What Are the Benefits of a Leg Press Machine?
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The leg press machine is a standard piece of strength-training equipment in most fitness centers. Although there are variations, the most popular leg press design consists of a reclined seat below a large sled with a rack to add weights. Leg press exercises develop your quadriceps on the fronts of your thighs, hamstrings on the backs of your thighs, gluteal muscles and calf muscles in the backs of your lower legs.
Leg presses, a compound exercise, train all of the major leg muscles at once in a natural squatting movement. As a compound -- multi-joint -- exercise, leg presses require all the major muscles of your legs to work in coordination, which works your weakest muscles the most and increases joint stability. Perform leg presses before you do muscle isolation exercises. Compound exercises require greater concentration on form and should not be performed with fatigued muscles.
Strength and Size
Exercising with the leg press machine recruits back muscles as well as leg and gluteal muscles to lift the weight. By using compound muscles, you can lift more weight and experience less fatigue than when you perform weight-lifting exercises that put more strain on your back. Because of increased capacity for exercise, you can gain strength and muscle size in a relatively short period of time.
The leg-press machine uses multiple stances to achieve greater variation in training. With your feet near the top of the sled, you can focus on your glutes and hamstrings. With your feet at the bottom of the sled, you can focus on your quadriceps. By lowering your feet until your heels are off the sled, you can exercise your calf muscles.
The leg press machine offers numerous safety benefits. With the user in a seated position, there is no worry about being able to balance the weight. Most leg presses are designed with safety catches in place so there is no need for a spotter.
Ease of Use
Because the leg press is a relatively simple machine with few moving parts, most beginners can use the leg press correctly following brief instructions from a trainer. Unlike more complicated free weight exercises, which have a longer learning curve, a beginner can get the benefits of a leg press in their first workout.
Warm Up and Stretch
Walk, ride a bike or do calisthenics to warm up your muscles and prevent injury from leg-press exercises. Five to 10 minutes is enough time to warm up and increase flexibility in your muscles and lubrication in your joints. After your workout, do leg stretches, such as quadricep stretches -- pulling your heel up to your buttock and holding for 10 to 30 seconds -- or hamstring stretches -- placing your hands against a wall and stepping one foot backward, behind the other. As you lean your upper body toward the wall, the hamstrings of the back leg get a stretch. Repeat on the other side.
- ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals, 3rd Edition by Cedric X. Bryant and Daniel J. Green; 2003
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning - 3rd Edition"; National Strength and Conditioning Association; 2008
Based in the Greater New York area, David Benjamin is a veteran of the fitness industry of over 15 years. He is coauthor of "The Business and Practice of Personal Training" and has lectured to countless fitness professionals. Benjamin holds a degree in physical education from the State University of New York, Cortland.