It’s always handy when an exercise that targets one major muscle group also strengthens other parts of your body, particularly when you have limited time to spend in the gym. Compound exercises such as the leg press involve more than one joint and work multiple muscle groups, providing more bang for your exercise buck.
The standard seated leg press targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of each thigh. The gluteus maximus in your rear end, adductor magnus in your upper thighs and soleus in your calves also assist with your movements, while the hamstrings in your rear thighs and gastrocnemius in your calves are engaged as stabilizing muscles. Leg presses, therefore, strengthen muscles that are involved in several different hip movements. Your quads help to flex your hips when you move your thighs upward to walk or run. The hamstrings, gluteus maximus and adductor magnus are involved when you extend your hips backward -- when you sit down, for example. Your gluteus maximus and adductor magnus assist with several other common movements, such as moving your legs sideways.
Leg Press Form
You can tweak your leg pressing technique to shift an individual exercise’s focus. For example, a standard seated leg press -- where you place your feet against a resistance plate and push your legs forward -- typically targets your quadriceps muscles. But if you position your feet high on the plate, you can emphasize your glutes. Spreading your feet wide on the plate engages your inner hips -- hip adductor muscles -- while a narrow stance shifts some emphasis toward your outer hips, or hip abductors.
Many leg press variations target the same muscles as the seated press, including 45-degree, lying, vertical and single-leg presses. Perform the standing single-leg press on a lever machine to engage your other two gluteus muscles -- the medius and minimus -- as stabilizers. Both muscles are hip abductors that assist in a variety of movements. Do the leg press plie by spreading your feet wide on the resistance plate and pointing your toes to the sides. The exercise strengthens several hip adductors not targeted by the standard press, plus your glutes, quads and hamstrings.
The seated leg press can be a good alternative to the squat if you have lower back problems. Tilting the machine’s seatback so its angle with the bench is more than 90 degrees takes some strain off your back. Still, check with your physician before you begin a new exercise routine. If you’re performing leg presses to increase your muscular endurance, aim for four sets of 20 repetitions with a load that’s about 55 percent of your one-rep maximum. If you’re bodybuilding, try four sets of six reps at 80 percent of your one-rep max.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.