Learn How to Perform the Leg Press Without Injuring Yourself

Body control and position are key to success

There are two types of leg press machines commonly found in gyms: the standard horizontal leg press and the 45-degree leg press. This latter has a seat that reclines at an angle while your legs press upward in a diagonal direction. Both machines are used to develop the quadriceps and hamstrings of the thigh as well as the gluteus (buttocks).

As with all exercises, do not lift too much when first starting, and stop if you feel any pain. Remember to keep breathing during the effort phase and to avoid holding your breath. If you focusing on exhaling on exertion and inhaling on release, your breathing will eventually become automatic.

As machines can vary, you may want to ask a trainer to show you how to adjust it safely before starting.

Positioning Your Body

Fit woman using leg press
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Here's how to position your body when using the leg press machine:

  • Sit on the machine with your back and head resting comfortably against the padded support.
  • Place your feet on the footplate about hip-width apart while ensuring that your heels are flat. Your legs should form an angle of about 90 degrees at the knees.
  • Your knees should be in line with your feet and neither be bowed inward nor outward.
  • Your bottom should not be raised from the seat. If it is and your legs are at too sharp of an angle, you will need to move the seat back until your knees and buttocks are comfortably positioned. (You can recognize poor positioning when you feel cramped and/or your knees seem to be directly in front of your eyes.)
  • Grasp the assist handles.

Ensuring Proper Form

George Stepanek

It is important to ensure proper form to get the most out of your leg press routine. To do so:

  • Brace your abdominal muscles and push the platform away with your heels and forefoot.
  • While exhaling, extend your legs while keeping your head and back flat against the seat pad. Extend with control rather than with an explosive movement.
  • Your heels should remain flat on the footplate. The front of your foot or toes should never be used exclusively to move the pad forward.
  • Pause at the top of the movement. Do not lock out your knees.
  • While inhaling, return the footplate to the starting position by gradually bending the knees. Keep the feet and back flat throughout.
  • If you can't control the movements, you will need to reduce the weights. Proper form is more important than the amount of weight you're lifting.
  • Repeat the exercise.

Safety Checkpoints

Leg press
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Follow these five checkpoints to ensure that you are doing the leg press safely and correctly:

  1. If you have never done leg presses before, start modestly with three sets of 10 leg presses, and advance from there.
  2. While the exercise should require effort, it needs to be done with complete control. Never rush through the exercise or allow your legs to collapse at the end of the movement.
  3. Always follow through the entire range of motion without lifting the hips. Adjust the seat if needed and/or lower your weights.
  4. Focus on the position of your head. It should be steady and laid comfortably against the seat back. If you are jerking your head forward, you are using too much weight.
  5. If one or both of your knees hurt, do not push through the pain. It is better to start lower and gradually build up. Pushing through will only cause injury.