The leg press machine can provide "one-stop shopping" for an entire lower body workout. By varying your leg and foot positions, you can work almost all the leg muscles with a well-balanced and super effective program. By setting yourself up so your knees never pass your toes when they bend and your low back never lifts off the seat, you can stay safe with any exercise variation.
The straight squat is the most common exercise for the leg press, just set yourself up and press the foot pad away. Try placing a light weight fitness ball or yoga block between the thighs so your knees stay properly aligned as you press. To even out any muscle imbalances, press with one leg at a time -- just be sure to lower the weight.
To work the backs of the legs, or the hamstrings, slide your feet to the top of the foot plate as far as you are comfortable. Press straight up as you would for the traditional leg press, thinking about engaging the backs of your legs instead. Because your range of motion will be shorter, focus on moving with control, maintaining alignment, and protecting the lower back by keeping the tailbone down.
Inner Thigh Squat
To sculpt a lean inner thigh, try a plie or inner thigh squat on the leg press. Place your feet wide on the foot pad with the toes turned out to the sides as much as possible. As you press out, think about squeezing the thighs closer to each other and engaging the lower abdominal muscles. For an extra burn out, do little presses at the top of the press.
Round out a killer lower body leg press workout with some calf raises. Begin with your feet shoulder width apart, toes straight, and little or no weight on the machine. Press your legs out so they are straight, but not locked, and point your toes as much as possible so your heels are raised. Lower and lift your heels, working from the calf muscles. For a variation on this move, try rotating the toes in or out to target the calves differently.
Vicki Vara has been a fitness professional for more than 15 years, working in health clubs, studios and schools. She is certified as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, holistic nutrition consultant and Pilates instructor. Vara holds a bachelor's degree in exercise science from the University of Delaware.