Yes, squats are great for leg day, but the leg press also has its own benefits and advantages. Because they allow you to work with heavier weights, reduce the risk of injury, and isolate specific muscle groups, leg press machines are must-have gym equipment.
Everything you need to know about the leg press machine is written here, along with tips in performing leg presses properly and how to choose your pick among the five best leg press machines on the market today.
Best Leg Press Machines
What Is A Leg Press Machine?
The term “leg press” refers to the weight training exercise performed by pushing a load using the legs. It also refers to the machine or apparatus that is used in performing the task.
The leg press is used to strengthen the lower body from the hips to the knee joint. There are two types of leg press, the diagonal and the seated leg press.
- The diagonal leg press, a.k.a. the vertical sled type uses weight plates connected directly to the sled, which is attached on rails. To use it, you sit below the sled and push the weight upward using your feet. Usually, there are adjustable safety brackets to keep the user from being trapped under.
- The seated leg press or the cable type leg press is typically found in multigyms. The weights are connected to a plate via a long steel cable. To use it, you sit upright and push onto the plate using your feet.
As per Livestrong’s statement, leg press can target the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and to some extent, the calves. Generally, the muscle groups targeted by the leg press are those that are also worked during squats, with some help from the lower back and knees.
Benefits Of A Leg Press Machine
If used properly, leg press machines offer an array of benefits. Let’s take a look at some of these:
When dealing with free weights until failure, that is, the point when your muscles cannot contract anymore, there is a danger of injuring yourself. So, when doing weighted squats, you’ll need a spotter, or you may be forced to let go of the weight mid-rep.
Working out on a machine makes exercising to failure a lot safer. Leg press machines have a safety feature that allows you to keep the weights from moving back. Therefore, you can work on heavier weights for more reps or until failure confidently without endangering yourself.
Who said you couldn’t be comfortable while exercising? Unlike when doing squats, you are seated on a leg press machine. This removes the stress from your knees and spine, which increases the comfort factor so you can work out longer and do more reps.
Many leg press machines today also offer comfort features like contoured neck support, padded headrests and back pads, moisture-wicking surfaces, slip-resistant footplates or footrests, and ergonomically designed frames to help you maintain the proper posture.
3. Easier Adjustment Of Weights
When doing weightlifting exercises, the goal is to achieve progressive overload. This is possible by moving up in weights. With leg press machines, you can go from one weight load to another in an instant.
All you have to do is place weight pins within the weight stack and then adjust the weight conveniently without even having to get off the machine. This saves you a lot of time and allows you to work out by yourself without needing someone to remove or add the plates for you.
In some types of leg press machines, you still have to stand up to remove or add weight plates. However, this is also beneficial since it gives you sufficient rest time between sets.
Because of the instantaneous weight adjustment feature that most leg press machines offer, they are ideal for doing pyramid sets or drop sets. Pyramid sets are a weight progression from lighter to heavier weights while drop sets involve dropping weights to progress into a lighter load.
4. Fast Gains
If your goal is to build your lower body muscles, do some basic strength training or simply tone your legs, the leg press is a great alternative to squats with free weights.
It is faster because you do not have to focus too much on mastering the movement, the machine does this for you. You just have to sit properly and then go right into the exercise.
This is also great if you want to build your muscles quickly but have not yet learned how to squat with weights properly.
The machine also exercises your muscles without needing the stabilizing muscles, which limit the amount of weights you can use. Because of this, you can lift heavier weights safely and maximize muscle growth.
To maximize your leg press exercises, please watch this video:
5. Variations And Muscle Isolation
While squats and lunges are great leg day exercises in general, a leg press machine allows you to focus on a specific muscle group. You can do this by simply doing the exercise with different foot placements. Here’s how:
- To work the hamstrings and glutes, place your feet high on the platform
- To target the quadriceps, lower your feet on the platform
- To work the inner thighs, do a wider stance
- To target the outer thighs, do a narrow stance
- Press with the balls of the feet to target the quads or push with your heels to target the glutes
- Adjust the incline of the seat to either completely flat, a 45° slope, or 90° so that your back is straight, which allows you to work your calves, quads, and even your lower core muscles
You can also use combinations of these positions to activate specific muscles more than others. However, if you feel any pain with a foot position, stop it immediately.
6. Recover From Or Prevent Imbalances
Check your lower body muscles for imbalances. Many athletes and bodybuilders have mobility, size, and strength imbalances without even knowing it.
Usually, a muscle fails to perform its fair share of work or you do not pay as much attention to the proper position, so the other muscle makes up for it. This leads to less efficient movement and potentially, even injuries.
If you notice any imbalances, a leg press machine will allow you to work on each leg separately to make sure both legs are correctly developing. Doing a few sets with one leg at a time will help you see where you need more work and help you eliminate some already existing muscle compensations.
For those with neck, back, and shoulder injuries, the leg press is better than using free weights because it puts very little to no stress on the upper body. A leg press machine allows you only to put the weight on your legs.
When working one leg at a time, the pressure on the upper body is reduced even further, allowing you to work around your injuries while still building your lower body muscles.
8. Prevent Injuries
Speaking of injuries, the leg press can also prevent injuries in two ways:
- It poses minimal risk of accidents by allowing you to maintain the proper form
- Warming up with a leg press prepares the essential muscles, knees, and spine before performing compound exercises
How To Use A Leg Press Machine Properly
The correct form is extremely important when doing leg presses. Here’s how you should position your body on a leg press machine along with some safety tips:
- 1Sit on the machine so that your head and back are resting comfortably against the backrest and padded support.
- 2Position your feet on the plate about hip-width apart and with your heels flat. Your legs should form a 90° angle at the knees. Make sure your feet are not positioned too low as this puts unnecessary stress on the knees.
- 3Keep your knees aligned with your feet, not bowed outward or inward and maintain this throughout your exercise.
- 4Make sure your butt or hip is not raised from the seat. Tilting your hips can compress your vertebrae and put stress on your lower back, which can then lead to muscle tears, muscle strain, or a hernia.
- 5If your legs are forming a sharp angle, move the seat back until your butt and knees are at a comfortable position. If your knees are directly at your eye level and if you feel cramped, this is a signal that you are ill-positioned.
- 6Grab the handles for support and assistance. This keeps your head and spine in a proper position while performing the exercise. Do not make the usual mistake of putting your hands on your knees, which will break your form.
- 7If the weight you are lifting is preventing you from maintaining the proper form, feel free to reduce the weights. It is more important to be able to control your movements even if you have to go low and slow.
- 8If you have no experience in performing leg presses, start with 3 sets of 10 reps with lighter weights then progress from there.
- 9Never rush the exercise and never let your legs relax at the end of each movement.
- 10Focus on your head position. Try to keep it steady and comfortable. If you find yourself jerking your head forward, you might be using a too heavy load.
- 11If you experience any pain on your leg or knees, stop. Pushing through can cause injury especially with heavy weights.
- 12Never skip warm-up. According to Andy Coggan, director of Gold’s Gym Fitness Academy and certified personal trainer, your lower body muscles, ankles, and hips need to be stimulated before hopping on a leg press machine. He suggests at least five minutes of cycling, jogging, walking, or any dynamic movement combined with hip circles, air squats, and ankle circles to jumpstart your system.
Here is a video that shows the leg press mistakes you should avoid:
Steps In Performing A Leg Press
- After seating and positioning your back and feet on the machine, take a deep breath.
- Release your breath as you extend your legs, keeping your back and head flat against the seat pad.
- Engage your core muscles and push the platform away with the full force of your forefoot and heels. Keep your heels flat and never use your toes exclusively to push the pad forward.
- Make slow, controlled movements instead of explosive, jerky movements to avoid injuries.
- Inhale while you move your feet back to the starting position by slowly bending your knees. Keep your back and feet flat throughout the whole cycle.
Things To Consider When Buying A Leg Press Machine
Given all of the benefits it can offer, a leg press machine is still a considerable investment. So, you have to remember these considerations before buying one for your home or gym:
While some people may argue otherwise, the first thing I suggest you consider is your budget limit. The best leg press machines are definitely not cheap, but if you know your budget and are determined to stick to it, you can find great deals and the best value for your money.
After deciding on a budget, do your own research about the features, pros, and cons, of the products that fit your budget. With proper information, you can still get a decent leg press machine for an affordable price.
Lucky for you, I already did the hard part for you and compiled everything in this article.
Especially if you plan to place a leg press machine in your home, you have to consider the available space where you can put one. If you live in a small apartment or have limited space, look for compact alternatives or the kinds that can be folded up for storage.
Also, pay attention to the dimensions of each leg press machine you’re looking at. This is often included in the product specifications.
Materials And Construction
The materials used and quality of construction are two significant factors also to pay attention to. Look for a leg press machine made with at least 2”x3” 11 gauge steel to ensure durability and stability. Avoid hard plastic components as much as you can since these tend to crack and break easily.
The most critical components of a leg press machine are the bearings. Make sure they are made out of steel, brass, or any durable and sturdy materials other than plastic.
Because of the intensity of the exercises you will be performing, the bearings should be able to withstand pressure and make each movement smooth and fluid. Otherwise, your machine might disintegrate quickly.
Look for a machine with sufficient padding and a surface that is easy to clean. Make sure it will not crack or smell even with constant contact with sweat.
Some machines not only function as stations for leg presses but also for other exercises like hack squats and calf raises. Adjustable inclines, easily adjustable resistance, extra features, and add-ons all add to the machine’s versatility and allow you to make the most of your purchase.
To help things move along in your search for the best leg press machines, I have listed down my top five favorite products at different price points. I included all their notable features, pros, and cons, to help you compare and weigh their differences to hopefully come up with the best decision before purchasing a machine.
1. Bodycraft F660 Leg Press Machine
First in our list is the BodyCraft F660 angled leg press and hack squat machine. It is constructed using heavy gauge steel that can handle up to 1000 pounds of the user and load weight. The unit features industrial grade linear bearings instead of wheels and plastic pulleys to ensure smooth movement and durability.
It also features adjustable, thickly padded shoulder pads to make exercising as comfortable as possible for users of different heights without needing to extend the frame. This makes this unit very compact and ideal for home use even with limited space.
The large footplate can also be folded away for performing hack squats or for storage. The foot plate’s angle is fully adjustable for your comfort. This also allows you to target different muscle groups depending on your needs.
This machine is compatible with Olympic plates. Aside from leg presses and hack squats, it also allows you to perform a wide array of other leg exercises like donkey squats and calf raises.
It features an attractive scratch-resistant powder coating that not only improves the style but also protects the frame. This unit also comes with a lifetime warranty for your peace of mind.
- Well-built using quality materials
- Smooth motion
- Compact size with a small footprint
- Multi-position pads and platforms to accommodate most body types and heights
- Maximum weight capacity of 1000 pounds
- Industrial grade linear bearings
- Adjustable shoulder pads and foot plate angle
- No place to store weight plates
- Difficult to assemble
- A little pricey
- Fails to accommodate deep hack squats for people below 5’8”
2. Body-Solid GLPH1100 Leg Press Machine
Ingeniously engineered to build and maintain lower body strength and size, the Body-Solid GLPH1100 Leg Press Machine helps keep your workouts safe, comfortable, and productive. It is made with extra-heavy-duty 2” by 4” 11-gauge steel frame and diamond footplates.
The sturdy frame limits torsional flex for increased stability and strength while the footplate which is connected to the main sled can be adjusted for performing calf presses. Another feature is an adjustable back support that helps you hold the right position while training.
The Quad Track roller system creates a smooth operation by evenly distributing weight the weight. The two back pads feature a flip-and-lock mechanism for quick setup.
The smooth motion saves your joints and bones from too much pressure and strain. Three lockout positions also allow the user to get a level of control and safety throughout the exercise by providing different start or stop positions.
For maximum comfort and support for the lower back and shoulder areas, the 4-inch thick Durafirm back and shoulder pads are contoured and double-stitched.
Finally, this product comes with the company’s exclusive in-home lifetime warranty for all parts.
- Excellent quality construction
- Quick, simple, and easy switching between exercises
- Reasonable price for the features it offers
- Easy-to-follow assembly instructions
- Slim framework
- Great value for your money
- Protects the lower back better than standard free weight squats
- Smaller footprint than other leg press machines
- 1000-pound maximum weight capacity
- Longer and takes up more space than a standard squat rack
- Assembly could take some time
- Weight plates have to be bought separately to maximize the weight limit
3. Powertec Fitness Leg Press Machine
Featuring a unique vertical design that allows it to fit in a small space, the Powertec Fitness Leg Press machine is excellent for those who live in apartments or have limited space in their homes.
It has four weight horns that can collectively handle up to 1000 pounds of weight load. Gravity Lock Safety catches, and hand grips on either side of the reclining bench increase your safety and confidence during training.
Thanks to the sleek matte black paint coating and finish, the steel tubing is corrosion-resistant for added durability and longevity of the machine.
It comes with a chin-up bar and dip bar, both of which can hold up to 400 pounds.
You also do not have much to worry about since the manufacturer assures buyers that the power rack can withstand heavy equipment and even the most rigorous workouts. It has a sturdy, durable steel construction.
For added features and versatility, you can attach a variety of accessories with an easy-to-read numeric system for setup and adjustments.
This machine delivers smooth and stable operation thanks to the roller system-driven high tensile strength foot plate with nylon reinforced wheels driven by bearings.
The Powertec Fitness Leg press machine also features highly adjustable foot pad, back pad, and seat to accommodate people of different sizes and fitness levels.
Unlike most leg press machines, this one has a horizontal design which lets you push the weight downward instead of up. This is what gives the unit a reduced footprint, making it compact enough to fit in small spaces in your home, bedroom, or garage.
The company offers a lifetime warranty on the structural frame, a 5-year warranty on moving frames, 2-year warranty on components, and one-year warranty on pads, grips, and other parts.
- Durable solid steel construction
- Chin-up bar and dip bar accessories
- Stylish, rust-resistant matte black coating and finish
- Gravity lock safety catches and hand grips for safety
- Minimal footprint
- Unique horizontal design
- Easy to use
- Stable and smooth operation
- Sufficient padding for comfort
- Very high quality for the price
- The power rack may slightly wobble when the dip bar is being used
- No means to secure it to the ground
- The footplate is slippery
- Olympic weight plates are sold separately
4. Powerline by Body-Solid Vertical Leg Press Machine
The PowerLine Vertical Leg Press machine makes leg day as comfortable and productive as possible. Get it installed in your home for a convenient workout anytime you want!
This unit features a unique vertical design that does not only minimize the space needed for you to use and store the machine but also keeps your hips and back correctly supported.
For an added layer of comfort, it comes with extra thick padding on the head, neck, and back. This padded and contoured support helps you maintain the right position while you exercise.
If you want stability and control, this machine also features three different start/stop positions, ½” thick dual adjustable locking pins, and a no-slip extra wide diamond steel footplate. Nylon bushings keep every movement smooth and consistent.
The body is made of a durable steel alloy material with a powder coat finish for durability and protection from rust, scratches, and scrapes. Engineered to offer a total body workout, this model also has fixed pulleys and can handle up to 400 pounds.
To guarantee your satisfaction, this unit is backed by a warranty of ten years on the frame and a year for all other components.
- Multifunctional and extremely versatile
- Great for beginners
- Vertical design adds challenge to workouts
- Saves space by having a small footprint
- Three different start/stop positions
- Nylon bearings for smooth movements
- Accommodates a wide range of user size and body type
- Weights can be added, removed, or adjusted easily
- Weight plates, collars, and Olympic adapter sleeves are sold separately
- Assembly takes time and extra effort
- Wobbles and squeaks a little during use
- Some complaints about missing components upon arrival
5. Weider Ultimate Body Works
Last but certainly not the least in our list is the Weider Ultimate Body Works Leg Press Machine. This model is very cheap but offers as much or even more than other models for a fraction of the price. If you want to do so much more than leg presses, this model is also your best bet!
Essentially, this unit is portable, adjustable incline bench that comes with resistance bands. While it does not necessarily fit the technical description of a leg press machine, it can still help you build strength and size not just on your lower body but most other muscle groups as well.
Since this unit makes use of the user’s own body weight as resistance, the resistance bands allow you to increase the weight resistance by up to 50 pounds in case you want more. The cable and pulley system offers a wider range of motion and versatility by allowing you to adjust the incline and position of the bench to manipulate the intensity of your workout.
Maybe it’s true that great things come in small packages because aside from all of these features of the Weider Ultimate Body Works Leg Press Machine has a compact, safe-saving design, making it suitable for small houses or apartments. It even easily folds for storage thanks to the convenient slide-away technology!
This model is also probably the most versatile set out there. It comes with an exercise chart called the Weider Total Body Works 5000 which provides a workout guide for the proper execution of more than 100 body-shaping and toning exercises.
- Very cheap and affordable
- Resistance bands add 50 pounds of weight resistance
- Stable while in use
- Durable and good quality cable and pulley system
- Stores easily
- Small footprint
- Supportive and comfortable
- The maximum weight capacity is small at only 250 pounds
- Not a weighted machine
- Operation is not very smooth
- The handles cause discomfort and could be better
- Slightly inconvenient height adjustment mechanism
- Has a California Prop 65 chemical warning
Out of the best leg press machines listed here, my favorite is the Weider Ultimate Body Works. This incline bench on wheels allows you to do so much more than just leg presses at a very affordable price point.
It also comes in a compact design so you won’t have to worry if you live in a small apartment or home. Although it does not use weights but the user’s own body weight, it can still help you tone, strengthen, and build your muscles effectively.
Are you looking for more equipment for your home gym? Please check our other product reviews.