The leg press isa highly effective exercisetargetingyourquadriceps muscle group and can play a huge rolein your overall effort to develop stronger, bigger legs. And while it may seem like a straightforward exercise, some variablescan change how your leg muscles are worked.
Those training variables come in the form of your feet placement. Knowing the different foot positions is the secret toeffectively targeting the lower body muscle group you're trying togrow, whether it's your quads, hamstrings, or glutes.
This article will cover the 7 leg press foot placements and muscles worked for each, along with key programming tips that will increase muscle growth in your legs.
Table of Contents:
- What Muscles Does The Leg Press Work?
- 7 Leg Press Foot Placements (And Muscles Worked For Each)
- Common Leg Press Mistakes To Avoid
- Programming Tips
WHAT MUSCLES DOES THE LEG PRESS WORK?
The leg press machine is designed to target the lower body muscles, which include:
- Quadriceps (Rectus Femoris,Vastus Lateralis,Vastus Medialis,Vastus Intermedius)
- Hamstrings (Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus, Biceps Femoris)
- Glutes (Gluteus Maximus,Gluteus Medius,Gluteus Minimus)
- Calves (Gastrocnemius,Soleus)
While it works all of these muscle groups, the primary muscles targeted with leg presses are the quadriceps.
However, the different angles and the way you position your feet will alter which muscles are being emphasized. So, while the quadriceps are generally the main target when doing leg presses, you can change up your foot position to better emphasize the hamstrings, glutes, or calves.
You can even use foot positioning to build and definethe specific muscles of your quadriceps.
DOES FOOT PLACEMENT MATTER ON THE LEG PRESS?
Yes, foot placement matters on a leg press machine. The way you position your feet is an important training variable for leg presses. By changing your feet position, you are altering the way your muscles are being stressed. In other words, you can emphasize (target) specific muscles more or less depending on your foot placement. For example, if you want to target your outer thighs in exercises for saddlebags, creating a wider foot placement is ideal.
Additionally, you cando single leg presses, which also makes a difference in how the muscles are stressed. We're about to discuss the different foot placements below this video, which does a great job of talking through how changing your foot positions on the leg press can alter the muscles you're working.
7 Leg Press Foot Placements & Muscles Worked
Let's discuss your different foot placement options and the muscles primarily worked for each.
The 7 leg press foot placements are:
- Single Leg Press
- Calf Raises
In addition, there are evenmore variables if you combine the different feet width (standard, wide, narrow) withthe different foot height on the sled (high, middle, low).
1) Regular Foot Placement:
The regular foot placement (or standard) is with your feet on the sled about shoulder width apart and at midway (at its horizontal centerline).
Toes can be straight up or slightly flared out in this stance, depending on what feels comfortable for you.
The regular foot placement is the most well rounded option for your legs. The primary muscle focus with the regular foot placement is the quads of course, but it also does a good job of activating the hamstrings and glutes (especially if you use a full range of motion). Put simply, it is quad-centric with the glutes and hamstring playing a part in the movement.
2) Wide Foot Placement:
The wide foot placement leg press keeps your feet midway along the sled but with your feet wider. How wide you go will depend on how comfortable you feel. Generally speaking, your feet will be about 1.5x shoulder width (they will be near the edge of the platform (be sure to have some space from the edge just in case).
It will likely feel best with your toes flared outward in this wider foot placement. Most people point there toes up to 45˚ outward.
The wide foot placement puts your hips slightly in hip abduction. This means that the wide foot placement targets your glutes, hip abductors, hamstrings, and quads,particularly the vastus lateralis (outer quads) and rectus femoris.
In terms of range of motion, unlike the regular foot placement where you can go really as deep as the machine will allow, you will have to gauge your inner thigh flexibility with the wide foot placement. If you are feeling too much strain on your inner thigh, then you are likely going too deep. Over time, your range of motion will increase, allowing you to get your thighs about perpendicular with the floor at the bottom range of motion when doing wide stance leg press.
3) Narrow Foot Placement:
The narrow stance requires that you set your feet at hip width. Again, midway on the sled. You can even try a little more narrow or slightly wider than hip width.
For this foot placement, you will generally want to keep your toes pointed straight up (not flared out).
This foot placement is as quadricep focused as it gets. So, narrow foot placement on the leg press is great forisolating your quads. It is particularly good for the vastus medialis thigh muscles, which is the tear-drop muscle of the quad.
Go as deep as you can with this one. But, make sure that your feet remain flat to the sled. You don’t want to lift your heels up. In fact, you want to be driving force from the heels of your feet, as with all the other foot placements.
4) High Foot Placement:
The high foot position has your toes coming near the top of the sled. So, your feet will be on the upper half of the sled. While you can use a standard, narrow, or wide foot placement, generally you will use a standard shoulder width foot placement when doing a high stance.
This foot placement requires additional hip extension, which means with the hight foot placement, you will be increasing activation of the hamstrings and glutes. Of course, it is also effective for the quads, especially the rectus femoris.
You should be able to go the full range that the leg press allows for this foot placement. That is, if you have the mobility.
5) Low Foot Placement:
The low foot placement has your heels near the bottom of the sled. So, your feet will be on the lower half of the sled. Like the high foot placement, you can play around with foot width. We will use the general shoulder width stance for reference of muscles worked.
This is a quad-centric foot placement for the leg press. Because your knees can travel further beyond your toes, you will be increasing the range of motion at the knee, thus increasing the stretching tension of the quads. The low foot placement is agreat all around quadriceps isolation movement.
Go as deep as you can. As the knees will be going further past your toes, it involves more ankle movement, so you will need good/normal ankle mobility for this one. If you are lacking ankle mobility, your range of motion will be limited. Weightlifting shoes can help here as they create a slight raise in the heel (like doing heel raised squats) and demanding less ankle flexibility.
6) Single Leg Press:
Thesingle leg press alters how yourmuscles are workedand alsoallows you to hone in on muscle imbalances. By pressing with one leg at a time, you are removing the possibility of letting your dominant side take on more resistance.
With the single leg press, you are increasing activation of the glutes (especially the side glutes) and your outer thigh, as well as your hamstrings to a degree. If your turn your toes inward and/or move your body to the side a bit, you will bring the glutes into play even more.
As for where to place your foot on the sled, you will want to keep it on the working side, but close to the middle. You can play around with how it feels for you, but don’t bring it too much to the side, closer to the center is safest for the hips.
7) Calf Raises:
If you place the balls of your feet on the bottom ledge of the sled so your heels are off the sled and then perform calf raises with your knees slightly bent and legs extended, you can target your calves pretty effectively. You’ll just have to use as large of a range of motion with each calf raise as you can.
Be careful with this one, you don’t want your toes to slip off the bottom of the sled! Make sure you are wearing shoes and your whole top half of the foot is on the sled securely. Also, set the safety bar high up on the leg press machine if you can.
Note: The cable leg press machine is best for calf raises due to both the angle and the fact that you don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off the sled coming down at you. So, if you have a cable leg press machine at your gym, definitely do the calf raises on it and not the plate loaded one. You will find it much more effective for calf raises.
Leg Press Machine ANGLES
There are two primary angles with the leg press machine. Here's a look:
- Pressing Upward: When pressing upward on the plate loaded leg press machine, you are involving more of your leg muscles.
- Pressing Downward/Horizontal: The horizontal/downward press of the cable leg press machine is more isolated for the quads, especially the area of the quads just above the knee.
So, for all around leg strength and quad strength, the plate loaded leg press is best. It also generally allows for more range of motion.
What is the Best Leg Press Foot Placement?
There are many ways that you can place your feet to access different groups of muscles in your legs. Some people find that certain foot positions are more comfortable than others.
That said, the best foot placement will depend on the muscles you want to target. Here are the best leg press foot placements for each muscle group.
- Quads: Standard, Narrow, Low
- Hamstrings: Standard, Wide, High
- Glutes: Standard, Wide, High, Single Leg
And, remember,all of the options hit the quads pretty damn effectively.
Can the Leg Press Really Be Effective for the Glutes and Hamstrings?
The glutes and hamstrings can be worked well with a leg press machine, but it's not an end all be all for these muscles. You will definitely want to do more glute and hamstring specific exercises like deadlift variations and hip thrusts for good development of these muscles. The leg press won’t be enough.
To give you an idea why: Thisstudyshows that the glutes are activated the most during the end-range of hip extension (when your hip joint is straight/neutral)1. With the leg press, your hip joints are never straight, they will always be at a flexed angle when you lockout each rep.
Because of that, you can never fully activate your glutes on the leg press. You can get good stretching tension, but not maximum contraction tension. The same holds true for the hamstrings, especially the fact that you won’t get maximum stretching tension, which the hamstrings need for hypertrophy and strength development.
Common Mistakes & Form Tips for Leg Presses
The leg press is a really effective machine that is quite easy to use, but some tips will help you to prevent injury and get the most out of your workouts while you are using this machine.Ensuring you are following thebest practices when using the leg press machinecan seriouslymake or break your results:
- Full Range of Motion>Heavy Loads: While using heavy loads (relative to your strength) is important, using a full range of motion is top priority. Using lighter weight with a full range of motion will be far more effective than using heavy loads with a limited range of motion.If range of motion is an issue for you, focus on that before you start adding weight.
- Push from the heels of your feet:Keep your feet flat on the sled and think about driving force from the heels of your feet. Don't push from the balls of your feet and let your heels come up off the sled.
- Make sure not to lift your buttocks too far off the seat:Curling your lower back can lead to injury and discomfort as well as impeding your ability to perform some of the movements that you are trying to perform. Protecting your lower back is easy using this machine but you should be sure that you do not make this critical mistake.
- Grip the handles to make sure that you can lock the sled in place if you need to:Make sure that you are not placing your hands on your knees or thighs and that you keep them on the handles that lock the sled in place.
- Do not curl your head up away from the back of the chair:When you curl your neck, you will also curl your lower back. This can lead to significant back injury if you are pushing a lot of weight on the sled with each movement.
- Remember to breathe:It can be easy to hold your breath when pushing weights around, but this can work against your abilities to get results. Holding your breath can reduce the oxygen that you are getting to your muscles and you might also not have the flexibility in your diaphragm to be able to push your legs to full extension if you are holding your breath. Always be sure to breathe while you are lifting weights to help you be able to produce max effort throughout your workout.
BEST REPS & LOAD, SETS & VOLUME FOR LEG PRESS
Considering you are likely doing the leg press exercise for your quads (as that’s really what it’s designed for), let’s consider the quads when discussing the best reps and load.
Your quads are fast twitch muscle dominant, which means the are made for powerful bursts of energy. However, they do have a fair portion of slow twitch muscle fibers too.
Each quadricep muscle is different, so let’s just call it about 65%/35% fast/slow twitch.
With that, you’ll want to focus around 65% of your leg press sets on heavy loads with moderate reps, and then around 35% of your sets with moderately light loads and high reps.
In both cases, you want a load that will challenge you in the given rep ranges.
- 5-10 reps
- 10-15 reps
- 15-20+ reps
All in all, for the best possible development of your quads, work through the full spectrum of reps.
As for sets and volume, when it comes toleg press machine foot placement,it depends on the other exercises you are doing for your quads/legs. Here are some guidelines that can help:
- Intermediate & Advanced Lifters: You need about 8-12 quad/leg sets per week, which can be split into two different sessions. Some liftersneed even more than this.
- Beginners: Will likely need around 5-8 sets per week at minimum.
How to Add The Leg Press to Your Workout Routine
Adding the leg press to your lifting schedule islike adding any other leg exercise into your routine. Simply add 3-4 sets of the leg press on your leg day.
As for how to implement the differentseated leg press foot placement options, this is going to depend on the other exercises you are doing that session or in that week. Here are twoscenarios:
- Formore hamstring work, do a leg press foot placement variation that hits the hamstrings more. You could also doa specific foot placement one day and then change it the following session.
- If you're targeting leg press foot placement for glutes, add 1-2 foot placement variations that hit the glutes the most.
- Performone set of each foot placement on days that you do the leg press machine.
Really, it's up to you and you can get creative with your workouts. If your goal is to crush your legs on leg day, then use your best judgement and listen to your body.
How Can I Support Quad Muscle Growth?
Having the right training program in place, employing progressive overload, andhaving theright dietary support can make a huge difference if you have been struggling to meet your muscle growth goals.
Focus on keeping track of:
- Exercise variety
And using progressive overload to continually make your workouts harder.
From there, be sure to eat enough food/protein.
You need to make sure that you are using all the right supportive benefits to make sure that your muscle growth is not impeded by a lack of support from diet and correct workout strategies. Muscle growth does not happen without a balance of all of the right supportive factors.
LEG PRESS FEET PLACEMENT FAQs:
Here are answers to some frequently asked leg press foot placement questions.
WHERE SHOULD I PLACE MY FEET ON LEG PRESS?
You have several options for foot placement when doing the leg press. None of them are wrong, they are just different, depending on the muscle group you're trying to target.
How do you target your quads on a leg press?
Your quads will be activated no matter what foot placement you use during leg presses. However, to really isolate the quads and take less stress away from the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, use a narrow stance (about hip width) or a low foot placement (toward the bottom of the sled) and try to really maximize your range of motion in these placements.
How do you target your hamstrings on a leg press?
To get more hamstring activationwith yourfoot placement for leg press, place your feet in either a wide stance (1.5x shoulder width) or a high position (closer to the top of the sled). Also, try to maximize your range of motion so you can get the most stretching tension in your hamstrings with each rep.
How do you target your glutes on a leg press?
To get more glute activation, set up yourfoot placement on leg press so your feet areeither in a wide stance (1.5x shoulder width) or a high position (closer to the top of the sled). You can also do single leg presses for considerably more glute recruitment. Also, try to maximize your range of motion so you can get the most stretching tension in your glutes with each rep.
WHAT IS ALEG PRESS?
A leg press machine puts you in a seated position with your back against a backrest so that you can use your feet to push a sled (platform) against resistance.The sled of a leg press machine will either be plate loaded or set up to a cable pulley system with a weight stack.
Who Is The Leg Press Good For?
The leg press is a great exercise for anyone who wants to build lower body strength and muscle, and in the leg press vs. squat debate (or when comparing it to any free weight leg exercise), it is generally considered to be safer.
For some people, this is the perfect start to working on leg strength if free weights feel intimidating or are inaccessible for a variety of reasons. However, for most lifters, it is simply a way to add volume to their lower body training and isolate their leg muscles.
What Are The TYPES OF LEG PRESS MACHINES?
There are two main types of leg presses: the incline loaded leg press machine and the cable seated leg press machine.
1) Incline Loaded Leg Press Machine: This leg press machine sits you at an angle where you are pushing the sled upward at a 45˚ angle. The seat doesn’t move, just the sled does. Plate loaded leg press machines can be loaded with large amounts of weight (~1,000 to 1,500 pounds, depending on the machine).
2) Cable Seated Leg Press Machine: A cable leg press machine generally sits you at an angle where you are pushing downward. The platform that you push your feet into does not move, it is the chair/seat that moves against the resistance. So, as you push your feet into the platform, your legs extend with the chair moving upward. The total weight that can be used for a cable leg press is considerably less than a plate loaded leg press machine (i.e. just a few hundred pounds).
Note: There are also vertical plate loaded leg press machine, but these are not common for gyms to have. Most gyms will have cable leg press machines and 45˚ incline plate loaded leg press machines.
If you're interested in the different types of machines, check out our article onthe Best Leg Press Machinesthat highlights the top pieces of equipment in each category.
Which is better, a plate loaded or cable leg press machine?
When looking at the different types of leg press machines, for serious lifters, the plate loaded leg press is the obvious choice because you have much greater loading potential. With the cable leg press, you can only work with a few hundred pounds at most, whereas with the plate loaded leg press you can play around with small amounts of weight all the way up to huge amounts like 1,000+ pounds.
Another thing to note is the angle at which you press. The 45˚ upward angle allows you to activate your legs as a whole much better than the horizontal or upward angle of the cable leg press machine, which can really just focus on the bottoms of your quads near the knee effectively.
Now, while the plate loaded leg press machine is clearly the all-around better leg press machine, the cable leg press machine has a fewadvantages. You can quickly change the weight (great for dropsets) and it's a great option for beginners.
Leg Press Foot Placements: Final Takeaways
There you have it! Everything you need to know about each of the 7 leg press foot placements and how you can utilize them to target your different lower body muscles.
While the leg press is no replacement for major compound moves like the deadlift, squat, and lunge, it's a great accessory movement to include in your program that can help you hit any leg growth goals you have.
Interested in more exercises that will get the same results as the leg press? Check out theseBest Leg Press Alternatives. Or, if you'd like to have access to the leg press anytime, anywhere, add one of these 9 Best Leg Press Machines to your home gym.
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- Worrell TW, Karst G, Adamczyk D, et al. Influence of Joint Position on Electromyographic and Torque Generation During Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contractions of the Hamstrings and Gluteus Maximus Muscles. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2001;31(12):730-740. doi:https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2001.31.12.730
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
The leg press is a highly effective exercise for targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. The different foot placements on the leg press machine can alter which muscles are emphasized during the exercise. Here is a breakdown of the different foot placements and the muscles worked for each:
Regular Foot Placement:
- Feet on the sled about shoulder-width apart and at the midway point.
- Muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
Wide Foot Placement:
- Feet wider than shoulder-width apart, about 1.5 times shoulder width.
- Muscles worked: Glutes, hip abductors, hamstrings, and quadriceps (with emphasis on the vastus lateralis and rectus femoris).
Narrow Foot Placement:
- Feet set at hip width.
- Muscles worked: Quadriceps, with emphasis on the vastus medialis.
High Foot Placement:
- Toes near the top of the sled.
- Muscles worked: Hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps (with emphasis on the rectus femoris).
Low Foot Placement:
- Heels near the bottom of the sled.
- Muscles worked: Quadriceps, with increased range of motion at the knee.
Single Leg Press:
- Pressing with one leg at a time.
- Muscles worked: Glutes, outer thigh, and hamstrings.
- Placing the balls of the feet on the bottom ledge of the sled and performing calf raises.
- Muscles worked: Calves.
It's important to note that while the leg press can target these muscles, it is not a replacement for exercises specifically targeting the glutes and hamstrings, such as deadlift variations and hip thrusts. The leg press can be a valuable addition to a leg workout routine, but it should be combined with other exercises for comprehensive leg development.
The leg press machine can be set at different angles, including pressing upward and pressing downward/horizontal. The upward press involves more leg muscles, while the downward/horizontal press is more isolated for the quadriceps.
The best leg press foot placement depends on the muscles you want to target. Here are some recommendations:
- Quads: Standard, narrow, low foot placements.
- Hamstrings: Standard, wide, high foot placements.
- Glutes: Standard, wide, high, single leg foot placements.
When using the leg press machine, it's important to use proper form and avoid common mistakes. Some tips include using a full range of motion, pushing from the heels of your feet, not lifting your buttocks too far off the seat, gripping the handles to lock the sled in place if needed, not curling your head up away from the back of the chair, and remembering to breathe during the exercise.
The recommended rep range for leg press exercises is 5-20+ reps, depending on the desired muscle adaptation. It's also important to focus on volume, intensity, exercise variety, and progressive overload for optimal muscle growth.
In terms of leg press machines, there are two main types: the incline loaded leg press machine and the cable seated leg press machine. The incline loaded leg press machine allows for greater loading potential, while the cable seated leg press machine offers quick weight changes and is beginner-friendly.
In conclusion, the leg press is a versatile exercise that can target various lower body muscles depending on the foot placement used. It is a valuable addition to a leg workout routine but should be combined with other exercises for comprehensive leg development.