Leg Press: A Complete How-To Exercise Guide (2024)

While I’m certainly not old, I can’t help but bring up muscle mags and reasons why certain exercises were so popular “back in my day”. The leg press is no different.

The leg press was a staple leg exercise on any leg day you read about when Muscle & Fitness still hit the magazine stands.

It was also popular among those who simply did not want to squat.

Not much has changed, honestly. You’ll likely still find the leg press written into any bro-style workout routine. And folks who fear getting under the barbell will likely navigate to it.

However, I have noticed that its use is focused more on building muscle now than strength. Reps ranges have gotten higher, and people are smartly avoiding their ego when loading plates onto the leg press machine.

So, if you need another leg exercise to add to your lower body workouts, the leg press might be one to consider.

In this article, we will explain how to perform the leg press, what muscles are worked during the exercise, how to add it to your workout routines, and some variations you might want to further explore to determine a best leg press variation for your needs.

How to Perform the Leg Press

As noted at the bottom of this article, there are several foot placements you can use to change up the emphasized muscle groups during the leg press. For this section, we will focus on the traditional variation that has your feet about shoulder width apart.

  1. Load the machine with the desired weight you would like to use and read the manufacturer’s guide on machine safety for your specific machine.
  2. Sit in the machine with your back firmly against the back pad and your butt on the seat pad. It is important to keep this position fixed throughout the movement.
  3. Place your feet on the sled assuming a shoulder width foot placement.
  4. Press the sled away from your body while keeping a slight bend in your knees.
  5. Release the safety.
  6. Lower the sled by bending your knees so that you bring your thighs to your rib cage.
  7. Press through your feet to push the sled away from your and back to the starting position.
  8. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

What Muscles Are Worked During the Leg Press?

The leg press works the muscles of the leg without stressing the stabilizers of the core/lower back. The primary muscles worked in the variation described above are the quadriceps. However, the hamstrings are greatly involved as well as the adductors.

Shifting your foot placement can change the emphasis of the muscle being worked. The higher your feet are placed, the more your glutes and hamstrings will work. The lower or narrower your feet are will challenge the quads to a greater extent. The wider your feet, the more your adductors will be worked.

How to Add Leg Presses to Your Workout Routine

The leg press can be treated as a primary exercise during a lower body workout, full body workout, or push-focused workout that includes legs. It is more often used as a secondary exercise to target the muscles of the quad for greater muscular growth.

Many individuals who perform multiple leg workouts throughout the week will include the leg press as a primary lift for one of those leg days and have squat variation(s) on the other leg days.

How you view the exercise will determine its placement within your workouts.

For people performing full body workouts, it may or may not be the primary exercise of the workouts as workout order is usually determined by the technical demand of the exercises selected. Since the exercise is machine-based, a free weight exercise may be the first exercise of the workout. If the workout encompasses machine-only exercises, it might be the first exercise performed for the day.

For those who perform upper/lower workouts, the exercise can be performed on lower body workout days. It can be used as a primary movement or a secondary movement depending on your individual goals and exercise restrictions.

For those who perform push/pull/legs workouts, the leg press can be included in leg workouts and also in push workouts if you perform any leg exercises as part of your push day. The exercise is most likely a secondary movement pattern for this style of training but can be used as a primary movement depending on your training frequency, goals, and exercise restrictions.

And, lastly, for those who perform bro split workouts, the leg press is performed on leg day workouts. It will most likely be a secondary movement pattern for most. For those who are unable to perform free weight leg exercises, the leg press may be the primary leg exercise for this training style as well.

Leg Press Variations

Listed below are some of the variations of the leg press. Most follow the same form instructions listed above. The main difference is in the foot placement on the sled of the machine. Each foot placement emphasizes the muscles worked differently. Refer to the muscles worked section to learn more.

  • Wide stance leg press
  • Narrow stance leg press
  • One-legged leg press
  • High-foot leg press
  • Low-foot leg press


The leg press is great for anyone looking to build the muscles of the leg without necessarily training the core stabilizers worked during squat movement patterns.

Due to the nature of the exercise, you may be able to use more weight than you would while performing a squat which can lead to more leg muscle growth. However, heavy leg presses without proper form and technique can lead to injury.

If you have any questions about leg presses, please feel free to drop a comment below!

Leg Press: A Complete How-To Exercise Guide (2024)
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