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Leg Press Master Class

Target your quads with both variations (two-legged and one-legged) of this common lower body exercise.

Leg press technique and tips

Note: The above video was recorded as a Facebook Live tutorial in conjunction with the Train With Jim Full-Body Shortcut to Size program.

Leg Press Key Points

  • The leg press is a good tool for focusing on quadriceps development, specifically the “teardrop” portion (vastus medialis muscle) on the inner part of the thigh down by the knee. That said, the leg press is not a great move for glute or hamstring development.
  • When doing the leg press, keeping your butt on the seat and your head back on the pad throughout every set is important for minimizing the risk of lower back and neck injury, respectively.
  • Leg presses can be done either two legs or one leg at a time. The one-legged version is effective both from a safety standpoint and for correcting lower body strength and size imbalances.

There are a variety of different leg press machines in gyms, but when we talk in bodybuilding and weightlifting terms about the leg press, we're really talking about the 45-degree leg press, or the “sled,” as it's sometimes called.

The leg press is often used as a foundational lower body exercise in people's training programs. But should it be? Generally speaking, probably not, but it depends on your individual goals as well as any physical limitations or injuries you may have. I’m not saying the leg press is a bad exercise, but I'm going to tell you in this article why it's not the best leg exercise for overall development.

Yet, I'm also going to tell you the main benefits of this movement (specifically related to quadriceps development), so if those align with your goals, then the leg press absolutely has a place in your program.

Let's start by discussing the anatomy of the exercise...

Anatomy of the Leg Press

Glutes and Hamstrings

The muscular anatomy is critical to the biomechanics that we're using on the leg press. When you're doing the leg press, the problem, frankly, is the ass – your hips. Look what happens when I sit in the leg press: No matter how I adjust the seat, it still limits hip extension.

When I do the leg press, see if you can tell the difference between it and a squat. I lower down to about 90 degrees at the knees in the bottom position, then push back up. At the top, it’s just like a squat, right? WRONG! On a squat, am I bent forward at the top, with my legs and torso at 90 degrees like with the press? No! My body is straight, fully upright. My point is, the leg press limits the extension at the hips. It's basically like doing a squat with no hip extension, bent over at the waist at the top of the rep. You would never do a squat like that!

What muscles are involved in hip extension? Your glutes and your hamstrings. In the above video, I point out these muscles on the anatomical model of the leg (at around the 3:30 point). You’ve got the gluteus maximus as well as the long head of the biceps femoris. The biceps femoris has two heads – a long head and a short head – and only the long head crosses the hip joint. Just like with the biceps brachii on the arm, which has a long and a short head, and only the long head crosses the shoulder joint. Same concept here.

(The hamstrings consist of two other muscles as well: semitendinosus and semimembranosus. Neither of these are involved in hip extension, since they don’t cross the hip joint – knee flexion only.)

Bottom line: When you're doing a leg press, you’re not getting much use of the hamstrings or the glutes because of the lack of hip extension. So, if this is your main leg exercise and you’re wondering why you have no ass, or your hamstrings are weak, it's because you’re focusing on the leg press.

What you're really maximizing on the leg press is the use of the quads. So let’s break down that large muscle group…


As the name implies, there are four muscles that make up the quadriceps: rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius. All four converge...

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