The lower body is heavily judged in physique competitions and is rigorously trained in most comprehensive workout programs. Although fitness enthusiasts commonly joke about skipping leg day, training the lower body should be a priority regardless of a person’s goals. A popular exercise for lower-body training is the leg press.
The leg press is a machine-based, compound exercise that’s effective for increasing the size and strength of the lower body. A compound exercise means that multiple muscle groups are working at one time.
The leg press primarily targets the quadriceps. However, stance can be adjusted to place more tension on the glutes and hamstrings. This exercise can also be performed one leg at a time to correct or prevent muscle imbalances.
Although the quads are the primary muscle worked by the leg press, read below to learn about other muscles involved in the movement.
Table of Contents
- 1 Leg Press Muscles Worked
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
- 3 Other Exercise Posts
- 3.1 The 8 Main Muscle Groups Worked by Squats
- 3.2 Side Plank Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.3 The 6 Best Gym Machines For Weight Loss
- 3.4 Arnold Split Workout + Example Spreadsheet
- 3.5 The 5 Best Gym Machines for Chest
- 3.6 Seated Cable Row Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.7 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.8 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- 3.9 Decline Bench Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.10 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.11 How to Bench Press with Perfect Form
- 3.12 The Top 9 Muscles Worked with Deadlifts
- 3.13 Front Squat Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.14 How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form
- 3.15 Bear Crawls: Benefits, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.16 Inverted Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.17 Arnold Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.18 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
Leg Press Muscles Worked
Here are the top 5 muscles trained by the leg press:
The quadriceps are located on the front of the upper leg. As the name suggests, the quads consist of four different muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius.
The quads are a biarticular muscle group because they cross two major joints, including the hip and knee. However, the rectus femoris is the only muscle that actually crosses the hip and knee. This muscle group is responsible for knee extension and hip flexion.
The quads are crucial in various movements, such as running, walking, sitting, standing, and jumping. Building the strength and size of the quads can improve a lifter’s performance and physique. To target the quads more than the hamstrings or glutes, use a narrower stance lower on the platform.
The hamstrings are located on the back of the upper leg. The four muscles that make up the hamstrings include the biceps femoris long head and short head, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.
Like the quads, the hamstrings are classified as a biarticular muscles. They cross the hip and the knee joint. The primary actions of the hamstrings include knee flexion and hip extension.
Having stronger hamstrings is beneficial for preventing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears because they help stabilize the knee joint. This muscle group assists with standing, running, jumping, and other movements. Position your feet higher and wider on the platform to target the hamstrings more than the quads.
The glutes are located on the back of the upper leg, just above the hamstrings. There are three glute muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Of these three muscles, the primary one engaged during a leg press is the gluteus maximus. It’s also the largest and most superficial of the three.
The gluteus maximus works with the hamstrings to extend the hips, whereas the gluteus medius and minimus perform hip abduction. The glutes are important for stabilizing the pelvis, standing, running, jumping, and walking. A higher and wider stance engages the glutes more than the quads.
The calves aren’t a primary muscle group worked by the leg press, but they are engaged. The calves are located on the posterior side of the lower leg. The two muscles that makeup calves are the gastrocnemius and soleus.
The gastrocnemius is superficial, whereas the soleus is deep. Both muscles perform plantar flexion of the ankle. Since the gastrocnemius also crosses the knee joint, it assists the hamstrings with knee flexion. The gastrocnemius has a lateral and medial head, but the soleus does not. The calves help with walking, running, jumping, sprinting, and stabilizing the knee and ankle joints.
The adductors are located on the inside of the upper thigh. This muscle group includes the adductor brevis, longus, magnus, and obturator externus. All these muscles perform hip adduction, which means they bring the legs toward the center of your body. The adductors actively work to prevent the knees from caving in during a leg press. To get the maximum engagement of the adductors, use a wider stance.
Building the strength of the adductors improves a lifter’s ability to squat, hip-hinge, lunge, and jump. Increasing the size of this muscle group is also beneficial for bodybuilders because it enhances the overall appearance of the lower body.
Frequently Asked Questions
Leg presses are good for increasing the size and strength of the lower body, specifically the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. They require fewer stabilizer muscles so the lifter can target certain muscle groups more efficiently. There are built-in safety bars that allow for training to failure without the need for a spotter.
For overall muscle growth, the barbell back squat is better than a leg press because it engages more muscles. With that said, people who have mobility issues or previous injuries may not be able to perform barbell back squats safely. If that’s the case, then the leg press is the next best option. The leg press is also easier to learn so it may be superior for beginners as a stepping stone to squatting.
The leg press works all of the major muscles in your lower body, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and adductors. If you want to maximize glute engagement, use a wider stance and position your feet higher on the platform. A lower stance with your feet closer together will work the target the quads to a greater extent.