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Leg Presses

What is a leg press?

What is a leg press?

The leg press is a compound exercise performed on a seated resistance machine. It has a similar movement pattern to the squat, but unlike the squat which uses stabilising muscles in the upper body and core, the leg press is a lower body movement only. The quads are the main muscle recruited in a leg press, but the hamstrings, glutes, and calves are all worked to a lesser degree. 

Leg presses can be used alongside squats, or as a replacement. While squats are better at working the full body, the leg press makes a great alternative for anyone who can't squat, for example due to balance or mobility issues, or an upper body injury. Unlike squats, the leg press doesn't require any technical skill which makes it ideal for beginners too.

There are a few types of leg presses, with the most common being the 45 degree leg press and the seated leg press. The 45 degree leg press is the more challenging of the two as the plate is pushed at a 45 degree incline, and can have a higher weight as plates can be loaded on. The seated leg press is more suited for beginners, however both are used in the same way and work the same muscles.

Commonly asked questions on the leg press

How much should you leg press?

The amount you leg press will depend on several factors including weight, age and fitness level. When starting out, try leg pressing the plate by itself. Once you are comfortable with the form, you can add on extra weight. Depending on your goals, you'll want to aim for around 8-12 reps with good form. If you can easily do more than 12 reps, increase the weight.

Can I do a seated leg press while pregnant?

It is generally safe to continue your exercise programme while pregnant, including the leg press. However you may need to reduce the weights, intensity, or range of motion of your exercise, and tailor these throughout your pregnancy. You can learn more about exercising during pregnancy here.

What exercise can replace leg press?

If you can't access a leg press, some alternative exercises to try include squats, lunges and split squats. Like the leg press, these exercises mainly focus on the quads, but also work the glutes, hamstrings and calves.

Leg press tips

  • You can change your foot position to target different muscles. To emphasise your glutes more, put your feet higher on the plate. For a focus on quads, place your feet lower down. 
  • Avoid locking out your knees in full to lower the risk of a knee injury.
  • Keep your back and pelvis pressed into the seat throughout the exercise.

Leg press variations

How To Do A Seated Leg Press

The seated leg press is ideal for those new to leg pressing. This exercise works the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. 

How To Do Seated Leg Press
How To Do A 45 Degree Leg Press

The 45 degree leg press is a more challenging variation that involves pushing the plate against gravity.

How To Do 45 Degree Leg Press
How To Do A Single Leg Press

The single leg press is a unilateral exercise and is helpful for building stability and reducing muscular imbalances.

How To Do Single Leg Press
Resistance band leg press

The resistance band leg press can be done outside of the gym and is good for rehabilitation or beginners. 

How To Do Resistance Band Leg Press

If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.