Riddled across the internet are posts, pictures, and videos of people “going hard” on the leg press in an attempt to impress us. The leg press has its place in the gym, but it has grown to be the stat gym rats give just after they tell you how much they bench and just before they tell you how much they can curl.
History of the Leg Press
Humans have been picking things up and using weights for various forms of pressing for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
By the early 1900s, weight lifters were performing a leg press exercise without any machines. They would simply lay flat on their backs, put their feet up in the air, and place a barbell across their feet. There are actually leg press machines that mimic this old school lift. You could also use a smith machine to simulate this lift.
The first gym I ever went to had one and I always wondered where that design came from.
Have you ever seen one?
Back in the 1920s, strongmen would perform spectacles such as supporting the weight of a car with their legs. This used to draw crowds of people watching these examples of pure strength.
While the history of leg press machines are a bit harder to find, York Barbell advertised in Strength & Health Magazine back in 1952. The $22.50 price tag of this bad boy would be around the equivalent to $220.95 today. What a deal!
The great bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was seen using a vertical leg press machine back in the 1960s and 70s.
Now, most popular leg press machines use a more conventional 45-degree design popularized in the 80s. Machines then had a 45-degree or a 90 degree design. The legendary bodybuilder Tom Platz used the leg press as a staple exercise.
Types of Leg Press Machines
There are a few types of leg press machines — a 90-degree, a 45-degree, and a seated machine.
The 90-degree machine mimics the old-school leg press and helps remove pressure off of your lower back. These are harder to find in gyms and you may need to use a smith machine to get a comparable movement.
The 45-degree sled machine is one of the most recognizable machines, used by gym rats around the world.
The less-popular — but still useful — seated leg press machine can be found in many gyms and fitness centers. The downside to these are they do not have a lot of weight capacity. They are great for high-rep exercises and certainly have their place in your workout routine. Some machines have the leg portion move, while others have the seat on rails that you push yourself on.
What Muscles are Trained on a Leg Press Machine?
Before we jump into why no one cares how much you leg press, what muscles does this machine target?
For the most part, this machine trains your posterior chain. You know, the stuff you skip on leg day.
The great thing about using this machine is that you can position your feet differently to put more stress on a targeted muscle.
The targeted muscle groups include:
Placing your feet higher on the foot pad will place more stress on your hamstrings and glutes while reducing the stress placed on your quads.
If you want to train your quads more, a lower foot placement will work. If you suffer from knee pain, beware that this may aggravate them or cause more issues. Train with lighter weight.
A wider foot stance will give your inner quads and glutes a nice workout. This simulates a sumo deadlift.
Benefits of the Leg Press
This machine has a few benefits that are hard to overlook. This is a great strength and mass builder for your legs and can help train muscles that may be lacking.
- While I personally recommend performing barbell squats, the leg press can remove stress from your back while eliciting the growth response from heavy weights when performed correctly.
- The ability to put more emphasis on a specific leg muscle is great for training weak points by simply changing your foot placement.
- You don’t really need a spotter and is an easy exercise to add to a 3-day split.
Drawbacks of the Leg Press
If done improperly, this machine can wreck knees, ruin backs, and injure you to the point of not being able to train.
- This machine is costly, so your gym needs to have one. It is not cost-effective or space-saving to have a leg press machine at your house.
- The risk of rounding your back and placing too much pressure on your discs is a huge concern. Going too far down to where your butt moves or comes off of the seat is a huge red flag.
- You can injure your knees if you attempt to press too much, if you place your legs in a bad spot, or you completely lock your knees out. There are plenty of viral videos of people blowing their knees out.
Leg Press Tips
You want to get the most out of your training, right? Here are some tips to help you get the most out of this exercise.
- Don’t lower the sled too far. Rounding your back and placing too much pressure on your lower back is a recipe for disaster.
- Partial reps may help you lift more weight, but you’re losing out on the benefits of a full range of motion.
- Keep your feet flat on the machine. Having your heels off of the plate or if your heels lift on the negative, place your feet higher and work on ankle mobility.
- Ensure your knees do not collapse in during your movement. This is a recipe to tear your anterior cruciate ligament (your ACL).
- Keep your feet neutral — do not point your feet excessively inward or outward.
Leg Press World Records
Unfortunately, people don’t measure leg press world records like they would a squat, bench, or deadlift. I did a little scouring across the net and the biggest actual leg press records I could find were of the great Ronnie Coleman with a 2,300 pound leg press. This doesn’t look like a huge range of motion, but this is actually his range of motion. If he would have gone much further down, his back would have started to round and cause catastrophic failure.
There have been others that attempt huge records, but none that I would say beat Ronnie’s attempts.
For example, this viral “strongest man” does the most ridiculous quarter-rep exercises with stupid amounts of weight. Absolutely no comparison to the strength to perform Ronnie’s level of lifts.
Why No One Cares How Much You Leg Press
1.) You Use Most or All of the Plate in the Gym
Nothing is worse than finally getting to do some deadlifts or bench and to see all the plates are on the leg press machine. What’s worse is watching you walking around the gym getting pumped up to do some half-reps and screaming bloody murder while doing them. It’s not cool, hurry up so I can get on with my training.
If you’re one of these people, all of those guys taking pics of you aren’t impressed — they are posting it on social media making fun of you.
2.) You Don’t Put the Damn Plates Back
We already thought you were an asshole for taking all of the plates in the gym but not putting them back is just another notch up the asshole tree. If you’re going to be that guy and use all of the plates in the gym, put the damn plates back where you got them.
People are trying to train and you are keeping them from doing so. Don’t be surprised if on your 20-minute walk around the gym pumping yourself up if someone doesn’t steal back some of the plates.
Related: Check out my guide on how to lose face fat.
3.) You Make Leg Pressing 1000 Pounds Sound Impossible
There are people who use the leg press machine to build stronger quads and hamstrings, but there are some people who use this machine to try to make themselves sound like a God.
Yes being able to say you leg press 1000 pounds is great but not when you cannot squat 135 parallel.
4.) You Are Using a 45 Degree Leg Press
Most sled leg press machines are angled at a 45 degree angle and you are only pressing 70% of the weight..
If you were to use a 90 degree leg press (think smith machine) you would be crushed under 1000 pounds. If you want to prove me wrong, post a video.
5.) You Don’t Use Full Range of Motion
So you’ve stolen all of the plates in the gym and now you are robbing yourself of any gains by doing a quarter or half-rep?
People who do half-squats are ridiculed for a good reason, people who do half-squats on leg press should turn in their gym membership and just go home.
Question: Are you looking for a 5 Day Men’s Workout Routine to improve your strength and physique?
6.) You Think a Big Leg Press Makes a Bigger Squat
A heavy leg press does not make for a bigger squat. Far too many times I see people who grind rep after rep out on leg press attempt to do a squat and they cannot hardly stand up with weight, let alone squat it.
Next time you tell me how much you leg press while I’m trying to squat I might hit you.
This machine is great to help strengthen your weak points, but a huge leg press does not equate a huge squat. Some of you that do a four digit leg press can barely squat 225 without looking like a noodle.
7.) You Learn to Use the Machine to Your Advantage
Learning to just push the weight by any means necessary is not advantageous to your training. Oftentimes, lifters will ditch good form just to impress. Half-reps and quarter-reps are just a waste of time.
Quit trying to have bragging rights and start using the machine how it is intended.
8.) You Won’t Shut Up About Your Leg Press
Seriously bro, do you even lift? If the most important thing to you is how much you bench, leg press, and curl then you need to look at why you go to the gym.
I respect watching someone strain to squat 225 or hardly getting 135 for a triple on bench. Watching someone gloat over an 800 pound leg press when they don’t look like they even go to the gym is not impressive.
Try a solid men’s workout routine to build the physique you want.
As I said, the leg press is a great exercise and has its place in the gym. Solely focusing on how much you can leg press is annoying. No one cares and I want to see you succeed in your fitness goals.
Get under that bar and make those gains.