How to Do Leg Press: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Leg Press exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Leg Press

Muscles worked in leg press

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Leg Press

  1. Adjust the machine so that you only need to extend your legs slightly to be able to release the weights. Adjust the safety pins so that they catch the weight if you are unable to lift it.
  2. Place your feet on the platform, about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale and lower the weight by bending your legs.
  4. Lower the weight as deep as possible without rounding your back and while keeping your glutes on the seat.
  5. Press the weight back up again as you exhale.

Introduction to the Leg Press

The leg press is a popular leg exercise that, compared with barbell squats, requires less balance, control, and mobility. This means that this exercise can be easier to start with for a beginner and also that you can train closer to muscular failure without thinking about balance.

Many people can use much heavier weights in the leg press than in the barbell squat, but you will probably get the best training effect if you prioritize form and range of motion over weight.

What Muscles Do the Leg Press Work?

The leg press works most of your leg muscles, primarily the quadriceps, glutes, and adductors.

The secondary worked muscles are your hamstrings.

a picture showing which muscles that are being worked in the leg press

You can change your foot position to target the muscles a bit differently. Placing the feet higher up on the platform will target your hamstrings and glutes a bit more than if you keep your feet lower. It won’t make an enormous difference, though, and the activated muscles will remain as described above.

Leg Press Benefits

The leg press offers a lot of benefits, such as:

  • Quadriceps & glute development. The leg press primarily targets the quadriceps and glutes, promoting growth and strength.
  • High weight capacity. The leg press allows for heavy loads, promoting progressive overload and muscle growth.
  • Focus on the muscles worked. The leg press enables a controlled and safer weight progression, allowing you to go closer to muscular failure while reducing the risk of injury compared to free weight exercises. It’s a great complement to your squat and deadlift training.

Leg Press: Proper Form & Technique

The leg press is quite a simple and safe exercise once you learn it, but here are some key points to remember.

a picture showing the starting position of leg press
Leg press starting position
A picture showing the bottom position of leg press
Leg press bottom position


Place your feet shoulder-width apart, centered on the platform, with toes pointing slightly outward. As previously noted, you can change the placement of your feet depending on what muscles you want to focus on and also depending on how you’re built. For some people, it might be hard to go deep enough with their feet shoulder-width apart, and therefore more suitable to widen the stance a bit.

Core and Back

Make sure to brace your core throughout the movement. You can grasp the handles on either side of the seat or use safety straps, if available, to stabilize your upper body as well.

You don’t want any movement in your lower back, so make sure to reverse the movement before your back starts rounding.

The movement

Inhale as you slowly bend your knees, lowering the platform until your thighs are close to your chest.

Exhale while forcefully pushing through your heels, extending your legs to return the platform to the starting position without locking your knees.

Make sure to keep the movement controlled and not let your knees fall inwards.

Common Mistakes in Leg Press

  • Cutting off depth. Since the leg press allows you to add much more weight than, for example, the barbell squat, it’s easy to get greedy and add more weight – without noticing that you start to cut off the depth. You still want the full range of motion, so make sure you do full reps before adding more weight.
  • Going too deep. This is the opposite of the above mistake, but it’s also very common to see. Going deeper than your mobility allows will add unnecessary pressure to the lower back and is an injury risk you want to avoid. Make sure to have your lower back and butt still during the entire set, and reverse the movement before you feel any rounding of your lower back or your butt leaving the seat.
  • Overextending the knees. By fully locking out the knees, you’ll add a lot of pressure to the joints instead of the muscles working. Make sure that you stop the movement before overextending the knees.

Leg Press Alternatives

First of all, there are a lot of different forms of leg press machines with different angles, movement patterns, et cetera. If one machine doesn’t suit you – maybe another one will. But if you don’t want to do the leg press or work out at a gym that doesn’t have one, there are some alternatives for you.

  1. Hack Squat
  2. Belt Squat
  3. Barbell Squat

1. Hack Squat

The hack squat is almost like a mix of the barbell squat and the leg press. The machine offers you stability similar to the leg press, but the upright body position is more resemblant to the squat.

2. Belt Squat

The belt squat isn’t as stable as the leg press but is still more stable than the barbell squat. By moving the weight placement from your shoulders, like in the barbell squat, to your waist, the belt squat will also move some tension from your lower back.

3. Barbell Squat

a gif showing how to perform squat with proper form
Barbell Squat

The barbell squat is a good alternative to the leg press if you don’t have access to machines. It is a more complex exercise than the leg press, and it’s harder to reach muscular failure in the squat.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do in the Leg Press?

The number of reps you do in the leg press could be guided by the general recommendations of rep ranges for achieving different goals within strength training.

  • For muscle growth, around 6–15 reps per set.
  • For strength, around 3–8 reps per set.

There are no clear-cut lines between these two goals, however. Training in the “muscle growth range” will still increase your strength, and training in the “strength range” will still cause your muscles to grow. It’s just a matter of what you are emphasizing.

Read More: How Many Reps to Build Muscle vs. Strength?

How many sets you do of an exercise depends on your training experience, how many times you work out in a week, and your other training. But around ten sets per week for a given muscle group is a good starting point, and you can go even higher when you are used to training or if you stop your sets short of failure. You can read more about training volume in our article: How Many Sets per Muscle Group per Week?

Since the leg press is an exercise that includes several muscles in your legs, you need to look at how much work you’re putting into those muscles overall and not just in the leg press.

A lot of lifters like to add the leg press as a finisher after their squats or deadlifts to add more volume to their leg workouts without stressing their lower back by adding more sets of barbell exercises. They often stay in the higher rep range while doing leg presses, between 8-15 reps.

Maybe 3–4 sets of leg presses per workout and 1–2 workouts per week are a good starting point. After a couple of weeks, you can evaluate and see if you think that you might benefit from adding some more.

Leg Press Workouts

We have a lot of workouts that include the leg press, especially the ones focusing on muscle growth. Two examples are the free workout “Quad Workout” and the premium workout “All Legs No Squats” displayed below.

Quad Workout

  1. Barbell Squat, 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bulgarian Split Squats, 3 sets x 10 reps
  3. Leg Press, 3 sets x 15 reps
  4. Leg Extension, 3 sets x 20 reps

This is a workout that focuses both on improving your strength and muscle growth in the quads, and it’s available for free in our app StrengthLog.

All Legs No Squats

  1. Leg press, 6 sets
  2. Barbell Walking Lunges, 3 sets
  3. Romanian Deadlift, 6 sets
  4. Leg Extension, 4 sets
  5. Seated Leg Curl, 4 sets
  6. Standing Calf Raise, 6 sets
  7. Seated Calf Raise, 3 sets

To see all the details about weight selections and rep range, you need to download our workout log app. This workout requires a premium subscription.

By tracking your workouts in the app, you keep track of your weights and reps so that you can easily remember (and, more importantly: try to improve on them) in your next workout.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

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