How to Do Leg Presses
What is a leg press?
The leg press is a compound exercise performed on a seated resistance machine. It has a similar movement pattern to the squat, but unlike the squat which uses stabilising muscles in the upper body and core, the leg press is a lower body movement only. The quads are the main muscle recruited in a leg press, but the hamstrings, glutes, and calves are all worked to a lesser degree.
Leg presses can be used alongside squats, or as a replacement. While squats are better at working the full body, the leg press makes a great alternative for anyone who can't squat, for example due to balance or mobility issues, or an upper body injury. Unlike squats, the leg press doesn't require any technical skill which makes it ideal for beginners too.
There are a few types of leg presses, with the most common being the 45 degree leg press and the seated leg press. The 45 degree leg press is the more challenging of the two as the plate is pushed at a 45 degree incline, and can have a higher weight as plates can be loaded on. The seated leg press is more suited for beginners, however both are used in the same way and work the same muscles.
Commonly asked questions on the leg press
The amount you leg press will depend on several factors including weight, age and fitness level. When starting out, try leg pressing the plate by itself. Once you are comfortable with the form, you can add on extra weight. Depending on your goals, you'll want to aim for around 8-12 reps with good form. If you can easily do more than 12 reps, increase the weight.
It is generally safe to continue your exercise programme while pregnant, including the leg press. However you may need to reduce the weights, intensity, or range of motion of your exercise, and tailor these throughout your pregnancy. You can learn more about exercising during pregnancy here.
If you can't access a leg press, some alternative exercises to try include squats, lunges and split squats. Like the leg press, these exercises mainly focus on the quads, but also work the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Leg press tips
- You can change your foot position to target different muscles. To emphasise your glutes more, put your feet higher on the plate. For a focus on quads, place your feet lower down.
- Avoid locking out your knees in full to lower the risk of a knee injury.
- Keep your back and pelvis pressed into the seat throughout the exercise.
How to do a seated leg press
Level: Beginners to Advanced
Equipment: Seated leg press
- Adjust the seat so that your knees are at a 90 degree angle when your feet are on the plate, and then put the pin in your desired weight.
- Sit with your back against the back support and grip the handles on each side, and then place your feet around shoulder-width apart on the foot plate.
- Extend your legs until they are almost straight, stopping just before you lock out the knees.
- Pause before slowly returning back to the starting position.
How to do a single leg press
Equipment: Seated leg press
- Adjust the seat so that your knees are at a 90 degree angle when your feet are on the plate, and then put the pin in your desired weight. Start with less than half of your standard leg press weight.
- Sit with your back against the back support and grip the handles on each side, and then place your left foot on the foot plate. Keep your right foot flat on the floor.
- Straighten out your left leg, stopping just before you lock out the knee.
- Pause before bringing your knee towards your chest until you're back to the starting position.
- Repeat for your number of reps and then swap legs.
How to do a 45 degree leg press
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Equipment: 45 degree leg press
- Load the leg press with your desired weights and then adjust the back support if needed.
- Sit with your back and head flat against the back support and place your feet on the foot plate around shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out.
- Grab the handles and then press the foot plate slightly to unrack the plate off the safety hooks.
- Lower the plate until your knees are between 45 and 90 degrees, ensuring your glutes and lower back stay still throughout. This is your starting position.
- Press the plate up by extending your legs out straight, taking care not to lock your knees.
- Slowly return back to the starting position and repeat for desired reps.
How to do alternating leg press
Equipment: Seated leg press
- Set up the leg press, place your left leg on the foot plate and extend the leg and pause just before you lock out your knee.
- Place your right foot on the plate and remove your left foot.
- Bring your right knee towards your chest until you are back in starting position, on the reverse leg.
- Extend your right leg forward, and then swap to the left foot.
- Repeat for desired reps.
How to do resistance band leg press
Equipment: Long resistance band
- While sitting up, wrap one end of the resistance band around both feet, and the other end looped around your shoulders. Alternatively, you can hold the resistance band in your hands around chest height.
- Lie down with your back and hips flat on the floor and your knees pulled in towards your chest.
- Press your legs out until they are straight, at around a 45 degree angle from the floor.
- Pause before slowly returning to the starting position.
If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.