Although it may not be immediately obvious, the position of your feet when using the leg press can significantly alter the muscle groups that you target.
It’s easy to underestimate how much of a difference it makes where you put your feet on the leg press, especially in the beginning. Therefore, if you wish to advance and modify your leg day, experimenting with various foot placements on the leg press machine is a great place to start.
You can use a leg press machine with your feet placed high, low, wide, narrow, or in any combination of these. The leg press is particularly adaptable because the muscles it works depend on the specific combination you choose.
Unfortunately, many weightlifters don’t use the foot placement that would target specific muscle groups. As a result, this leads to subpar form, inefficient training, lackluster performance, and (potentially) increased risk of injury.
If you want to avoid making these common mistakes when using a leg press, read on. Here are the five different foot placement variations on the leg press machine.
1. High Feet Leg Press: High Foot Placement
When you place your feet higher, you can extend and bend your hips more, but you can’t move your knees as much. In other words, putting the feet higher on the foot pad makes the hamstrings and glutes work, which takes pressure (somewhat) off the quads.
This is a great alternative to deadlifts and curls for the hamstrings. In this position, most people will be able to lift the most weight. Keep in mind, though, that you can’t really completely isolate one muscle over another, so your quads will still do most of the work. Also, because you’re sitting when you do a leg press, your upper hamstrings and glutes won’t get the same workout as they would during a standing exercise like a squat.
2. Low Feet Leg Press: Low Foot Placement
A lower foot placement reduces the amount of hip extension and flexion while increasing the range of motion around the knees. This shifts the stress of the exercise onto the quads.
Keep in mind that putting your feet lower puts more stress on your knees. This is the best alternative to squats, but if you have knee pain, don’t do too many of these. Also, people who already have knee pain or injuries might find this foot position uncomfortable and should be extra careful.
3. Wide Feet Leg Press: Wide Foot Placement
With the wide foot placement leg press, your feet stay in the middle of the sled, but they are farther apart. By spreading your feet apart, you’ll put more pressure on your inner quad muscles. This move looks a lot like a regular sumo squat.
How far out you go will depend on how you feel. In general, your feet will be placed about 1.5 times the width of your shoulders. The wide foot position puts your hips in a slight hip abduction position. This means that your glutes and hip abductor muscles will be used more.
4. Narrow Feet Leg Press: Narrow Foot Placement
For the narrow stance, you have to put your feet about hip-width apart or a little closer together about midway on the sled. For this foot position, you should usually keep your toes straight up and not spread out.
This variant becomes more quad dominant the lower you place your narrow stance. Bringing your feet closer together will work the muscles on the outside of your thighs. Putting the feet close together already puts more pressure on the quad muscles, so this is a great variation for people who want to build up this muscle in particular.
5. Regular Foot Placement
The standard way to put your feet on a sled is with them about shoulder-width apart and in the middle. In this stance, your toes can be straight up or a little bit spread out, depending on how you feel.
Putting your feet in the regular position works the most muscles in your legs. The main focus is on the quads, but the hamstrings and glutes also get a good workout. It is a quad-centered movement in which the glutes and hamstrings also play a role.
You may need to experiment with different foot placements on leg press machines because they vary so much between gyms. Because of the limited size of the platform on some leg press machines, users may be limited to either a high or low foot placement. In a similar vein, some machines have an angle of 45 degrees that you can use to your advantage when pushing, while others are completely flat.
And now, let’s talk a little about where to place your feet on the leg press if you want to focus primarily on the glutes.
Leg Press Foot Placement For Glutes And Hamstrings
For the glutes and hamstrings, the best leg press foot placement is wide and high. You could choose to have a wide stance or a high stance, or you could choose to have both.
Make sure, though, that your whole foot is still on the platform. Don’t put your foot so high that it goes off the platform. This could hurt you very badly because your foot could slip off the platform.
This high stance will give you more movement at your hips and less movement at your knees. In addition to putting your feet in this position, try to push through the heels of your feet to get power from your glutes and hamstrings. Targeting the glutes and hamstrings goes hand in hand with a lot of different exercises because they work together to support the movement.
A leg press machine is a good way to work your glutes and hamstrings, but it’s not the only way to work these muscles nor is it enough on its own. You should definitely do more exercises that focus on your glutes and hamstrings, like different kinds of deadlifts and hip thrusts, to build these muscles well.
For an idea of why, this study by Worrell shows that the glutes are most active at the end of hip extension when the hip joint is straight. When you do a leg press, your hip joints will never be in a straight line. Instead, they will always be bent when you reach the end of each rep. On the leg press, you can never fully work your glutes because of this.
Leg Press Foot Placement For Calves
For the calves, the best leg press foot position is a low, narrow stance. You can work your quads and calves at the same time by pushing down on the balls of your feet. The quads and calves will have to work harder.
If you really want to work on your calves, you might want to add calf raises to some of your sets. Or doing one calf raise with your legs fully stretched out.
Different Types Of Leg Press Machines And Their Benefits
Leg press machines come in various types, each offering unique advantages to users. Understanding the foot placement strategies is crucial for optimizing your leg workouts on any of these machines.
- 45 Degree Linear Leg Press: This popular machine lets users push weight on a sled at a 45-degree angle. Typically found in commercial gyms, it uses plate-loaded resistance for effective leg workouts.
- Horizontal Seated Leg Press: This machine allows users to sit with their legs extended out in front of the body. Using a pin selectorized style, it offers a comfortable and supported leg press movement.
- Angled Leverage Leg Press: Utilizing a lever system for resistance, this machine provides a smooth and controlled leg press motion with an extensive range of motion. You can find it in various gyms.
- Dual Function Leg Press (Leg Press / Hack Squat): Perfect for home gyms, this machine offers both leg press and hack squat options in one compact unit, saving space and providing versatility.
- Vertical Leg Press: Users lie flat on their back while performing leg press movements in a vertical position. This plate-loaded machine ensures optimal back and neck safety while offering a unique challenge to the legs.
- Compact Leg Press: Designed for smaller spaces, this machine is commonly found in home gyms. It provides a challenging leg workout with a more affordable price point.
- Iso-lateral Leg Press: Available in commercial gyms, this machine allows users to work each leg independently. It helps correct imbalances between legs and offers an advanced level of isolation for experienced lifters.
With this knowledge, you can choose the leg press machine that best suits your fitness goals and preferences. Remember to focus on proper foot placement to maximize the benefits of each type of leg press and enjoy a well-rounded leg workout. Happy lifting!
The best place for your feet on a leg press will depend a lot on which muscle groups you want to work. Want a strong stance all around? Use the normal position. Want to work on your quads? Choose the narrow stance or put your feet low on the platform.
No matter where your feet are, you want to make sure that your back is straight against the backrest the whole time you are doing the leg press.
When you’re struggling with heavy weight, it can be natural to lean forward and round your back. However, this could put too much pressure on your back and cause an injury.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.