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Muscles Worked in Leg Press: The Benefits for Leg Development

    man during leg press

    The leg press machine can be one of your best friends at the gym if you want to develop your leg muscles. It is a compound exercise for the lower body and strengthens your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.

    Leg presses are a useful option for men to boost the size of their thighs. It is also for women who want a sexy and shaped butt and legs. And these are just a few of the leg press benefits.

    Read on to learn more about why you should use a leg press and how beneficial it can be for leg strength and muscle activation.

    • Build strength and power: the legs muscles worked in a leg press machine are powerful, so strengthening them can increase your power output and speed. This is important for running and vertical jumps.
    • Train around your upper body injuries: leg press exercises are ideal if you need to continue training even though you have upper body injuries. Most compound exercises work the quads and leg muscles, but the leg press machine doesn’t require you to use your upper body. So, you won’t aggravate any upper body injuries you have.
    • Friendly on the knee joints: the stronger the muscles are around your joints, the healthier those joints will be. So, when you take the time to strengthen your quads, it will prove beneficial for your knee joint since it is the upper leg muscle that connects to the knee. If you have frequent knee issues, the leg press machine will probably cause less pain than other lower body exercises because your feet remain stationary.
    • Help muscle imbalance: single leg or unilateral work can reduce the strength gap there may be between your two legs. Perhaps you noticed that one leg is stronger than the other? With a leg press, you can focus both on your strong and less strong sides.

    Beginner’s Guide to Muscles Worked in Leg Press

    leg press machine muscles worked

    Leg press muscles involved

    Muscles Worked in Leg Press

    The leg press is among the most easy-to-learn strength training leg exercises since the machine drives the motion. It is also rather safe to perform thanks to the safety catchers of the gym equipment.

    Because of these features, compared to squats, athletes can lift heavier weights, which leads to improved muscle mass and strength development. Also, it is the right choice for beginners because of its ease of use.

    The leg press exercise itself is very straightforward. Set the weight you want to use, sit into the machine, and place your feet on the platform. Now, slowly lower the sled so your knees go towards your chest.

    The next phase is when you need to push the weight away and upwards from yourself. At the top, when your legs are straight, hold the platform for a few seconds.

    That’s it. Of course, there are variations and tricks that I’m going to talk about later.

    Leg presses are done in a seated position to target your quads, glutes, hamstrings, hips, and calves. Being seated allows you to keep your upper body and torso still during the workout. It is also a good exercise since you can adjust it to fit your fitness level.

    Here is the video tutorial for the correct form to enjoy all the leg press machine benefits.


    To summarize:



    The main muscles worked on a leg press are the quadriceps. Slow down each bend during your leg press and control your speed to maximize your benefits.


    Gluteus Maximus

    During a leg press exercise, your gluteals straighten the hips and stabilize your legs. However, it won’t grow your glutes alone because you are not fully extending your hips with these exercises. To counteract this, put your feet closer to the platform’s top.



    the leg press also works your hamstrings but to a lesser degree. However, the farther up on the platform, the more hamstring activation you will experience during your workout.

    Calves and shins

    Lower leg muscles

    finally, your lower leg muscles are the connection between your feet and thighs. When doing your leg press exercises, keep your feet flat and push through the heels and balls of your feet when you do each rep.

    Common mistakes:

    • Locking your knees at the top. Keep them slightly bent
    • Don’t turn your feet too much outward or inward
    • Don’t let your knees go close together at the bottom
    • Don’t lower the sled too far when your knees almost touch your chest. Stop it when your thighs are somewhat vertical

    As you can see, the movements you do on a leg press engage all the muscle groups of your lower body and even your core. Personally, it is my favorite leg exercise after squats.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at the muscles the leg press can work and show you how beneficial the leg press can be for your workout.

    1. Leg Press Exercise Benefits for Glutes

    Your glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus) are muscles that build up your buttocks. If you see men and women with beautiful butts, that is because of their developed glute muscles.

    Of course, strengthening those areas is not just essential to have an attractive body but also helps you perform better in various sports. For example, you can jump higher and run faster. Or, if you do weight training, you will be better at other lower body exercises.

    Doing the seated leg press exercise correctly engages the gluteal muscles in the pressing and lowering phase.

    However, here is a trick. Instead of placing your feet in the middle of the platform, set them a bit upwards. This way, there will be more pressure on your glutes than the other major muscle groups of your legs.

    Finally, if your primary goal is to make your butt bigger, do leg press for glutes with a heavier weight and lower reps. To tone your buttocks, increase the reps, and lower the load.

    To sum up, if you want to build well-defined and strong glutes, use this exercise equipment.

    Related: Check out the best leg press machines for home here

    2. Build Strong Hamstrings

    Man training legs on leg press machine

    The hamstrings are groups of muscles found at the rear part of the upper leg. If you want big and well-defined thighs, it is not enough to focus on just the quadriceps located at the front. Hams and quads together build up the shape of the upper legs.

    Of course, strengthening your hams is necessary to look muscular and for functional strength and conditioning. Hams are required for lower body pushing exercises or moves where explosive power is needed. For example, running, jumping, skating, sprinting, or other strength training activities such as squats or lunges.

    The hamstrings are almost always engaged during the leg press exercise since they control the lowering and pushing movements. Or when you hold the sled at the top.

    Do you want to target your hams even better? As for glutes, place your feet higher to add more charge to those areas.

    3. Develop Your Quad Strength

    The quadriceps muscle (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius) are at the front and the sides of your upper legs. The quads are part of the lower body and are responsible for pushing and explosive moves such as vertical jumps and standing-ups. Well-defined front thighs also look good.

    When you do leg presses, the quadriceps are mostly engaged when you push the weight away from you. But you also need to learn how to control the motion while letting it back. This is the primarily used muscle group during the exercise. However, you can target your quads even better by setting your feet lower.

    Do you want to focus on your inner thighs? Instead of the standard shoulder-width foot placement, get a wide stance.

    Do you want to target your outer thighs? Get a narrow stance.

    To sum it up, if you want to gain and define your front thighs, leg presses are an excellent exercise to participate in because it focuses on those particular areas.

    4. Improve Your Calves

    Leg presses are not the best exercise for calves since the upper leg muscles are the ones that do the work. However, calf muscles help control the motion and act as stabilizers, which is better than nothing.

    However, you can use the leg press machine to do effective calf raises!

    Put about half of your feet on the lower edge of the platform as if you were using a calf raise machine. Let the weight push your feet backward. You will feel the stretch at the back of your lower legs. Then, push the weight back with the power of your calves.

    Since you are seated, you can focus on the calf muscles well. Also, by putting your feet in an outer position, you can target your inner calves and your outer calves.

    Here is a detailed guide for calf raises.

    5. Beginner Friendly & Safe Bodybuilding

    While squats are the king of lower body exercises, it takes time to learn the correct form for a beginner. Also, an inexperienced trainer can fall over if he loses his balance, leading to a bad injury.

    The leg press machine provides a safe environment for lower body strength training. You do not have to be afraid of weights falling on you since you can quickly stop the weighted platform with the safety break. This means you can also train without a spotter, something you can’t do when participating in other weight training exercises.

    Also, it is effortless to learn the proper leg press form, even for someone who has never lifted weights before. It allows beginners to focus more on lifting.

    Leg press instead of squats?

    Do not forget about the barbell squat! Use the machine to prepare your body for barbell squats if you are a newbie. It is the best strength training exercise in the world and really should be included in your leg workout routine.

    Compared to the leg press, the barbell squat works far more muscles since many secondary stabilizers are activated, even upper body ones, leading to better overall strength.

    Watch the following video on leg press vs. squat. 


    To conclude, it is excellent for beginners, but also for heavy lifters since the machine is rather safe to use.

    6. Seated Leg Press Exercise Variations to Target Various Parts of Your Legs

    Shoulder-width is the standard stance which is great for overall leg development. However, by placing your feet in different positions, you can better target a particular leg muscle group. This way, you can get more targeted bodybuilding workouts.

    • The lower your feet, the more load is in your quads
    • High foot placement engages the glutes and hamstrings better
    • The wide stance puts more emphasis on the inner thighs
    • Narrow stance on your outer upper leg
    • By pushing the platform with your toes, you can strengthen your calves
    • Single leg presses to boost power and get rid of muscle imbalance

    Recommended: You can learn more about these leg press variations here.

    7. Vertical Leg Press Benefits – What’s the Difference?

    The vertical leg press seems to be an odd machine compared to the traditional one. It is not as popular, and in most cases, you cannot find one at a small gym. However, it is excellent equipment to make your leg workout even more versatile and target a particular muscle group more effectively. Some bodybuilding experts say it is even better than 45-degree machines since it provides a better environment for pushing movements because it is 90 degrees.

    The main reason professionals use it is that they can target the quadriceps more effectively. Quads are more engaged because of the vertical pushing, and other leg muscles do not participate as much. So, you can build more defined and stronger quadriceps.

    The other reason is that it better supports the back, notably the lower back. Your entire back is on padded support, and it gets far less load than if you were doing bar squats or regular leg presses.

    Finally, I have to mention that switching to new exercises is always good since the muscles get a new impact they have to adapt. You will not get bored with the same leg exercises, making your workout more challenging.

    Note: If there is no vertical machine at the gym, you can use the Smith machine instead. Although, it is not as comfortable because of the bar (unless the Smith machine has a specialized attachment.)

    To Conclude

    As you see, the leg press workout benefits are numerous. It provides complete leg training. It is a powerful leg exercise that works more muscles at once. It is a more natural movement for the body than isometric exercises targeting only one muscle group leading to enhanced functional strength and power. If you want more significant or more defined leg muscles, it will help to reach your goal.


    What are the single leg press benefits?

    Well, this is an advanced variation that requires practice. It is far more difficult to perform since your body is in an unstable position, but that is why it is so good to boost your lower body’s power. Here are some of its advantages.

    • It gives a longer range of motion leading to improved strength and mass development
    • Because of the imbalance, the core muscles are activated
    • You can develop a balance between both legs. If, for some reason, one of your legs is weaker than the other, you can cure it with this exercise
    • Strengthen your legs with just half of the weight and get the same results
    • It builds functional strength

    Which leg press machine is better? Vertical, 45-degree, or horizontal?

    Well, that depends on how long you have been doing strength training. For beginners or someone who wants to shape legs, the horizontal machine is good. These are easy-to-use and safe weight stack machines.

    But advanced athletes should go with the vertical or incline seated leg press machine.

    What are the incline leg press benefits for ladies?

    It is a piece of effective gym equipment for women to shape their legs and buttocks (glutes). So, it helps to make your bum bigger and more shaped. Plus, if they want to challenge themselves, they can use it to lift heavier weights safely.

    When you use an incline press, your legs extend above your body at a 45-degree angle. It may look difficult, but it really isn’t. You do need to be sitting down very low and very close to the floor for this position.

    You will find it easier to keep your back flat against the pad in the incline press position, which can help reduce the chance of mistakes that could ultimately result in back pain.

    Does a leg press help with weight loss?

    Not directly. It burns calories since it is a compound exercise, but the real benefit comes from the enhanced muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is. And that leads to continuous calorie burning even if you do not train.

    What is a reverse leg press?

    A reverse leg press is any machine that overloads the kickback motion of hip extension, allowing you to utilize a bent leg. Most of these kinds of machines use weight stacks or a plate loading resistance mechanism. A reverse leg extension or reverse leg curl is the opposite movement of a leg extension. This works out the quadriceps and the muscles in the back of the legs, including your glutes and hamstrings.


    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

    2 thoughts on “Muscles Worked in Leg Press: The Benefits for Leg Development”

      1. Well, while it is a compound move that works all the muscles of the lower body, the squat is much better. Firstly, it is a natural movement that requires stability from the entire body. This way, not just the lower but the upper body is activated as well. Hence, for overall strength development, the squat is a necessary exercise. The leg press is not bad at all, it helps to develop your glutes and hams, but the majority of your leg workout should be various squats.

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