Whether you're looking to save your back from barbell-induced discomfort or just want to try some new exercise equipment, the leg press is a great tool that you can most likely find at your gym.
But if you're new to this machine, you'll probably want to know what weight to start with and how to use the machine properly. Read on to learn more about your ideal leg press weight, how to program your reps and the best foot alignment for your goals.
While there's no average leg press weight, you can find your own ideal weight, depending on your fitness level. Beginners should start with a weight that's 50 to 75 percent of their total body weight.
The Average Leg Press Weight
As with most types of weight-lifting, there's no single average weight for the leg press. The amount you can press depends on your age, gender and fitness level. Those who frequently strength train may be able to leg press well over 100 pounds, whereas others may be challenged by pressing the machine alone.
However, you can figure out the average leg press weight you should start with. If you've never used the machine before, start with about 50 percent of what you imagine you'd be capable of pressing, says Sam Becourtney, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
More specifically, beginners should start with a weight that's about 50 to 75 percent of their body weight, then build up from there, Becourtney says. Always take the weight of the machine into consideration and test a few weight-less presses before you start to add plates.
As you grow more comfortable and experienced with the leg press, you can add more weight to the machine. Advanced lifters can usually lift up to four or five times their body weight, Becourtney says.
How to Use the Leg Press Properly
Before you get your lower body working, though, you want to make sure your leg press form is correct. As with all new forms of lifting, it's best to test a few reps or sets without any weight at all. This step is especially important with the leg press, as different machines have different weight and function slightly differently.
There are a few different types of leg press machines your gym may have. The seated leg press machine is one of the most common, which has a totally horizontal seat, Becourtney says. You may also see a 45-degree leg press, which has you pushing upward at a diagonal angle.
You may even come across a lying leg press, where you lie flat on your back and push the press horizontally. Though that's generally used in a physical therapy setting. And although different leg presses may have you push the weight at varied angles, they generally work the same and entail the same form.
Leg Press Machine Form
- Begin seated on the machine, bending your knees to a comfortable position.
- Plant your feet on the platform about hip-width apart, keeping your heels and balls of your feet planted.
- Place your head and back flat against the seat.
- Drive through your heels and push the platform away from your body without completely locking out your knees.
- Control the plate as you reverse the motion and bend your knees, bringing the weight back to the starting position.
While the machine will work your entire lower body, you can tweak your foot placement to target certain muscles, Becourtney says. To target your glutes and hamstrings, place your feet higher on the platform. To target your quads, align your feet lower.
Programming Your Leg Press Sets and Reps
Regularly using the leg press is a great way to improve your leg strength. But the way you program your sets and reps determines whether you focus on muscular size or endurance.
Generally, the amount of weight you're pressing should be inversely related to the amount of sets you perform, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you're a beginner and pressing about 50 percent of your body weight, aim for about 10 to 12 reps at the start, Becourtney says.
Then, once this weight and rep range starts to feel comfortable, you can increase your weight gradually, adding small increments of weight each set or workout, depending on your comfort level. You want to increase toward a weight that's challenging but doesn't cause you to break down in form.
"You should be able to do complete the final 'working set' and only have 1 to 2 repetitions in reserve, meaning you were close to your maximum effort but did not reach a point of [form breakdown] where injury may be a risk," Becourtney says.
As you get stronger, you can increase your weight or reps depending on your goals. If you're looking to build muscular endurance (which is especially helpful if you play a sport), you can increase your reps gradually up to 30, according to the ACE.
Or, if you're training for hypertrophy (increased muscle size), you can keep your total reps low (at most 6 reps) and increase your weight more quickly.