Is there anything better than a good leg pump session? Today’s your lucky day!
In this article, we’re looking at the best gym machines for legs, breaking down what they do, how to use them, and their benefits. Plus, a closer look into the leg muscles might give you more insight into how to better work your legs.
Table of Contents
The Best Exercise Machines for Legs
- Leg Press Machine
- Hack Squat Machine
- Leg Extension Machine
- Leg Curl Machine
- Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
Now, let’s get into our selection of the best leg machines for your leg workouts.
Leg Press Machine
The leg press machine involves pushing a platform away from your body, engaging the legs. This is a compound exercise that works a variety of muscle groups including the:
Benefits of the Leg Press Machine
- You can vary your foot position to target different muscle groups
- A good option for beginners
- Prevents injury
You can vary your foot position to target different muscle groups
The leg press machine allows you to change up your foot positions, depending on the muscle group you want to work.
- Narrow and low (quadriceps muscles)
- Wide and high (hamstrings)
A good option for beginners
The leg press is a brilliant way for beginners to get the hang of leg exercises. The machine is simple to set up and you can increase or decrease the weight easily.
The movement on leg press machines is controlled. This reduces the risk of injury when compared with other free-weight exercises.
Tips for Using the Leg Press Machine
- Keep your back flat and straight
- Keep legs at a 90-degree angle
- Keep your head raised
Keep your back flat and straight
Your back should remain straight up against the back of the seat at all times.
Keep legs at a 90-degree angle
Before pushing, ensure that your legs are at a 90-degree angle to prevent unwanted strain on surrounding muscles.
Keep your head raised
It’s tempting, but try not to let your head push forward. It should remain upright in line with your neck.
Here’s how to use leg press machines at the gym:
- Load the weight on the machine.
- Sit down with your legs up on the platform shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the side handle and pull up. This will release the hold, allowing you to move. Bend your legs and go as far forward as is comfortable (starting position).
- Push your legs back, moving the seat back until your legs are slightly bent.
- Move forward again to your starting position. Completing as many reps as needed.
- When you’re done, pull the handle up to release the weight off your legs.
This short video gives a good example of how to complete the movement from start to finish:
Before we get into the hack squat, have a look at our article on leg press vs. hack squat to learn about their benefits and differences.
Hack Squat Machine
This squat machine is a fantastic alternative to standard barbell squats. It is better for reducing spine compression and increasing your range of motion.
Using this machine properly can work for the following muscle groups:
- Calf muscles
Benefits of the Hack Squat Machine
- Supports lower back
- Reduces joint stress
- Controlled movement
Supports lower back
This machine comes with built-in back support, making it one of the best leg machines on our list. The design allows you to maintain spinal alignment which reduces the chance of injury.
Reduces joint stress
Compared to traditional squats, the hack squat leg machine puts less stress on the lower back and knees. The guided movement of the machine can help those with joint issues.
If you’re more about the OG squat then learn about the difference between a leg press and squat here.
The range of motion on these leg machines is controlled. This can help those new to training that need to focus on form.
Tips for Using the Hack Squat Machine
- Your back should remain straight along the back pad at all times.
- lower weights slowly
- Work on form
Your back should remain straight along the back pad at all times
The point of using these leg machines is to improve your calf muscles. But you don’t want to injure other parts of your body in the process. Use the handles provided to ensure you keep your back straight throughout the movements.
Lower weights slowly
You can’t go into using the hack squat leg machines guns blazing. When you lower yourself down it should be a slow controlled motion.
Work on form
Squats, whether on a machine or not, require the correct form. Since this exercise machine takes the pressure off, you can focus on getting your form perfect.
Here is a step-by-step on using these machines at the gym:
- Set up your required weight.
- Place your back against the back pad on the machine. Hook both shoulders under the shoulder pads.
- Put your feet on the platform provided. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with toes facing slightly outward.
- Place your arms on the handles, located above your shoulders, and disengage the safety.
- Begin straightening your legs, making sure not to lock the knees. Your legs should never be completely straight carrying all the weight. Rather keep your legs slightly bent. This is your starting position.
- Slowly bend your knees, stopping when your upper legs are just below a 90-degree angle to your calves.
- Begin straightening the knees out, lifting the machine as you exhale, until you get back to your starting position. Complete as many reps as needed.
This short video provides a great introduction to using the exercise machine correctly:
If you want a little more info, check out our article on hack squats vs. back squats.
Leg Extension Machine
This leg machine is one of the best leg machines for working quads. This machine isolates the quad muscle groups.
These include the four muscles that make up the quad:
- Vastus intermedius
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus lateralis
Benefits of the Leg Extension Machine
- Good for beginners
- Great for unilateral training
- Safe and controlled movement
Good for beginners
Learning to use the proper form when using this leg machine is simple. Once you know how to set the weights and the bar heights, you’re good to go.
Great for unilateral training
Unilateral training (one side of the body at a time) can be a great option if you’re injured or want to focus on a specific area of the body. As you will see, you can use the leg machine to train both legs simultaneously, or one at a time.
Safe and controlled movement
If you use the extension machine properly, the movements are very controlled. By not jerking the body, you put less strain on the joints and muscles.
Tips for Using the Leg Extension Machine
- Don’t drop the weight
- Set up the bar at the correct height
- Keep your back straight
Don’t drop the weight
If you’re just getting started you might not be aware, but dropping the weight can cause a serious amount of damage. That’s why it’s always best to start with lower weights you know you can handle. Hold the weight, creating tension throughout your movements.
Set up the bar at the correct height
The bar on the leg machine should rest comfortably on the top of your ankles or at the start of the shin.
Keep your back straight
You’ll be sitting when using this leg machine. Keeping your back straight up in the seat is important to prevent lower back injuries. There are handles on the side of the machine to help you maintain your form.
This video displays how the movement should look if set up correctly:
Leg Extension Machine Exercises for Legs
- Sit in the chair and adjust the weight to what feels comfortable, offering slight resistance (but don’t overdo it).
- Ensure that your knee sits on the end of the seat. The only area moving for this exercise is below the knee.
- Adjust the back, bringing it to the correct spot where your knees are in the proper position and your back is comfortably straight. Your back should remain on the back of the seat at all times.
- Grab onto the handles at your sides and place your ankles onto the leg bar.
- Lift the legs, bringing the bar upward until your legs are fully extended. Use the handles to prevent your upper body from moving forward. The movement needs to be controlled and smooth, don’t jerk the legs up. You can cause lower back issues.
- Lower the legs downward and then back up again. Repeat as needed.
Single leg extensions
- Follow the instructions above for setting up the machine. You can lower the weight by half for this exercise.
- Keep one leg lowered or on the outside of the machine (depending on how much leg room you need).
- Complete the extension (shown above) using one leg.
Leg Curl Machine
These leg machines provide an isolation exercise, targeting the backs of the legs. There are a few variations of the machine, we’re focussing on the seated leg curl machine as it places less strain on the lower back.
The seated curl machine works the following muscles:
- Tibialis anterior
Benefits of the Leg Curl Machine
- Strengthens hamstrings
- Injury prevention
- Muscles isolation
Strong hamstrings are vital for your body’s overall balance and stamina. By strengthening your hamstrings using these leg machines, you can improve your overall athletic abilities, particularly for sprint-based training.
Great for injury recovery
If you’ve injured your hamstring, you’re in for a long recovery. Leg curl machines provide you with controlled movements that won’t jerk your muscles and ligaments around. You can also gradually increase your range of motion and strength using the bars and weights.
Tips for Using the Leg Curl Machine
- Keep your movements gentle and controlled
- Focus on your form
- Control your breathing
Keep your movements gentle and controlled
There is no point in using leg curl machines if you’re going to let the machine send your legs flying into the distance.
The point of a leg curl is to keep the movement gentle and controlled. Keep your core tightened and slowly release the weight as you bring your legs up.
Focus on your form
Form is one of the most important things when using leg curl machines. Your back should be straight on the seat. The bar should sit on or just above your ankles, and the thigh pads need to be tight to ensure your lower legs are the only parts moving.
If you’re struggling with keeping your butt in the seat, use the handles on the side of the machine to maintain your form.
Control your breathing
Don’t forget to breathe through the movement. Exhale as you curl the legs to the back, and inhale as you bring them up to the starting position.
Leg curl machines can seriously work your hamstrings, so stretching is essential. Focus on stretching out the hamstring with stretches like toe touches and a wall stretch.
Here are steps to properly use leg curl machines at the gym
- Set the weight as desired and put the backrest in a comfortable position where the back is straight and firmly on the rest.
- Extend the legs over the leg pad where your ankles should rest comfortably. Keep your feet slightly apart to give your legs enough space to properly move the machine.
- Lower the thigh pads, this needs to keep the thighs snug. The only area moving is your lower legs.
- Engage your core and pull the calves downwards, moving the leg pad.
- Stop engaging the leg muscles to let the pad rise before you lower it again. Repeat as necessary. The movement should be smooth; don’t jerk forward or let your legs rip upwards.
The following video shows how to set up the machine and do the movements of a seated hamstring curl correctly:
Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
The hip abduction/adduction machine targets muscles in the thighs and hips. Let’s take a closer look at each:
- Hip abduction: These movements move away from the middle of the body, strengthening the abductor muscles on the outside of the hip. Muscles here include the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. Working these muscles can help improve muscle functions for lateral leg movements.
- Hip adduction: These movements involve moving the legs inward toward the body, targeting the adductor muscles. These include the adductor brevis, adductor longus, and adductor magnus, all located within the inner thigh. Strengthening these muscles can help with other exercises like lunges and squats.
Benefits of the Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
- Low intensity
- Improves hip stability
- Prevents injury
The movements on the hip abduction/adduction machine are controlled and steady. It causes less strain on joints and enhances your strength gradually.
Improves hip stability
Stabilizing the hip adduction and abduction muscles can help improve your overall balance, posture, and body movements.
Since the movements on the hip abduction/adduction machine are slow and controlled there is less chance of causing injury to the targeted and surrounding muscles. Since you’re sitting down, there is also a lower chance of any lower back issues.
Tips for Using the Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
- Stay in an upright position
- Pause before pushing
- Begin with lighter weights
Stay in an upright position
Your back should always be straight and up against the back of the seat to prevent your upper body from getting involved. The hip abduction/adduction machine should only move your legs.
Pause before pushing
When your leg reaches the inward or outward position, hold it there for a second before moving it back to the starting position.
Begin with lighter weights
It takes time to build the hip abduction/adduction muscles. It’s better to start with lower weights and build up gradually.
The following video shows how to set up the machine and perform both abduction and adduction exercises:
Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine Exercises for Legs
- Set the weight on the machine.
- Sit in the seat with your back straight against the back of the seat.
- Place your feet onto the footplates, placing each knee on the inside of the pad.
- Adjust the knee pads inwards to get the feet as close together as possible. Place your hands on the handles to keep your upper body straight and back against the seat.
- Press the knee pads outward to open the legs as far as possible. You should feel this pull the outside of your thigh tight.
- Bring the legs back together and repeat.
- Set up the machine as you did before, starting with the knee pads as close together as possible.
- Rotate the knee pads inward.
- Sit on the machine with each leg on either side of the pads. Placing your feet onto the footplates.
- Adjust the knee pads to open the legs, and ensure you’re comfortable.
- Hold onto the handles to maintain a straight posture along the seat.
- From there, pull the legs inwards as far as you can. Then open the legs again and repeat.
Anatomy of Leg Muscles
Anatomically, the leg refers to the lower limb below the knee. It is made up of three groups:
The lateral group allows you to balance. They produce an eversion of the foot in the subtalar joint. The group is made up of the:
- Fibularis brevis
- Fibularis longus
The lateral group consists of muscles that mainly produce an eversion of the foot at the subtalar joint. This action plays an important role in maintaining balance while standing on one leg.
The anterior group of muscles is what allows you to lift your foot off the ground when walking.
The anterior group is made up of the following muscles:
- Fibularis tertius
- Extensor hallucis longus
- Extensor digitorum longus
- Tibialis anterior
These muscles are responsible for dorsiflexion which is what brings your toes closer to your ankle. You need this when walking to get your leg off the ground during the swinging motion when walking.
The posterior (plantar flexor) group are muscles located in the back of your leg that help in keeping your toes pointed downward (plantar flexion) at the ankle joint.
The posterior group is made up of the:
- Tibialis posterior
- Flexor digitorum longus muscles
- Flexor hallucis longus
All of these muscles are responsible for getting your foot ready to push off the ground. They also help with maintaining your posture while walking or standing.
It’s best to have at least one day’s rest between workouts. So, three times a week, working the legs for twenty minutes each time is a good goal. You can change it up or set a day to work specific leg muscles like calves, hips, and thighs.
It depends, there’s no doubt that free weights tend to build more muscle. However, leg machines are a lot more controlled, making them far less likely to cause injury or strain.
If you’re just beginning with leg workouts, a good starting point is eight to ten reps and aiming for two or three sets.