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The leg press targets your quads and glutes, unless you shift your feet.
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Walk into any reasonably sized gym or health club and you're almost guaranteed to see a leg press machine. Indeed, you may see several different types of leg presses, including machines in which you sit up straight, lie down or recline at a 45-degree angle. No matter which type of machine you use, you'll place your feet on a resistance plate and then push the plate forward. The position of your feet on the plate helps determine which muscles the exercise targets.
Understand the Exercise
Think of the leg press as basically a squat performed in reverse. In a squat, your legs extend to push your body weight - plus any weights you're holding - upward. In a leg press exercise, your legs extend to push the resistance plate forward. The plate is attached to some type of weight, such as a vertical weight stack. To perform the basic leg press, sit in the seat with your back against the machine's back support. Place your feet flat against the plate - typically in the middle and spread about shoulder-width apart - with your knees bent roughly 90 degrees, and then extend your legs against the machine's resistance. Stop just short of locking your knees and then return under control to the starting position.
ID the Muscles Worked
The leg press, performed from a standard position, targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of each thigh and the gluteus maximus in your butt. The adductor magnus muscles of your upper, inner thighs and the soleus in each calf also assist in your movements. Stabilizing muscles include the hamstrings on the back of each thigh and the gastrocnemius - your major calf muscle.
Move Your Feet Vertically
Relatively small changes in your foot positioning can shift the exercise's emphasis. In the standard position - with your feet in the middle of the resistance plate - you target your quads first and your gluteus maximus second. But if you position your feet high on the platform, you'll focus more on the gluteus maximus and also work the hamstrings a bit harder than normal. Setting your feet lower on the platform makes the exercise more challenging than usual for your quads. If you place the balls of your feet on the bottom of the plate, with your heels in the air, you transform the exercise into a calf press, which targets the gastrocnemius.
Adjust Your Feet Horizontally
If you leave your feet in the middle of the platform, from a vertical perspective, but move them closer together, you'll shift some emphasis to your outer quads and also work the abductors on the outsides of your hips. Spread your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and you'll hit your inner quads harder, as well as the adductor magnus.