If you’re serious about getting in shape, it doesn’t matter what your fitness goals may be, you must ensure that you’re training your legs as well as your upper body.
If you’re familiar with health and fitness you’ll know that as tough as cardio is, as tough as conditioning is, and as tough as lifting is, training the legs is the toughest of them all, by a long shot.
As hard as training your legs is, you need to train them for reasons other than aesthetics. Sure, having a muscular and toned set of legs is great when you’re wearing shorts in the summer, but having strong and powerful legs is also important as they provide a solid foundation for you, they can make you a better athlete, and they get you from A to B.
When working the legs, of course, there are favorite exercises such as squats, lunges, and leg extensions, but there’s one piece of gym equipment that is incredibly beneficial and hugely underrated, and that is the leg press.
Leg presses may seem simple to use, but foot placement is everything, which is why we’re looking at the foot placement for leg press today.
What Is The Leg Press Machine?
The leg press machine, sometimes simply known as a leg press, is a resistance machine found in commercial gyms in various forms. Most conventional ones are plate-loaded, though some feature weight stacks too.
The ones you’ll find in most gyms feature a weight-loaded carriage that travels up and down a set of tracks at a 45-degree angle.
The user of the machine will sit in a seat with their back supported by a backrest.
They will then place their feet on the sled/carriage, unhook the safety bars, and push it away with their legs, making sure to stop before fully extending their legs.
They will then slowly bring their legs back down towards their body, bending the knees as they do so.
You may find that some commercial gyms feature leg press machines that operate horizontally, rather than at a 45-degree angle. There are even some that are vertical, though those are much rarer nowadays.
The leg press is a wonderful exercise for working the lower body. Primarily it hits the hamstrings, quadriceps, glute muscles, and even the calves. Leg presses are great for developing muscle mass and strengthening the hamstrings.
It is also seen as a fantastic accessory for the deadlift, so if you need to strengthen your hamstrings to improve your deadlift, the leg press machine is simply a must.
What people often don’t realize, however, is that foot placement on the leg press is very important.
By adjusting your foot placement, you can target a completely different part of your legs.
Why use a leg press?
You may be wondering why using a leg press is any more beneficial than, say, a set of squats.
Here are some key reasons to use a leg press.
One of the main reasons why people may wish to use a leg press is down to the fact that it helps them to build a set of stronger hamstrings.
The leg press machine is great for working the hamstrings and your glutes. Having strong hamstrings is beneficial for numerous reasons, so be sure to do more leg pressing as part of your fitness regime.
Improved Athletic Performance
Another benefit of leg presses is the fact that they help you become a better athlete.
Leg presses are fantastic for strengthening the muscles in the legs, and for working on your fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the ones that are responsible for explosive speed and power. Athletes that do a lot of sprinting and jumping or rebounding tend to do a lot of leg presses.
The more muscular your legs are, the more power they can generate as well. As mentioned, leg presses are a wonderful accessory for deadlifts.
In fact, Andy Bolton, the first man to ever deadlift 1,000lbs, credits the leg press as one of his favorite deadlift accessories, so make of that info what you will.
Reduced Risk Of Injury
One of the most common injuries in sports is a torn/pulled hamstring.
A hamstring tear is very painful and can leave you sidelined for months. One of the best ways of strengthening the hamstrings to ensure that they aren’t at risk of a tear, or even a pull, is to do plenty of leg pressing on your lower body days.
How Are The Leg Muscles Worked During A Leg Press?
To understand why foot placement on leg press machines is so important, we need to look at how each of the leg muscles is used during a leg press exercise.
People assume that each muscle is worked at the same time, but that is not the case at all. In fact, each muscle works at a different rate, which is why the leg press is so effective.
Your hamstrings and quadriceps are used to push the sled up until your knees are nearly fully extended (never fully lockout your knees as this is very dangerous).
Your quadriceps and hamstrings are both very large muscles and so they do the brunt of the pushing work here. Towards the end of the pushing motion, the hamstrings do most of the work, although even the calves get some work.
On the way back down, however, your knees bend, and your glute muscles will do the majority of the work here. This is why you’ll begin to feel a very slight burn in your butt.
It should be noted, however, that different foot placements for leg press will work for different muscle groups in the legs.
Foot Placement For Leg Press:
Okay, we’ve spoken about it enough, so now it’s time to look at some of the different foot placement options when using a leg press.
It should be known that we’re talking about the typical commercial gym leg press machine here at a 45-degree angle.
Regular Foot Placement
If you’re a beginner to leg pressing, or even if you simply want to keep your training basic, this is the ideal foot placement.
This foot placement will work your hamstrings, quads, and glutes primarily, distributing the load evenly
Here, you’ll get comfortable in the seat, and then will place your feet on the center of the plate, with your legs at roughly a 45-degree angle, and your feet roughly shoulder width apart.
Once you’re happy your feet are comfortable and in place, you can push the sled, unhook the safety bars, and away you go.
Low Plate Stance
If your quadriceps are lacking, or if you simply want to strengthen them to reduce your risk of a quad tear, the low footplate stance is ideal.
This exercise places a huge emphasis on the quads.
Yes, the hamstrings, glutes, and calves still benefit, but it’s the quads that will really get a great pump and a great workout with this stance.
To perform a low plate stance you’ll get into the leg press and place both of your feet lower down on the plate so that your heels are close to the very bottom.
Again, keep the feet shoulder-width apart.
To really benefit from this exercise, try to go as deep as possible, though again, never fully lockout your knees.
Narrow Leg Press Stance
This is probably the second-most popular stance performed on a leg press, partially due to the fact that it is done by so many fitness influencers on Instagram.
The narrow leg press stance is one that makes the exercise harder and really helps to work the quads and hamstrings that little bit harder. By simply altering to a narrow stance, you can make this a completely different exercise, just like a narrow grip bench press targets the triceps rather than the pecs.
To perform a narrow leg press stance you will get yourself secure in the seat and place both feet on the center of the plate.
This time, though, you bring them closer together so that, rather than shoulder-width apart, they are instead hip-width apart.
You should also flare your toes outwards slightly.
Once you’re happy your feet are locked in place, go ahead and un-rack the sled and start pumping out some reps.
Just be aware that this makes the exercise much tougher, so you’ll find that the pump/burn is more intense.
High Leg Press Stance
In terms of foot placement, if you want one that really opens up the hip flexors and targets the hamstrings and glutes more effectively, this is the exercise for you. By requiring more hip extension, the exercise becomes harder on your target muscles.
To perform a high leg press stance, you will secure yourself in the seat and place both feet on the platform. However, this time you’ll place both feet flat on the top of the plate so that your toes are nearly hanging over the top.
You want your feet shoulder-width apart for this exercise, and try to bring the toes in slightly so that they’re pointing at each other, rather than facing away.
The key to this exercise is to push through via your heels, rather than your toes.
For people looking to improve mobility and flexibility, wide stance leg presses are the way to go here.
By going with a wide stance you can open up your hips, work your obliques, work your glutes, and hit your adductors as well. If you’re prone to knee issues, this variant of the leg press is highly recommended.
Here, once your back is supported by the backrest in the seat, place both feet flat on the platform. This time, though, you want a wider stance of around 1.5 x regular shoulder width. You want your feet close to the edge of the platform, with your knees out slightly.
Just be aware, that if you are suffering from groin issues, this type of stance can aggravate groin injuries, and nobody wants that, right?
Externally Rotated Foot Placement
Finally, we have the externally rotated foot placement.
This stance is great for people with limited mobility or tight hips. It helps open up the hips more and works the outer quads and calves slightly better.
To perform this variation of a leg press you will get yourself comfortable in the seat and place your feet flat on the platform shoulder width apart.
This time, however, you will rotate your feet so that your toes are pointing outwards as if they were pointing at 10 and 2 on an imaginary clock face.
While this exercise doesn’t really offer much in terms of extra muscles being worked, it’s more comfortable for people with tight hips and groins and is considered just as effective by many.
So, that brings this look at the foot placement for leg press to a close.
As you can see, the leg press is one of the most effective and versatile lower body machines in commercial gyms.
Bodybuilders, pro athletes, powerlifters, and strongmen all use the leg press as part of their training.
In fact, the Shaw Classic 2022 strongman competition set the strength community alight online, when they utilized a car a leg press for the very first time.
Watching the strongest men in the world leg press a car was a true spectacle.
While we don’t recommend you leg press a car, we do recommend you leg press regularly, as the benefits are there for all to see.