People love to tell you the squat is the best way to train legs. They argue that the leg press, in all its variations, is “too easy”, and “for beginners”.
We’re here to tell you those people are dead wrong.
While hitting the squat rack might look cooler, the leg press is as effective as the barbell squat at building muscle – as well as safer, more consistent, and offers the ability to test one’s limits without getting stapled to the floor.
Once you factor in the rate of injury and subsequent days of training lost recovering from time in the rack, athletes consistently hammering out reps on the leg press often wind up seeing superior muscle development, fat loss, and all-around athletic progress – all without leg or knee pain leaving them hobbled between workouts.
Additionally, athletes can attempt the hit new Personal Records with savage aggression on the leg press; PR-ing with a barbell on one’s back is a much riskier gambit where failure comes with some real (and humbling) consequences.
The barbell squat is a very tricky lift to spot safely. Even with someone keeping an eye on you, there’s a decent chance that if the 💩 truly hits the fan, things could go south fast.
A big part of why the leg press gets a bad rap is that it’s a catch-all term that encompasses many different types of machines – some better than others. There are many different types of leg presses, each with different strengths and weaknesses.
We’re here to break it all down so you know exactly what type of leg press (or hopefully leg presses) your gym has, what each kind is good for, and how to dial in every rep to target the muscles desired to maximum effect. 💪🤓
Plate-Loaded Leg Press: This machine allows for a wide range of weight customization, making it ideal for progressive overload and targeting various muscle groups. It effectively develops the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. By adjusting foot placement and stance, different areas of the legs can be emphasized. It is particularly effective for overall lower body development.
Selectorized Leg Press: While similar to the plate-loaded version, the selectorized leg press provides the convenience of an easily adjustable weight stack. Want more resistance? Just move the pin down a few holes. The selectorized leg press can be a cheat code if you’re in a hurry or want to employ advanced techniques like drop sets, as changing the weight is fast and easy, and can be done without getting up. It offers smooth and controlled movement, targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The selectorized leg press is good for bodybuilders looking for efficient and straightforward leg workouts.
Hack Squat Machine: The hack squat machine primarily targets the quadriceps, with an emphasis on the outer sweep of the muscle. It also engages the glutes and hamstrings to a lesser extent. The angled position of the machine places more stress on the quads, making it a valuable tool for bodybuilders aiming to develop quadriceps strength and size.
The hack squat machine is the most unique among the leg presses, in the way it aggressively and specifically targets the quads. It’s often used as a supplement to another leg press or other lower body compound lift.
A word of caution – while an excellent training tool, the hack squat is the hardest on the knees of the various leg presses. If you have any history of knee issues, consider either skipping this one or going extremely light and chasing the pump with high reps.
45-Degree Leg Press: This machine provides excellent lower body development, with a specific focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The 45-degree angle places less stress on the lower back compared to other leg press machines. It is effective for building overall leg strength and size, making it suitable for bodybuilders looking to develop their entire lower body musculature.
It places a slightly greater emphasis on the quads (with slightly less activation in the hamstrings and glutes) vs. its very similar counterpart, the plate-loaded leg press.
Vertical Leg Press: The vertical leg press primarily targets the quadriceps, with some engagement of the glutes and hamstrings. It offers a different angle of resistance compared to other leg press machines, which can provide a unique stimulus for muscle growth.
However, it may not be as effective for overall lower body development compared to other options. It’s also easily the most hilarious looking.
Keeping it totally real – this one’s often purchased by gyms because it’s the cheapest, and because it takes up the least space.
Choose the plate-loaded leg press:
*Random guy in the back not included
The plate-loaded leg press offers the advantage of customizable weight loading, allowing for progressive overload and precise adjustments based on the athlete's strength and development goals.
Additionally, the plate-loaded leg press can accommodate athletes of different sizes and body types, making it suitable for a wide range of individuals. Its versatility and ability to provide effective resistance training for multiple lower body muscle groups make it a valuable choice for comprehensive leg development in bodybuilding.
Critically, it provides the greatest versatility in foot placement and stance, which can effectively target various muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
By utilizing different foot positions, such as high, low, wide, or narrow stances, it is possible to emphasize specific areas of the legs and stimulate muscle growth in a more targeted manner. This machine allows for a greater range of movement and offers the flexibility to perform different variations of leg presses, such as single-leg presses or explosive movements.
Here’s a handy chart that breaks down where to place your feet when you press, depending on what muscles you want to target:
In the world of muscle building, it's not about which exercise you perform; it's about how you perform it, and how you make the absolute most out of the tools available to you. The leg press, often overshadowed by the barbell squat, emerges as a powerhouse when executed with precision and intensity.
Use the cheat sheet above to dial things in for your exact leg day goals and get pressing!