more direct contact of the front of the thighs. The emphasis is shifted to the glutes and hamstrings when your feet are placed lower on the footplate and closer to the base. Since the hip joint can move more freely with this foot position, the posterior chain muscles can be activated more deeply.

2. Comfort and Joint Mechanics

Good foot posture can help preserve good knee alignment during the leg press movement. The danger of knee strain or discomfort increases if your feet are positioned too high or low, which might cause your knees to track excessively inward or outward. The comfort of the movement can also be affected by changing the position of your feet. Too high of a foot placement could force your hips to lift off the seat, which would be uncomfortable and less stable. However, putting your feet down too far may put undue strain on your ankles and limit your range of motion.

3. Preventing Injury and Form

To improve spinal support and reduce the chance of discomfort, choose a foot posture that allows your lower back to rest flat against the seat. Stability and Control: Proper foot placement helps you stay in control throughout the activity, which lowers the risk of jerky or uncontrolled motions that can result in damage.

4. Personalized Biomechanics

Everybody’s biomechanics are different, including their joint angles and muscle insertion locations, which is why anatomy matters. You may learn which foot posture maximizes muscle engagement while minimizing strain on your body by experimenting with different foot positions.

5. Training Variation

Alternating between different foot positions on occasion causes muscles to be challenged from various perspectives, encouraging the development of the lower body as a whole and avoiding muscular imbalances.

Read are article for more leg press benefits.

What to Do After The Leg Press

The leg press works, in all its variations, the leg muscles ( quads, glutes and hamstrings ) effectively to build power and leg strength. But what should you follow it up with?

I recommend the leg extension.

Unlike the squat, the leg extension is not a compound exercise. It is, in fact, one of the very few exercises that work the quadriceps muscles in isolation. As the name suggests, the quadriceps are four muscles 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.

Leg Extension Form Guide:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Hold this position for a second and then slowly lower all the way down.

Training Tips:

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

In summary, does the leg press work ?

The seated leg press works the leg muscles ( quads, glutes and hamstrings ) effectively to build lower body strength and muscle growth. For those starting out and doing free weight exercises like the bodyweight squat the leg press is highly recommended.

You’ve got a toolbox of leg press variations, which can be customized to meet your unique goals, target various muscle groups, and prevent imbalances.

Including these variations in your program allows you to develop a powerful, balanced, and muscular lower body, whether you’re an experienced athlete or just starting out on your fitness journey. Add more weight as your strength increases, but do not add too much weight if it comprises your form.

Remember having a strong lower body helps to support upper body gains. So its important to do leg exercises and have a leg day as part of your workout regime.

To learn more read build strong quads read our article on the best quad exercises by experts.

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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