What Muscles Does the Leg Press Work?

The leg press can help you develop your leg muscles for running or other sports.
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While the squat and deadlift are perhaps the most often discussed lower-body exercises in terms of muscular strength development, many others -- such as the leg press -- can also be effective. The leg lift helps build a variety of muscles at once, which can make it a wise choice for efficient workout sessions. While the leg press can be more safe than exercises such as the squat because you can't get trapped under the weight, always perform weight-lifting exercises with proper supervision.


    The primary target of the leg press is your quadriceps. The quadriceps is a group of four muscles on the front side of your thighs, and it is among the largest muscle groups in your body. The muscles of your quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius. These muscles help extend your knee and produce flexion at your hip joint. Thus, the quadriceps are involved in motions as simple as walking and moves as complex as running a race with hurdles.

Soleus and Gastrocnemius

    The soleus and gastrocnemius muscles are the muscles that make up your calves. The gastrocnemius is the largest muscle in your body, and it is crucial for walking, running and standing on your toes. Meanwhile, the soleus helps trigger flexion at your ankle joint. During the leg press, your soleus helps provide force to move the resistance, while the gastrocnemius performs a supporting role, keeping your legs stable through the motion.

Gluteus Maximus

    The gluteus maximus is a muscle in your rear thigh. This muscle helps provide a significant degree of force in the leg press and is important for jumping, running and kicking, among other movements. The primary tasks the gluteus maximus performs include extending and rotating your leg from the hip joint.


    The term hamstrings refers to a group of three muscles that are on the back of your thigh. These muscles are the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and the semimembranosus. All three run from your hip joint to just below your knee, which means that they act on both of those joints. The hamstrings help extend your leg and bend your knee, so they are a primary target of the leg press.

Hip Adductors

    Your hip adductors, which are on the inner sides of your thighs, perform a wide array of functions, including flexion, rotation, extension and adduction of your legs. During the leg press, the hip adductors provide a stabilization function, preventing your thighs from moving out of proper alignment during the motion. These muscles also help you maintain proper form during running in a similar fashion.

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