If you want a lower-body-busting workout without breaking your back, look no further than the leg press. Few pieces of equipment challenge the butt and thighs like the leg press, which makes “Fitness” magazine's list of the top five best machine's for women. Of course, the press is just one part of a balanced lower-body routine – add squats and lunges to your regimen for a sculpted figure below the waistline.
Have a seat on the leg press machine with your back resting on the pad and feet on the platform about shoulder-width apart. Hold on tight to the side handles, release the machine's safety and fully extend your legs so that they are completely straight – avoid locking your knees to prevent joint strain. Inhale as you lower the platform until your legs form a 90-degree angle at the knees and exhale as you return to the starting position.
If there's ever a time to ignore the advice, “put your back into it,” this is it. Keep your back firm and planted – don't arch. Instead, push into the platform with your heels and forefoot – keep your feet flat throughout. Focus on smooth, controlled motion rather than sloppy, speedy reps. Avoid the temptation to tuck your chin or raise your head up. As you gain experience, put more space between your feet to put more burn on your thighs or plant them higher on the platform to focus on working the glutes.
This strength-building compound exercise puts the focus squarely on the quadriceps. However, the leg press also engages the glutes as synergists, or muscles that help other muscles complete a movement. The hamstrings and calves work as stabilizers, muscles that help your body maintain a certain posture. On a secondary level, the leg press also engages the little-used adductor magnus muscles of the inner thigh and soleus muscles of the calves.
In Your Regimen
Prep your muscles for exercise and encourage a full range of motion by warming up for five to 10 minutes before your workout. Go with motions that activate the muscles you'll use during the leg press – bodyweight squats, lunges or a quick jog will all do the trick. Cool down with a low-weight set of presses and some lower-body static stretches to prevent post-workout soreness. Pencil the leg press into your regimen on your lower-body day, and allow the muscle groups you worked that day at least 24 hours of recovery before challenging them again.
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