What Muscles Does the Seated Leg Press Exercise Machine Work?

Along with other types of strength training exercises, the seated leg press benefits your body in numerous ways. When you use a leg press, the muscles worked include the quadriceps and hamstrings, with secondary help from the glutes and calves. By strengthening these large muscle groups, you can combat age-related loss of muscle mass, stabilize blood sugar, improve balance and posture, reduce lower-back and joint pain and lose or maintain weight.

The leg press machine works mainly the quads and hamstrings. (Image: bluecinema/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

As you exercise with a leg press, the muscles worked primarily include the quadriceps and hamstrings. You'll also engage your glutes and calves as stabilizer muscles throughout the exercise.

Leg Press Benefits

The leg press benefits your body mass, bone health and several internal systems, and it also may support neurological health. A study published in May 2018 in Frontiers in Neuroscience examined the impact of restricted movement on the nervous system. In the study, mice were restricted from using their hind legs but not their front legs over a 28-day period.

At the trial's end, researchers examined the subventricular zone, an area of the brain that's responsible for maintaining nerve cell health and where neural stem cells produce new neurons. They determined that limiting physical activity decreased neural stem cells by 70 percent compared with a control group. In addition, both neurons and oligodendrocytes — the specialized cells that support and insulate nerve cells — didn't fully mature when movement was restricted.

Furthermore, the research demonstrated that using the legs in weight-bearing exercises send signals to the brain that are critical for healthy neural cell development. Essentially, restricting exercise in the legs may make it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells.

Perform a Leg Press

To perform a leg press, position your feet on the resistance plates with your toes and knees pointing forward. Ensure you have a 90-degree bend in your knees.

Inhale and exhale as you push the plates with your feet flat, contracting your abs, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. Do not lock out your knees, and keep your upper body still as you push. At the top of the leg press, pause for a moment, and control the movement as you slowly bend your knees back to the starting position.

Perform three to five sets of the leg press, with about eight to 12 repetitions in each set. Try increasing the amount of weight in each set, so you can gradually build greater leg strength. You can also perform exercises with single legs in the leg press, so the muscles worked are engaged one leg at a time. Repeat the steps above, but use one independently and then the other.

Hit the Weights Weekly

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. This training is in addition to the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, such as walking or cycling.

Ideally, you'll work out all the major muscle groups in your weekly strength training sessions, including leg, back, chest, arm and abdominal muscles. Some people prefer to break up their weight training into multiple days and focus on one muscle group at a time. In this case, strength training might extend to five days a week. Others would rather combine muscle groups into fewer weekly sessions.

As you get started with weight training, choose weights that are appropriate for your fitness level — heavy enough to fatigue and build your muscles but not so heavy that you'll get injured. You can add on more weight as you get stronger and more confident with the leg press and other workouts. Check with your doctor before starting any fitness routine if you have concerns about what types of activities are best for you.

Combine Machines and Free Weights

You can choose among barbell and dumbbell training and weight machines, as well as resistance bands and bodyweight exercises. Free weights require the use of not only the primary muscles engaged, but also supporting muscles that help you balance and stabilize while performing the movement. They also allow you to mimic everyday types of movements, such as squatting down to pick up a box or lifting a bag of groceries.

At the same time, machines such as the leg press help you control the movement of the exercise. You are less likely to get injured using a machine, and the controlled movement often allows for better form. You can also perform most machine exercises without a spotter, so you can safely work out alone.

As you get comfortable with different types of strength exercises, you can incorporate both free-weight and machine exercises into your routine. You can also add resistance bands to your leg-press workout and other leg exercises, such as squats, for increased intensity.

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