Leg press machines are common sites in most gyms. Used as an alternative to squats, lunges and other lower body exercises, leg press machines are popular with bodybuilders and those wishing to lift heavy weights. Using a leg press offers advantages and disadvantages, but correct use of the leg press provides an effective lower body workout.
Most strength-training equipment manufacturers make a leg press machine but, while there are many models of leg press available, there are only two main types of design. The first design is often referred to as a 45-degree leg press or sled leg press. To use this style of machine you sit on an reclined seat with your legs elevated and push against a weighted footplate guided by rails. The second design uses a weighted pendulum that swings away from you when you push with your legs. This design normally utilizes a more upright seated position and horizontal pushing action. Some leg presses allow for independent leg action but the majority of machines use both legs simultaneously. Most leg presses are plate loaded — that is to say you alter the weight by adding or subtracting weight plates.
The leg press is an exercise for all of your lower body muscles. Extending your knees against the resistance offered by the leg press works your thigh muscles — the hamstrings to the rear and quadriceps to the front. The action of extending your hips works your butt or gluteus maximus muscles. The load bearing effect of the leg press also strengthens your legs bones: the femur, tibia and fibula. Leg presses also strengthen your knee and hip joints. The leg press can be used to develop strength and/or muscle size — called hypertrophy — depending the type of training you perform.
Leg presses use a guided movement that minimizes your need to balance the weight and coordinate your limbs. This means you are free to concentrate on lifting and lowering the weight — a particular benefit if you want to train using especially heavy loads. Most models of leg press also have range of movement limiters that prevent the weight from falling and squashing you if you fail to complete a repetition. This means that leg presses are especially suitable if you train alone. Leg press machines provide lower back support which may reduce your risk of suffering from a back injury.
It is all too easy to place excessive strain on your knees and lower back when using a leg press machine — especially if you are using large weights or a large range of movement. Lowering your legs too close to your chest can result in an acute knee angle, which can prove injurious. Also, bending your legs so that your knees press against your abdomen can cause your lower back to round out, which places an enormous load on your lower spine. Serious back injury can be the result of lowering the weight too low.
Safe Use of Leg Press Machines
To minimize your risk of injury when leg pressing you should ensure that your lower back never rounds out and that you avoid bending your knees so as to place them at an overly acute angle. Press evenly with both legs and, in case you get into difficulties, make certain you are familiar with the locking mechanism of the machine you are using. The leg press is an effective lower body exercise and provides a viable alternate for squats and lunges, but any safety advantages offered by the leg press can be negated by performing this exercising using poor form.