When you start your fitness journey, you usually set goals for yourself like build some biceps, blast your chest… but what about your legs?
Your legs are roughly 1/2 of your body and you can look freakish with wide shoulders if you’re walking around on a pair of twigs. That’s why if you want a simple way to build some powerful legs, you should consider the seated leg press.
In this blog post, I’m going to try to make you a believer in this common exercise. Make sure you read all the way to the end because you’re about to discover some killer benefits of this exercise, the primary and secondary muscles worked, recommended machines for your home gym, and a lot more.
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Table of Contents
- What is the Leg Press Good For?
- Seated Leg Press Muscles Worked
- Seated Leg Press Exercise Benefits
- 1. They’re a Killer Warm-Up on Leg Days
- 2. They Can Help You Break Through Plateaus
- 3. They Build Awesome Quad Strength
- 4. They Also Strengthen the Glutes & Build Strong Hamstrings
- 5. They Build Well-Rounded Legs
- 6. There are Lots of Variations with Fast Progression
- 7. They Improve Your Running Speed and Vertical Jump
- How to Use the Leg Press Machine
- Seated Leg Press Workout Example
- 3 Best Leg Press Machines for Your Home Gym
- 6 Seated Leg Press Variations
- Seated Leg Press Machine FAQ
- Wrapping up the Seated Leg Press
What is the Leg Press Good For?
The leg press is excellent at building some of the most important muscles in your legs including your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. These muscles are responsible for basic lower body movements like running, squatting, and leaping. Plus a well-developed lower body balances out a bulky upper body on guys, and puts a little more junk in the trunk on women.
Another thing the leg press is good for is allowing you to build lower body muscles without having to rely on barbell squats. I know this might irritate all the guys that preach that squats are the “king of exercises”, but squats require a certain level of technical expertise just to do them safely. Most people don’t care about being good at barbell squats just so they can develop their leg muscles. They just want to “do the thing” that will help them build leg muscles with the smallest risk of injury.
When it comes to the leg press, there’s no learning curve. You literally load weights onto the machine, sit down, unlock the weight, and start pressing.
Seated Leg Press Muscles Worked
Your quadriceps are the primary muscles worked by this exercise, followed by your hamstrings. Additionally, your calves and glutes are needed as stabilizers during the movement and so they receive secondary stimulation.
The quadriceps femoris is a muscle group on the front of your thigh and includes the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris. This large muscle group is responsible for extending the knee and aids in running, squatting, and jumping.
Your hamstrings are located right below your butt on the back of your legs and flex your knee. They also aid in the same physical actions that require help from your quadriceps.
Despite the seated leg press being a very simple movement, it does a good job of working these important lower body muscles.
Seated Leg Press Exercise Benefits
I’ve already shared a few reasons why the leg press is a solid exercise for leg development, but I’m going to continue trying to brainwash you. Here are 7 real benefits of the seated leg press that you probably didn’t know.
1. They’re a Killer Warm-Up on Leg Days
The seated leg press can work your quads, glutes, calves, and feet. So, using this machine as a warm-up will get you ready for other important lower body movements like lunges and squats. The different variations on the leg press also help you warm-up different muscles to prepare you for your working sets.
2. They Can Help You Break Through Plateaus
The seated leg press can also help break plateaus in your other movements. At some point, you’ll most likely plateau with your squat progression, but the seated leg press will allow you to stretch your muscles and work your joints for depth, helping you get past your squat plateaus.
Also, experimenting with the variations of the seated leg press might be able to help with your explosivity, rep ranges, and momentum with other exercises.
3. They Build Awesome Quad Strength
The power you need to lift the leg press machine mostly comes from your quads. The seated leg press actually engages your quads during every phase: the push-off and lifting phase, the control phase, and even when bringing the weight back down.
During the control phase and weight return, your quadriceps act as secondary stabilizers, which means the quads are still engaged. Strong quadriceps are important because they contribute to your ability to hold up your body weight, sit down, and stand up. Plus, defined quads look damn good.
4. They Also Strengthen the Glutes & Build Strong Hamstrings
Your glutes are the main group of muscles located in your butt, and the leg press is a lower body exercise which uses those muscles as stabilizers.
When you do the leg press correctly, the movement will fully engage your glutes during both the extension/lift phase and the control/ holding phase. Doing high reps with low weight will help with endurance, while doing just a few reps with a very high amount of weight will add a ton of muscle mass and make your glutes bulkier.
Strong glutes are well-defined glutes, and that means your butt will look really nice and tight. (I’m talking to you ladies) Plus, they can help you perform a variety of lower body exercises, and strong glutes come in handy for everyday things like walking up stairs.
Doing leg presses on a regular basis can also help with developing the shape and strength of your hamstrings because they’re engaged through most of the movement as well. Strong hamstrings are essential for getting that push-off power that you need when you run, walk up stairs, skate, and jump.
5. They Build Well-Rounded Legs
The seated leg press is a lower-body, compound exercise because the exercise engages more than one major muscle group at a time. Seated leg presses help to exercise virtually every major muscle and muscle group in your legs at once.
In most cases, your body likes to build muscles collectively as a unit. So when you build multiple lower body muscles using one exercise, your body rewards you with faster muscle gains.
In addition to your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, the leg press machine is also great for your calves. They act as secondary stabilizers during the movement. But, if you want to actively build more muscle in your calves, the leg press can double as a calf raise machine simply by locking the platform to its top position and pressing up with the balls of your feet.
6. There are Lots of Variations with Fast Progression
When you’re doing a seated leg press, you can easily change things up. For example, pressing through the balls of your feet activates your quads. Then, if you switch up your emphasis and press through your heels you can activate more of your glutes.
You can also adjust your feet – narrow, wide, and flared out – and change the width of your stance – low, mid, and high. All of these different variations can you help you activate specific muscles more than others. Just check out the Seated Leg Press Variations further down to get some ideas.
The seated leg press also allows you to achieve progressive overload very easily. With a weight stack, you can easily change the placement of the pin in just seconds. The machines with plates do take a little longer to change, but that break allows you to get sufficient rest between sets.
Along the same lines, the easy weight adjustment makes seated leg presses great for pyramid sets (weight progression) and drop sets (decreasing the weight from high to low).
7. They Improve Your Running Speed and Vertical Jump
Leg presses will also help you jump higher and run faster because they strengthen the power and endurance of your legs. When you include seated leg presses in your regular workout routine, you’ll eventually find that you have more explosive strength, and be able to perform longer physical activity.
Over time, the leg press machine will provide your body with a much more stable base. And, if you play sports like volleyball or basketball, you might even see increases in your vertical. Tim Grover, Dwayne Wade’s off-season strength coach, says that the single leg press is an important part of the basketball star’s training sessions because of how it improves his jump.
As for speed, your legs need to create enough force to move your body forward. The more force they create, the further and faster you’ll run. Heavy leg presses can improve your speed because your lower body will adapt to create a significant amount of force.
How to Use the Leg Press Machine
The leg press machine might look intimidating the first time you check it out, but it’s easier to use than you might think. Here’s how to safely operate this thing so you can start transforming your legs.
- Start by adding a 25 or 35 lb plate to each side of the machine. You can always increase or decrease the weight depending on how difficult it feels during your first reps.
- Have a seat in the machine and place your feet on the footplate about shoulder-width apart.
- Press your feet into the footplate and fully extend your legs so you can unlock the safety latch with your hands.
- Slowly bend your knees and let the footplate move closer to your body.
- When your knees make a 90-degree angle or less, straighten your legs again by engaging your quads and hamstrings and pressing against the footplate.
- This is a single rep.
Seated Leg Press Workout Example
Here’s a very simple workout using the leg press that can build your quads and hamstrings over time. It starts with a few warm-up sets and then jumps into the work sets.
Consider the weight you plan to use for your work sets and calculate your warm-up sets as a percentage of that weight. Here’s a percentage template you can use for your warm-ups.
- 60% of work set weight x 12 reps
- 80% of work set weight x 6 reps
- 95% of work set weight x 2 reps
Rest for 60 seconds after warm-up sets 1 and 2 and rest for 2 minutes after warm-up set 3.
For maximum simplicity, use the same amount of weight to perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
If your work set weight is 100 lbs, your leg press workout would look something like this.
- 100 lbs x 12 reps
- 100 lbs x 11 reps
- 100 lbs x 10 reps
In this example, let’s pretend you couldn’t perform all the reps in sets 1 and 2, but that’s OK. As long as you complete enough reps in your target rep range, then you should increase the weight by 5 lbs for the next session.
3 Best Leg Press Machines for Your Home Gym
Now, I’m not going to pretend that buying a leg press machine for your home is like buying a new pair of shoes. It’s not. It’s a lot different. Mainly, because of price.
Buying this kind of equipment requires some careful evaluation between a number of factors including your budget, the space you have available to store it, and your experience level. We went through some of the most popular machines on the market and narrowed it down to these three models to save you some work.
1. FORCE USA Monster Ultimate 45 Degree Leg Press/Hack Squat Combo
The FORCE USA Monster Ultimate 45 Degree Leg Press really gives you the most bang for your buck if you’re adding a leg press to your home gym. What’s nice about this machine is its similarity to most leg presses you might see in a commercial gym, just on a smaller scale.
It has multiple lockout positions which makes it adaptable to men and women of different heights. It weighs 1000 lbs so you know it’s a sturdy piece of equipment. Plus, apparently the build instructions are fairly easy to follow.
The coolest thing about this equipment is that it also transforms into a hack squat machine too. You’ll need to make some adjustments to the machine, but then you can do an upright leg workout if that’s more your style.
A couple issues are that the back pad is a little loose when using the hack squat piece. Also, since this is like a commercial leg press machine, you need to use standard barbell plates to load it… which are sold separately. These Bumper Plates by York Barbell would do well with this machine.
- Affordable for home gyms
- Designed like commercial equipment
- Hack squat feature
- Hack squat back piece may be loose
- Weights sold separately
2. Body-Solid ProClubLine Leg Press Machine
If space is more of an issue, then you may want to check out the Body-Solid ProClubLine Leg Press Machine. It’s dimensions are 75 x 32 x 72 (L x W x H) so it’s able to fit in tighter spaces like a small garage or a room off of the bedroom.
What’s nice about this machine is it comes with the weights included (210 lbs). It operates on a pulley system so you don’t even need to get out of the chair to adjust the weight.
However, there’s been at least one complaint about this machine having confusing assembly instructions, so be prepared to spend some time putting it together. Additionally, the weight only goes up to 210 lbs which isn’t enough for more advanced lifters.
- Fits into smaller spaces
- Weights included
- Easy and simple to adjust the weight
- Assembly instructions may be confusing
- Weight only goes to 210 lbs
3. BSN Sports PLATELOAD Leg Press – Black Pad
If you’re looking for something more affordable, then you may want to consider the PLATELOAD Leg Press by BSN Sports. Similar to the FORCE USA model, this machine resembles something you’d see in a commercial gym, but it’s actually what you call a lever incline leg press.
It’s another type of leg press machine that loads the weights below your legs so there’s no danger of the weight crushing you if your legs fail. The downside is you don’t get the full range of motion that a traditional leg press machine offers.
It does require barbell plates to provide the resistance (sold separately). But the machine does have a couple weight holders on the back for simple storage.
- More affordable option
- Lever machine reduces risk of injury
- May not get full range of motion compared to typical leg press
- Weights sold separately
6 Seated Leg Press Variations
Even though the leg press seems like a simple machine with only one way to do it, that’s not true! With a few minor foot adjustments, you can actually emphasize different leg muscles. Here are 6 variations you should consider when using the leg press.
Feet Shoulder-Width Apart
This is the basic setup for the leg press. Place your feet shoulder-width apart in the middle of the footplate. This variation will give the most balanced muscle stimulation.
For this variation, place your feet in the middle of the footplate a little wider than shoulder-width. This setup emphasizes your inner thigh muscles.
For the narrow stance variation, place your feet in the middle of the footplate narrower than shoulder-width. This setup emphasizes your outer thigh muscles.
Feet Up High
With a shoulder-width stance, place your feet near the top of the footplate. This will place more emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes.
Feet Down Low
With a shoulder-width stance, place your feet near the bottom of the footplate. This will place more emphasis on your quadriceps.
Single Leg-Leg Press
Take one leg off the footplate and cut the resistance weight in half. You may be able to handle more weight, but try with less weight first.
Performing the single leg leg press has a number of benefits including greater range of motion, improved functional strength, and being able to develop your lower body just as effectively without needing as much weight loaded.
Seated Leg Press Machine FAQ
Should I Leg Press Everyday?
You don’t have to, but some experts claim that performing the leg press everyday is an effective way to push through lingering plateaus and transform your legs faster. One method is to load very light weight onto the machine and do up to 100 unbroken reps before racking the weight. You should always know your limits beforehand and use safe practices when attempting something like this however.
Is There a Leg Press Progression to Follow?
In the beginning, it’s a good idea to pick a manageable amount of weight and perform straight sets in the same rep range for 10-12 reps. Refer to this Seated Leg Press Workout Example.
Eventually, you’ll want to cycle your rep ranges and volume in order to see greater muscle gains over the long term. For example, here’s a 6-week cycle that changes rep ranges and sets.
- Week 1: 3 x 5-8 reps (90% of weight)
- Week 2: 3 x 10-12 reps (80% of weight)
- Week 3: 3 x 15-20 reps (70% of weight)
- Week 4: 4 x 5-8 reps (90% of weight)
- Week 5: 4 x 10-12 reps (80% of weight)
- Week 6: 4 x 15-20 reps (70% of weight)
Consider a weight you can already do using 3 x 5-8 reps, and then use 90% for the first week. Decrease the weight every week while you increase the reps and/or number of sets.
On week 7 take a deload by dropping the weight by 40% or so. On week 8, restart the cycle, but increase the weight by 5 lbs.
Is Heavy Leg Press a Good Idea?
If you’re asking this question, then I’m assuming you’re a beginner so the answer is no. Beginners shouldn’t perform extremely, heavy-loaded leg presses because it’s just not necessary to build well-developed legs.
After you’ve been pressing for a few months and you understand your limitations, sure, continue adding more weight and see where your journey takes you. But all the Instagram and YouTube videos showing guys loading up the leg press with ungodly amounts of weight and then bending their legs hardly at all is downright moronic.
Does the Leg Press Have Weight Loss Benefits?
The leg press doesn’t directly benefit weight loss. Indirectly, adding more muscle mass to your body requires more metabolic upkeep and can very slightly raise your resting metabolism. It’s not a lot though.
If your main goal is weight loss, you’re better off creating a caloric deficit with your diet and adding some supplementary cardio into your daily routine to burn calories. Throwing in the leg press isn’t going to make that much of a difference.
Wrapping up the Seated Leg Press
As you can tell, there are a number of benefits for the seated leg press machine that make them an awesome exercise for building killer legs. Not only will they build your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, but they’re going to create well-defined legs overall that can increase your running speed and improve your vertical.
But you can’t transform your body with just the seated leg press machine. You need an entire training and diet plan to move the needle. That’s why I suggest you check out my highest recommended muscle building routine called The Kinobody Greek God Program so you can take all the guesswork out of building a lean and muscular body and start looking better today.