If you are looking for an exercise that develops the lower body, the leg press is likely the first machine you’re looking at. What are the benefits of leg pressing? Let’s find out.
The leg press can build muscle and strength in the whole lower body in a single exercise without loading the spine. This makes it a safe and effective lower body exercise. The leg press can also help raise the base metabolic rate and therefore aid in fat loss.
How does that all work? Find out below.
Which muscles does the leg press work?
The leg press is one of the most complete lower body builders you can do without loading the spine like you would on the squat and deadlift. This makes it a very popular exercise. But which muscles does it target exactly?
On the leg press, the back of your pelvis is pushed against the back pad. The load goes from your feet to the back pad so your spine has very little to do with it. It’s still important to keep a good arch in your lower spine though. This means that the leg press works pretty much all the muscles between your hips and your feet.
There are a ton of different muscles in the legs and not all of them are targeted directly though. Most of the smaller muscles are used to stabilize the joints so you can produce a lot of force with the main muscles without your knees being wobbly.
The main muscles that drive the leg press are:
The quadriceps are used the most on the leg press closely followed by the glutes and hamstrings. The calves are loaded as well but not as much as the other three. As said before, a lot of other smaller muscles will also be used during leg pressing. They might not be targeted as directly as the four named above but they’ll still get a workout.
Does a leg press build strength?
The leg press is an effective and efficient way of building lower body strength as long as the weights are increased regularly and diet and recovery are on point. The amount of muscle mass used at one time means you work out the whole lower body in one exercise.
Building strength is pretty simple. Not easy though. To make a muscle stronger, you simply lift more weight than last time. So if you put 100 kg on the leg press one week (and you successfully completed all your sets and reps), put on 105 kg the next week and to the same amount of reps and sets.
Over time that will add up to a significant amount more weight you couldn’t push when you started. This is the basis of building strength called “progressive overload” and will work well for beginners and intermediate lifters to get stronger.
A leg press machine is a very good machine to build lower body strength. Because you can easily add extra weight (as long as the machine can handle it) every workout and therefore get stronger. Most plate loaded 45 degree leg press machines have a 1000 lbs. load limit so unless you are incredibly strong already, you can keep adding weight for quite a while.
The leg press uses the whole lower body as you can see below. That means it’s a great too to build overall lower body strength. Because you use a lot of muscle mass at the same time, you can lift more weight. More weight means more strength.
Of course you could isolate all the different muscles in the lower body with other exercises but that is less time efficient than just doing the leg press. Also, because the leg press uses all the muscles at the same time, your body learns how to use them together like you do in the real world.
That said, the equipment and workout program is just one part of the puzzle of building strength. You also have to eat enough and get enough rest so your body can recover. If you don’t recover fully, you might not get stronger.
Does the leg press grow your muscles?
So using the leg press (correctly) builds strength. But does that mean you also get bigger muscles by doing leg presses?
Growing a muscle is also called hypertrophy. To get hypertrophy you have to break down the muscle through exercises. After a heavy workout there will be small tears in the muscle tissue. Your body then recovers these tears and makes that part bigger and stronger in the process. You put a load on the muscle that’s a little (just a little) too much and your body will repair it in a way that can handle that load next time. This means the muscle gets bigger after your body repairs it.
There is a lot of discussion on the best way to accomplish this but there are a few general guidelines that most people agree on;
- Exercise a body part two or three times a week
- Do 3-5 sets per exercise per workout
- For more focus on muscle growth, use a weight you can do 8-15 repetitions per set. (It’s not necessary to fail on the last rep, stopping about 2-3 repetitions before failure is good.)
- For more focus on strength increases, use heavier weights you can do for 5-8 repetitions.
- Push the weight up as fast as you can while keeping control (1-3 seconds) while letting the weight down a touch slower (2-4 seconds).
There are countless ways you can change your workouts but the guidelines above work very well for beginners. Focus on adding a little extra weight to your exercises every workout and you will get bigger and stronger.
The leg press is no different, if you follow the guidelines above, you will see muscle and strength gains within a few weeks. The leg press is an effective exercise to develop the whole lower body because you use all the muscles in that part of the body in one exercise so you get a lot of bang for your buck by doing leg presses.
Does the leg press grow your bum?
For many women growing this body part is the most important reason to do lower body exercises. Is a leg press an effective way to do this?
Doing leg presses the normal way puts more stress on the quadriceps than the glutes. So if you only do leg presses, it might cause your quads to grow faster than the glutes. If that’s a good thing depends on your goals. Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely use and grow your glutes by doing leg presses but it might not be in the ratios you like.
That said, there are some ways you can modify the leg press a little bit to get more glute engagement and therefore growth out of it:
- Go deeper: Let your feet come further towards your face. This means a longer range of motion for your glutes to extend the hips.
- Point out your toes: This helps to target the top part of your glutes more
- Put your feet higher on the press plate: This means your hips have to bend more and therefore give the glutes more work to do.
- Put your feet wider apart: Target your glutes more by taking the quads partly out of the exercise.
In the end, the leg press is a lower body developing exercise. It grows the whole lower body. If you want to really only focus on the glutes, some isolation exercises or other compound exercises are in order. Some good exercises to grow your glutes besides the leg press are:
- Good morning
- Glute bridge
- Resistance band donkey kicks
Does a leg press help you lose fat?
So a leg press can build strength and muscle. What about losing body fat? Can the leg press do anything for you in this area?
Regularly performing the leg press can help you lose body fat but it is not an all-in-one solution. Leg pressing can help you lose weight through directly burning calories by performing the exercise and by raising the base metabolic rate through bigger and stronger muscles.
To lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn throughout the day. There is no way around that. So you can see there are two big parts to this equation: 1) How many calories are consumed. 2) How many calories are burnt. If 1 is smaller than 2 you will lose weight.
How many calories are consumed is what you eat during the day. One way of losing weight is to cut the amount of calories you eat during the day. A tracker like MyFitnessPal helps you see what you actually eat. If you use a leg press or not has nothing to do with how many calories are consumed.
Doing leg presses does have an effect on how many calories you burn though. How many calories are burnt in a day depends on a few things;
- Base metabolic rate (How many calories does your body use without doing anything)
- Activity (Any activity that is more active than lying in bed)
Those two things can both be influenced by doing leg presses. Of course to do leg presses, your muscles have to work and that work costs calories. That has a direct impact on the activity part named above.
However, if you follow a good workout program, your lower body will also get bigger and stronger. Bigger muscles cost more energy to maintain. So having bigger muscles in your lower body will raise your base metabolic rate. That means you burn more calories without doing anything already.
Also, when the muscles become bigger and stronger, they have the capacity to burn more calories through activity. Just like making the engine in your car bigger uses more fuel, especially if you ask it to produce as much power as possible, bigger muscles burn more calories if used to the full capacity.
A combination of reduced calorie intake, regular activity and more muscle mass are effective at reducing body fat. A leg press is a great exercise to build muscle in the lower body and therefore burn more calories through activity and raising the base metabolic rate.
It’s however a good idea to add other muscle building exercises into your workout routine. While the lower body is home to the largest muscles and therefore have the biggest impact on BMR, you want to build a complete body that is strong and athletic from top to bottom. For that reason the leg press is just a single exercise in what should be a full body workout.
Favorite home gym tools
Many people often forget a few important pieces of their home gym that isn’t directly gym equipment. Here are my favorite home gym tools.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and all types of other workouts, the GymNext Flex is easily the best and easiest to use.
- Mirrors: Fab & Glass (Amazon link) makes the best large mirror sheets so you can see your exercise form.
- Flooring: American Floor Mats gym flooring (Amazon) or equipment mats make your gym quieter, easier to clean and keeps your floor and equipment safe.
- Fan: The Rowenta VU5670 (Amazon) is a great way to stay cool while working out.