The leg press is classic exercise for building lower body size and strength, but what muscle does the leg press work? And how can you get the most out of the exercise? In this article we’ll be covering:

Let’s jump straight in.

What Muscles Do Leg Press Work?

Leg presses are a squatting type movement that works your leg muscles, specifically the muscles worked by leg press are:

  • Your quadriceps
  • Your glutes
  • Your adductors

Does Leg Press Work Glutes?

Yes, leg press does work glutes, especially in at the lowest, deep stretched position. With that said, for maximal glute development you might also want to add exercise like glute bridges or hip thrusts into your training.

Leg press foot placement

I recommend that your leg press foot place has your feet towards the bottom of the plate, in a shoulder to hip width position, with your toes pointing out by around 30 degrees. This is typically the foot placement that allows you to best hit your quads and achieve a larger range of motion.

Leg Press Muscles Worked Diagram

Leg pressed muscles worked diagram

Leg Press Muscles Not Used

There are various muscles not used when performing the leg press. For a balanced training programme, you should incorporate exercises to address these missing areas. Some of the biggest lower body muscles not used in leg presses or close leg press variations include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Abductors
  • Calves

Is leg press a full leg workout?

No, the leg press is not a full leg workout as it misses key lower body muscle groups such as your hamstrings, abductors and calves. I recommend exercises such as rdls, banded glute walks and calf raises to address this.

Leg Press Variations and Alternatives

There are numerous of leg press variations and alternatives that you can use, here are three of my favourites, plus which muscles they work, as well as why you might use them.

Seated Leg Press

Seated Leg Press Muscles Worked

The seated leg press is a basic leg press variation that allows you to focus on your quads without too much load on your back. You’ll primarily be using your quads, with some work from your glutes and adductors.

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this type of leg press machine, as the set up often doesn’t allow for a great range of motion. However, if you find the right machine and it feels good for you, then its a great way to take the load off your back and focus on working your quads.

Single Leg Press

Single leg press muscles worked

Single leg presses work your quads, glutes and adductors. Since you’ll be working one side at a time the single leg press allows you to target each leg independently. This makes single leg presses a great exercise for addressing imbalances and improving symmetry in your legs.

Barbell High Bar Squats

What muscles do squats work?

Squats work your quads, glutes and adductors just like your leg presses, the only difference is they also work your erector spinae and core muscles in order to stabilise and maintain a rigid torso. Squats can deliver a large stimulus, just keep in mind that because of this they can also be quite systemically taxing, so are best performed for a smaller number of sets.

Is A leg press better than squats?

The leg press isn’t better than squats, but it also isn’t any worse than squats. Both exercises work your quads, glutes and adductors in a simlar way, so it mainly comes down to which you prefer, and which gives you the best stimulus.

Quick Training Recommendations for Leg Press

How many reps should I do for leg press?

The amount of reps you should do for leg press depends on your training goals:

  • For hypertrophy, anything from 5 to 30 reps is acceptable
  • For strength, I would stick in the 4-8 rep range

From experience, most of your leg press training will likely fall in the 10-20 rep range, as it tends to provide the best stimulus-to-fatigue ratio for most people.

How many sets of leg press?

I recommend anything from 1 to 5 sets of leg press within a single workout. The amount of sets you do will depend on where you are in your training cycle, how sensitive you are to training volume, and how well you recover.

How many times a week should I do leg press?

“I recommend using leg press in your training anything from 1 to 3 times per week.”

Any more leg press sessions than this per week and there’s a good chance that you simply won’t be able to recover from them.

How much should I be able to leg press?

There’s no set amount that you should be able to leg press, simply pick a weight that allows you to hit your target rep range with good form.

Should I do squats and leg press on the same day?

Whilst you technically can do squats and leg press on the same day, you would likely be better squatting and leg pressing on different days, as both exercises target the exact same muscle groups. Your time might be better spent moving onto hamstring focused exercises such as rdls.

Leg Press Muscles Worked Frequently Asked Questions

Is leg press a compound exercise?

Yes, the leg press is a compound exercise as it uses multiple muscles across multiple joints (hip, knee and ankle)

How much leg press machine weigh?

The weight of leg press machine sleds can vary considerably based on the type of machine, its design and even how well looked after it is. For the sake of simplicity, I use ‘meathead math’ and always count the empty machine as

Is leg press a good exercise?

Absolutely, the leg press is a good exercise for lower body strength and size development, especially when you follow hypertrophy (muscle-building) training guidelines.

What to do if no leg press machine?

If there’s no leg press machine available where you train then you can use alternative exercises such as barbell high bar squats. If you’re training legs using only bodyweight, then heels elevated tempo squats are a good option.

Is leg press necessary?

The leg press is not necessary for building big, strong legs, it is simply one of many options that you can use. I encourage you to try various leg exercises and find the ones that give you the best stimulus.

Next Steps

Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…

1) Get in the gym and start using some leg press variations to build strength and size in your legs. Or if you need a bit of help planning your training, consider having a look at my custom programme options

2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.

3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.

‘Til Next Time


Strength coach

Alex Parry, MSc, BA

Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.

His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.