Lifestyle coaching designed for women

"Make your workout count train smart, not just hard!"

+31 6 364 254 72 | [email protected]


The leg press is a compound movement for the legs which mainly focuses on the quadriceps(front of the leg). Depending on how you angle your feet and how wide or narrow you place them, it’s also possible to place more emphasis on the hamstrings(rear) and ‘glutes’ aka the 'butt'. This article includes a guide on how to perform the seated leg press, along with some different variations you could use to target specific areas of the lower body. There are a lot of articles about the squat and lunge in all their different variations for leg development and yes they are great exercises. But if executed and incorporated correctly in to your training routine the leg press can be of great benefit to your overall leg development and strength.

Lower Body Anatomy and Leg-Positioning Variations.
The three main groups of muscle in the lower body are the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Primarily, the leg press will place most of the load on the quadriceps, as the standard posture set-up consists of your legs being at shoulder width apart and your body being at a 90° angle to your legs on the seated machine for a starting position. Use a plate-loaded machine or a resistance machine for this exercise.

Your quadriceps are a very large group of muscles which contain 4 portions or ‘heads’.

1. Rectus femoris.
This is the muscle located in the centre of the thigh, which covers most of the other three heads of the quadriceps as it stems from the ilium(upper part of the pelvis) as opposed to the femur.

2. Vastus medialis.
This is located on the inner part of the thigh and lies underneath the rectus femoris.

3. Vastus lateralis.
On the outside of the thigh is the vastus lateralis.

4. Vastus intermedius.
Between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis is the vastus intermedius it is not visible as it is covered by the rectus femoris muscle

Targeting different parts of the legs.

Outer Quadriceps.
In order to target the outer portion of your quadriceps (vastus lateralis) you can adjust your foot stance to become narrower. The rest of your form is the same, apart from you’re now performing the ‘close’ leg press as opposed to the conventional method.

Inner Quadriceps.
On the other hand, if you wish to target the inside of your quadriceps (vastus medialis and adductors) you can use a wide stance. This movement typically becomes harder the wider your stance becomes.

Quadriceps Isolation.
By placing your feet closer to the bottom of the leg press (low stance) you’ll be able to isolate the quadriceps and place more of the load onto the vastus lateralis and rectus femoris as a whole more throughout each leg pressing movement, meaning that the glutes and hamstrings are less involved.

Hamstrings and Glutes.
Oppositely, if you place your feet at a high stance you’ll shift more of the load onto your hamstrings and glutes. This is a very popular variation as there aren’t many other resistance machines that allow you to target your glutes and hamstrings with heavy weight.

How To Perform The Leg Press on a plate loaded/conventional machine.
Pleas note that there are many different types of leg press machines. Always follow the safety instructions on the machine, if not available or when you are in doubt of the workings of the machine consult your gym personnel for instructions before using this or any type of gym equipment.

1. Load your desired amount of weight onto the machine and sit down on the leg press seat.
2. Place your legs on the pressing platform with a shoulder width stance in front of your torso in the centre of your body.
3. Disengage the safety levers either side(this may vary depending on the type of machine you use) and take hold of the handles to your sides.
4. Press the weight until your legs are extended but not locked out.
5. Take a deep breathe and lower the weight slowly until your upper and lower legs make a 90° angle (this is the eccentric portion of the movement).
6. Make sure that when you bend the knees they are in line with your feet.
7. Exhale and drive back up through your heels (quadriceps focused) until the platform returns back to the starting position.
8. Continue to perform your desired amount of repetitions.

Create a slight arch in your lower back, and push your chest out while keeping a tight core throughout the movement to implement a stronger form. Each different foot variation follows the same range of motion so feel free to use any of the mentioned variations above
Perform 3-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions per variation, try to use two different variations per training session.

Leg Press performed on plate loaded machine with high foot placement for emphasis on glutes and hamstrings.

You can incorporate some of these variations into your leg routine in order to target multiple heads of the quadriceps in your workouts. If performing leg presses on the same day as squats, you would typically carry out the squats beforehand and then move onto your leg press variations, as the free weight exercise of squatting with a barbell requires more assistance muscles and balance.

Example leg routine with emphasis on the quads and inner thighs
-Barbell squats 4 sets 8-15 reps
-walking lunges 3 sets 12-15 reps
-Leg press 3 sets 12-8 reps feet in standard position (shoulder with, middle of the plate)
-Leg press 3 sets 12-8 reps feet in wider position in the middle of the plate (giving emphasis on the inside of the quads and inner thighs, or adductors)
-leg extension machine 3-4 sets 12 reps
-Hip adduction machine 3 sets 15 reps

Example leg routine with emphasis on hamstrings and glutes
-Leg press 4 sets 15-10 reps feet in standard position (shoulder with, middle of the plate).
-Leg press 4 sets 15-10 reps feet in shoulder with and high on the plate (giving emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes)
-leg curl machine 3-4 sets 12 reps
-stiff legged dead lift 3 sets 15-10 reps
-leg abduction machine 3 sets 15-10 reps

These are at least intermediate programs as they are pretty high volume and depending on the amount of resistance and intensity could even be challenging for a hardend gym-goer. Mind you they are just examples, but definitely worth to give a shot. Find out what works best for you and keep varying regularly, this keeps the body unprepared so it has to adapt(grow muscle/get stronger).

Share this article:

"Make your workout count, train smart not just hard!"