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Leg Press Foot Placements: 7 Stances for Max Gains

leg press foot placement

In the quest for strong and well-defined legs, the leg press machine stands as a reliable companion at the gym. This powerful piece of equipment is instrumental in helping you achieve your leg day goals. However, the key to reaping maximum gains lies in your foot placement. In this article, we will explore the various foot placement options on the leg press machine and how each can impact your workout.

What is the Leg Press Machine?

The leg press machine is an apparatus designed to specifically target the muscles in your legs, and it serves as a reliable alternative to traditional leg exercises such as squats or lunges. To use it, you sit down and push against a platform that comes with adjustable weights, allowing you to choose the resistance level that suits you.

This machine provides a controlled and secure environment for performing leg exercises, which is why it's a popular choice for people who want to strengthen and tone their lower body.

Related: Should You Do Deadlifts on Leg or Back Day?

Types of Leg Press Machines

There are two main types of leg press machines:

1. Horizontal Leg Press Machine

Horizontal leg press machines are commonly found in gyms. Users sit in an almost fully upright position and push the platform away from their body. These machines are equipped with selectorized weights, where users insert pins at their preferred weight, making them a safer and more easily adjustable option compared to leg press machines that use plates.

In certain machines, users can even modify the seat position to include weighted calf raises in their leg press routine. This allows people using the machine to train a variety of lower body muscles that other leg workout machines might not be able to handle. 

This feature is particularly beneficial for beginners and individuals in rehabilitation, as it permits setting a specific range of motion to reduce the risk associated with using the machine.

Overall, the horizontal seated leg press is often considered one of the safest options among leg press machines.

2. Incline Leg Press Machine

The Angled Leverage Leg Press is a type of leg press machine that utilizes a lever system to create resistance. This leg press machine features a seat back set at a 45-degree angle. Unlike machines with selectorized weights, it relies on traditional weight plates to load the foot platform. When you use this machine, you push the platform upward, working against both the weight of the plates and the force of gravity.

As the name implies, it incorporates an angled range of motion to effectively target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Its design is optimized for a biomechanically sound range of motion while minimizing strain on the lower and upper back muscles. This type of leg press is well-suited for comprehensive leg strength and muscle development, primarily focusing on hypertrophy.

One major advantage of this design is its ability to accommodate heavier weights than the standard leg press machines, making it a preferred choice for those wanting to challenge themselves with heavier loads.

Muscles Worked by the Leg Press Machine

The main muscles worked by the leg press machine are:

  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Calves

How much they're involved depends on how your feet are positioned on the platform – a detail we'll explore shortly. The back thigh muscles are also used, but only when your feet are higher on the platform. At the same time, the buttock's gluteal muscles activate more with a lower foot placement. Although not the main focus, the calf muscles also get some workout during this exercise.

Related:Squats vs. Deadlifts

Why Does Foot Placement Matter?

The reason foot placement matters is that when you change where your feet land on the platform, you're changing which muscles are targeted. The quads, hamstrings, and glutes each get their share of attention, depending on the foot angle. Plus, altering your foot placement impacts your joint angle. Go wider, and your hips start feeling the strain, calling those glutes into action. And let's not forget about the range of motion—higher feet mean less, lower feet mean more.

But here's the crucial part: comfort and safety. Place those feet incorrectly—too high or too low—and injuries and discomfort could spoil your workout. Let’s look at the seven types of leg press foot placements you can do next time you’re at the gym. 

The 7 Types of Leg Press Foot Placements

7. Standard Foot Placement

In the standard leg press, set your feet shoulder-width apart, dead center on the footplate, toes slightly pointed outward. This position is our starting point, the default for leg presses. Many people use it to engage all leg muscles effectively.

To nail this setup, ensure your back is firmly against the seat, your knees aligned with your toes, and maintain your center on the footplate. This precision forms the foundation for a robust leg press routine.

6. Wide Foot Placement

To emphasize engagement of your abductors, inner hamstrings, and inner quads, widen your foot placement during the leg press so that your feet are about 1.5x to 2x regular shoulder-width distance. This foot placement provides an extensive range of motion, enhancing activation in the aforementioned muscles. You can vary from a traditional setup to positioning your feet on the edges of the platform. 

To complement the wider hip placement comfortably, angle the toes slightly outward.

5. Narrow Foot Placement

Opting for a narrow foot placement on the leg press effectively targets the outer muscles of your quads and thighs. Begin with your traditional leg press foot placement and gradually bring your feet closer together, aiming for a distance less than shoulder width apart. While hip-width is commonly practiced, you can even position your feet so they touch.

This variation serves as an effective change-up to concentrate on developing the outer quad muscles, which makes it very useful for bodybuilding. 

4. Low Foot Placement

For a low stance on the leg press, position your feet at the footplate's bottom, toes gently angled outward, maintaining a stance narrower than shoulder-width. This particular foot placement zeroes in on your quadriceps, minimizing engagement from the glutes and hamstrings. The low stance creates a more extensive range of motion and deeper knee flexion, amplifying the activation of your quads.

3. High Foot Placement

To perform leg presses with a high foot position, elevate your feet on the platform so that your toes are closer to the top edge while maintaining a shoulder-width distance.

Executing the high foot placement technique alters the dynamics, limiting the knee's range of motion and accentuating both hip flexion and extension compared to the standard leg press setup.

This variation is particularly effective for activating the hamstrings and gluteal muscles, providing a comprehensive workout for your posterior chain. It's crucial to note that the leg press inherently involves multiple muscle groups, so while targeting the hamstrings and glutes, the quads, including the inner vastus medialis muscle, will also be actively engaged.

2. Single Leg

The single-leg leg press introduces a unique dynamic to the leg press exercise by focusing on one leg at a time. This method is particularly beneficial for individuals seeking to engage in iso-lateral training, where each leg operates independently without assistance from the other.

Executing this exercise involves sitting on the leg press machine and situating one foot on the footplate while keeping the opposite foot off the ground.

For the iso-lateral leg press on a standard leg press machine, the recommended approach is placing your foot vertically at the center of the footplate, slightly towards the side corresponding to the leg under focus. This setup ensures targeted engagement and effective isolation of each leg during the exercise.

1. Toes Only

To execute this exercise, position the balls of your feet on the lower section of the footplate, ensuring your toes are pointed straight ahead and your heels are suspended off the edge of the platform.

During the movement, elevate the weight using your toes, reaching as high as possible. Maintain this elevated position for a brief moment before gradually lowering the weight. To optimize calf engagement, maintain straight legs throughout the entire range of motion. This technique enhances the effectiveness of the exercise in targeting and strengthening the calf muscles.

What is the Best Leg Press Foot Placement For You?

Selecting the right foot placement on the leg press machine is a bit like choosing the right tool for the job. One commonly used starting point is the standard shoulder-width stance with toes slightly angled out, placed at the center of the footplate. It's like your reliable, all-purpose tool – gets the job done.

However, the leg press machine’s versatility allows for different placements to target specific muscle groups. Experimenting with variations is akin to adjusting your tools for different tasks. Want to focus on quads? Try a narrow stance. Are you looking to engage the glutes and hamstrings? Go for a wider stance.

In fitness, your foot placement depends on your goals and preferences. Once you know what you want out of your workout, you’ll know which leg press foot placement is best for you. 

Related: Leg Press vs. Hack Squat

Final Thoughts

The leg press machine is a versatile tool for building leg strength and muscle. Understanding the various foot placements and their effects is crucial for tailoring your workout to your unique needs. Experiment with different stances to discover what works best for you and watch your gains soar


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