How to Properly Perform the Leg Press

There are two types of leg press machines in common use: the standard horizontal leg press and the 45-degree leg press. This second leg-press machine has a seat in which your body reclines at an angle and the leg press is in an upward diagonal direction using a sled mechanism.

This description uses the standard seated leg press machine. You may need a trainer to show you how to adjust the machine for your first exercise.

As for all exercises, don’t lift too much to begin with and stop if you feel any pain. Remember to keep breathing during the effort phase. It's easy to hold your breath without realizing it, but if you remember to pay attention to your breathing from the beginning, it will become habit.

Muscles worked: quadriceps and hamstrings of the thigh, gluteus (butt).

How to Position Your Body for the Leg Press

Fit woman using leg press
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Here's how to position your body when using the leg press machine:

  • Sit on the machine with your back and head against the padded support.
  • Place your feet on the footplate about hip-width apart, ensuring that your heels are flat. Your legs should form an angle of about 90 degrees at the knee with a little variation either way as long as your heels sit flat on the plate.
  • Your knees should be in line with your feet and neither bowed inward nor outward.
  • Your bottom should not be raised from the seat platform. If it is, and your legs are at too sharp of an angle, then you need to adjust the seat back until the correct position is enabled. You can recognize this poor position when your knees seem to be in front of your eyes and you feel cramped.
  • Grasp the assist handles.

Body Movement for a Proper Leg Press

It's important to follow proper form to get the most out of your leg press by doing the following:

  • Brace your abdominal muscles and push the platform away with your heels and forefoot by extending your knees and hips and pushing your back into the seat pad.
  • Your heels should remain flat on the footplate and the front of your foot or toes should not be used exclusively to move the pad forward.
  • Keep your head steady and your back against the seat.
  • Don’t lock out your knees in an explosive fashion but do express a full range of motion.
  • Return the footplate to the starting position by allowing your knees to bend under control while maintaining your feet flat on the surface.
  • If you can't control your movements, you need to reduce the weights. Proper form is more important than the amount of weight you're lifting.
  • Be careful to avoid overextending your knees.
  • Repeat the exercise.

Checkpoints for a Safe, Effective Leg Press

Be sure you're following these checkpoints in order to make sure you're doing the leg press properly:

  • Ensure a full range of motion is possible without raising your hips from the seat. Take time to adjust the seat for the best position.
  • Don’t allow your knees to bow outward or inward. Keep them in line with your feet.
  • Maintain heel contact with the plate and ensure you push with your heels and forefoot.
  • Keep your head steady and against the seat pad; don’t jerk your head forward with the effort.
  • Start with a modest weight and progress as it suits your training and requirements. Try three sets of ten leg presses.