What Muscle Groups Do Leg Presses Work?

Target the front of your thighs with the leg press.

Target the front of your thighs with the leg press.

Firm, sleek, toned legs never go out of style. The leg press is a basic exercise that targets the largest muscle on the front of your thighs, your quadriceps, but it also brings in several other muscles to complete this move. Different gyms have different leg press machines. Common models include the seated, 45-degree and lying leg press. All of these work the same muscle groups.

Primary Muscle

During the leg press, the main muscle group worked is your quadriceps. This muscle has four heads, meaning it begins at four different places and then inserts into the same spot. The heads begin from either your pelvis or your femur and then insert into your tibia, or shinbone. Because different parts of this muscle pass over both your hip joint and knee joint, it plays a part in moving both of these joints. All the heads engage when you straighten your knee, and one head, the rectus femoris, engages when you bend your hip.

Supporting Muscles

While your quadriceps reap the majority of the benefit of the leg press, this doesn’t mean other muscles aren’t required. With the leg press, you usually begin with bent knees and hips and you engage your muscle to straighten these joints. Your adductor magnus, one of your hip adductors, and your gluteus maximus, the main muscle in your butt, engage to straighten your hip. Further down your leg, your soleus, the smaller muscle making up your calves, works to flex your ankle joint.

Stabilizing Muscles

Two muscles work as dynamic stabilizers during the leg press, which means that they work double-duty to stabilize multiple joints throughout the move. Your hamstrings, which lie on the back of your thigh, work both when bending your knee and straightening your hip. Your gastrocnemius, the larger muscle making up your calves, engages when you flex both your knee and your ankle.

Proper Form

Where you place your legs on the leg press directly impacts which muscles it targets. A study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” in 2008 had a group of women perform the leg press with their feet in three different positions: at 45 degrees, high placement and low placement. The study showed that if your aim is to emphasize your quadriceps, then go for a lower foot placement, but if you want to target your gluteus, then go for a higher foot placement.

 

About the Author

Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.

Photo Credits

  • Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images