When you want to build muscle, get better sleep or burn calories more efficiently, weight training is an excellent exercise option to consider. Among the pieces of equipment you'll find at your local gym or fitness center is the "leg press" machine, which is sometimes called the "sled." The machine works the quadriceps muscles of the thighs, as well as the butt and hips. Using the machine is pretty easy, but it's always important to know the proper technique.
The first step is to make sure you're positioned properly on the machine. Sit down on the seat and place your feet somewhere on the middle of the foot rest or "plate," about 1 foot apart from each other. Then press your middle and lower back against the back rest. Ideally, your knees will form a 90-degree angle. If they don't, try adjusting the height of your feet slightly, or pull on the seat lever to move the seat farther forward or back. When you're at the right angle, look at your toes and make sure they're on the same plane as your knees.
It's also important to set the machine with the right amount of weight to maximize the benefits of the exercise. Generally, you'll know you're lifting enough weight when you are able to do about 12 to 15 repetitions, with the final one or two being really hard to complete. Figuring that out is going to take some trial and error if you've never used the machine before. If you're a total beginner, start at the lowest weight available on the machine, which may be as little as 30 to 50 pounds, and work up as you determine the best level for your strength.
The technique for the seated leg press is pretty simple, although you could injure yourself if you do it wrong. The basic move is to press into the foot plate, using the strength of your thighs. Depending on the machine, this may cause the seat to slide backward or the foot plate to slide forward, but the effect is the same. Press your legs outward until they're straight, but avoid locking your knees. As a general rule, inhale as you release the plate and exhale as you press it. Don't arch your lower back and grip the handles near your thighs for support. Lifting your butt or back off the seat can cause strain and possibly hurt you.
As your confidence for the leg press exercise grows, consider including some variations that will increase the intensity and work your muscles in different ways. One option is to do the exercise with just one leg at a time, which may mean that you'll start with a lighter weight. For that variation, keep the un-used leg in its same position, but lift it away from the plate slightly so it's not in use. Another option is to do toe raises, which work the muscles of the calf. Place both feet near the bottom of the foot plate, with your heels hanging below the plate, and then bend at the ankles to press the plate up slightly with your toes and the balls of your feet.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.