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The Best Exercise Machines for Legs

by
author image Rebecca Wylie
Rebecca Wylie has more than 10 years experience in health and fitness. She has worked as a personal trainer, exercise instructor, competed in a fitness competition and has several half marathons under her belt. She also holds a master's degree in sport and health science.
The Best Exercise Machines for Legs
Man doing leg presses Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Walking into the gym on leg day may seem full of possibility and a bit overwhelming. There are many exercises that can be done with machines, dumbbells and barbells. You don't need to use free weights in order to work your legs; machines work just fine.

All the Parts

Your legs are made up of several muscle groups: the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, thighs and calves. The rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius are part of your quadriceps. The semitendinosus, biceps femoris long head, biceps femoris short head, and semimembranosus make up your hamstrings. Your glutes are comprised of two muscles, the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. While your calves are made up of the gastrocnemius lateral and medial head and the soleus also known as the triceps surae. Your thighs consist of the pectineus, adductor longus, adductor magnus and gracilis.

Mr. Smith Machine

The Smith machine offers a versatility that many machines do not offer, making it one of the best leg machines. With this machine, you are able to perform several exercises, including squats and lunges. Squats, which are a multiple-joint exercise, work the entire leg. Back squats focus more on the glutes, while front squats focus more on the quadriceps. Lunges performed on the Smith machine also target your glutes. A smaller front step focuses more intensely on your quadriceps, while a bigger step targets your glutes and hamstrings. Using the Smith machine, you can also perform standing calf raises by placing the bar on your upper back.

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Good Old Leg Press

Leg press machines allow you to work your entire leg while targeting certain areas. The leg press may be the best alternative for people who have back issues and cannot handle squats or Hack squats. Placing your feet high on the plate targets your glutes and hamstrings, while placing your feet low on the plate targets your quadriceps. By placing your feet farther apart, you focus on your adductors, and you work your quadriceps with your feet closer together. Calf raises can also be performed on the leg press by placing the tops of your feet on the bottom of the plate and lifting the plate up, then back down.

Time To Focus

While the Smith machine and leg press work the entire leg, isolation machines focus on specific parts of your leg. The seated leg curl machine is the ideal machine for working your hamstrings. With this machine, your range of motion is very specific, offering you the ability to truly work just your hamstrings. The leg extension machine is an ideal machine for targeting your quadriceps. It not only is beneficial for people who have back issues, it also is a good exercise to gain strength in your quads, preparing you for more advanced exercises such as squats. Standing calf raise machines and donkey calf raise machines both work your calves. These exercises are ideal in targeting your entire calf muscle. While standing calf raises work more of your soleus, the donkey targets more of your gastrocnemius.

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References

  • Strength Training Anatomy; Frederic Delavier
  • ACSM's Foundations of Strength And Conditioning; Nicholas Ratamess
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