3 Tips to Avoid Back Injuries While Using a Leg Press Machine

Adding too much resistance and moving too fast on the leg press machine can potentially injure your back.
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If you want to build strong, powerful lower body muscles, the leg press machine deserves a top spot in your gym routine. That's because it truly works every muscle in your legs: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and shins.


While this resistance machine offers a lot of benefits (it can help correct muscle imbalances and lets you train around upper-body injuries), it can be a back injury waiting to happen if you don't take proper precautions.

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In particular, your spinal column can become compromised when the leg press weight is too high or if the machine isn't used appropriately.

Here are several factors that can cause spine or back pain during the leg press — and how to prevent them.

First, How to Use a Leg Press Machine With Proper Form

Type Strength
Body Part Butt and Legs
  1. Sit down on the leg press with your back and hips pressed against the seat.
  2. With your knees bent to 90 degrees or as far as comfortable, place your feet on the sled at hips-width apart. Brace your core.
  3. Then, keeping contact with the seat, exhale as you press through your entire foot to extend your legs.
  4. Once you begin to extend your legs, rotate the safety bars to allow for a greater range of motion.
  5. Continue pressing until just before your knees are locked out. Pause for one second, then return to the start position by re-bending your hips and knees.
  6. Rotate the safety bars back to their original position before returning to your starting position.

Tips to Avoid a Back Injury on the Leg Press Machine

1. Make Sure Your Seat Is in the Correct Position

Properly positioning the seat on the machine stabilizes your entire body. Full joint stabilization allows your leg muscles to engage through every resisted motion.


Here are some tips to get everything set up correctly, according to gym equipment retailer Select Fitness USA:

  • The seat-back of a leg press should be situated so your legs sit just shy of a right angle (90 degrees), and not pushed too far forward.
  • Sit up straight with your hips and spinal column pressed against the back pad of the machine.
  • Your head and neck should both be straight and relaxed. Let your arms hang at your sides.
  • Your feet should be hip-width apart and pressed flat against the platform.
  • Keep your knees aligned with the tips of your shoes throughout the exercise.


2. Don't Add Too Much Resistance

Too much resistance can also cause back strain when using the leg press. An appropriate level of resistance allows you to be challenged yet also use the machine in a controlled fashion. When you exceed this reasonable amount of resistance, you may lose control over the weight, according to Select Fitness USA, which can create an imbalance in your joints.

Common leg press mistakes that affect your joints are overarching your lower spine, hyperextending your knees, elevating your hips and straining your neck. All of these issues have a direct and negative effect on your spinal column.



3. Move at a Slow, Steady Pace

Steady, measured motions make for a far more productive workout. Speeding up and going too fast won't give your muscles enough time under tension (the amount of time a muscle is under strain), which will limit your gains, according to Piedmont Healthcare.

Going too fast can also cause injury. This happens when the weight is too heavy, so your body responds to the overwhelming resistance by accelerating through the weight.


Think of it this way: Your muscles are just trying to get it over with. Rapid muscle movements place a ton of stress on prime stability joints, like your knees, hips and lower spine, as well as overall stability.

Maintain a workable weight and you'll be able to perform the movements at an optimal speed.


To further avoid injuries while on the leg press machine, make sure the safety locks are in place before you use it. This ensures the weight won't fall on you if you're unable to lift it, per Select Fitness USA.

If you're unsure of how to use the leg press machine or are lifting heavy, ask a trainer to spot you or answer any questions you may have.

How to Fix Lower Back Pain From the Leg Press Machine

If you strain your back on the leg press machine, rest and ice your back for the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury, per the Cleveland Clinic. (Symptoms of a strain include pain that worsens when you move, limited range of motion and muscle cramping or spasms.)

After the 48-hour mark, you can ease back into activity (not moving can prolong symptoms and delay recovery), but make sure to pay careful attention to how you're moving and stop if your back begins to hurt.

If your back doesn't feel better after two weeks — or if you felt a pop or tear at the time of injury — seek medical attention ASAP. Additionally, notify your doctor if you can't stand or walk, you have pain or numbness radiating down your leg, you experience sharp, stabbing pain in your back or if you feel pain in a new area of your back, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Leg Press Machine Alternatives

If this machine isn't ideal for your body, needs or goals, alternative exercises exist for every resistance machine. Try the following dumbbell substitutions to strengthen your leg muscles:


1. Dumbbell Squat

Type Strength
Body Part Butt and Legs
  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. You can turn your toes slightly out or point them straight ahead. Hold dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Fill your chest with air to set your core. Maintain a tight, vertical torso throughout the movement with a natural arch in your low back.
  3. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can safely and comfortably go). Keep your chest up and your weight in your heels.
  4. Push your feet into the ground to stand back up.

2. Dumbbell Lunge

Type Strength
Body Part Butt and Legs
  1. Stand upright with both feet together. Hold dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Step forward with one foot in front of your body. Take a big enough step that your front knee forms a 90-degree angle. Land with your front foot flat on the floor and grab the ground with your toes. Drive your back toes into the ground.
  3. Bend both knees and drop toward the floor with control. Keep lowering until your back knee is about an inch off the ground (or as low as comfortable). Keep your chest tall, but some forward lean is OK.
  4. Finish the rep by driving off the floor and returning back to your upright standing position. Bring your front foot back to your back foot.


Common Questions

What are the leg press muscles worked?

The leg press machine targets all the muscles in your lower body: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and shins.

What are some leg press benefits?

The leg press machine builds strength and power in your lower body by isolating your muscles. Because it doesn't require any effort from your upper body, it's a great machine to use if you're recovering from an upper-body injury or don't otherwise have the use of your upper body.

How do you avoid injury when using the leg press machine?

Adjusting the leg press machine correctly is key to not hurting yourself. Make sure you're able to sit up straight and the bottoms of your feet can rest firmly on the platform. For more information on how to do this, see above!

Why do leg press injuries happen?

In addition to not using proper form, injuries can happen if you move too fast or add too much resistance to the machine. Moving at a slow, steady pace and only pressing a weight you're comfortable with can help you stay safe.

What are some leg press injury recovery methods?

Take a break from exercise and ice your back for up to two days. If your back feels better after that timeframe, you can ease back into activity (stopping again if you feel pain). If you still feel pain in your back after two weeks, seek medical care.




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