Performing the Leg Press for Glutes – HUGE Benefits for a HUGE…Ya know

You probably never thought about adding a leg press machine to your garage or basement gym setup.

To be honest, I can’t say I really blame you.

They’re pretty big. You can’t do a ton of different exercises on them. They are a little pricey.

But…I hear you want to build your… “glutes”, right?

(yeah, we’re gonna stick with “glutes” in this article)

…and the leg press is a pretty good exercise for building glutes (among a host of other leg muscles).

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Today, we’re going to discuss the benefits of performing the leg press for glutes and other leg muscle development. Once you finish the article, I wouldn’t say you should immediately place an order for a leg press machine…but I’m not saying you shouldn’t either!

Leg Press: A Quick Overview

The leg press machine is a popular piece of equipment you can find in most gyms (and a lot of garage gyms) around the world. It’s often used as an alternative for squats since it targets a lot of the same muscles in the lower body and enables lifters to use a lot of weight.

Depending on the variety of the machine, you either sit or lay down on/in the machine and push the platform away from your body, extending the hips and knees. The platform’s weight provides the resistance (well, the plates or weights in the weight stack provide the actual resistance, but you get the point), with the net result being that you build tree trunk-sized legs (if you want that…use less weight, otherwise!)

Types of Leg Press Machines

The leg press comes in three main variants:

  • Angled leg press
  • Seated leg press
  • Vertical leg press

Angled leg press (or 45-degree leg press) features a seat positioned at a 45-degree angle. This means you will sit in a semi-upright position. This is the more common of the plate-loaded varieties.

Seated leg press allows you to push the weight horizontally instead of at an angle. The seated leg press for glutes development is the best option for beginners because of the lower initial resistance. These usually employ a weight stack for resistance.

Vertical leg press has a flat horizontal seat that allows you to lie down completely and push the weight upwards towards the ceiling. This one is the most demanding, so it’s more suitable for advanced lifters.

In some cases, you can find people “creating” their own vertical leg press machines in the Smith Machine. This is, like, the advanced advanced version of the lift and is only suggested if you are really desperate to leg press and are completely confident you can control the weight.

My freshman year of college, there was this huge guy (Carlos) who always won the university’s annual bench press contest. He used to leg press like this, balancing the bar in the groove of his shoes. I asked Carlos once what would happen if the bar slipped out of that groove.

“That…would be a problem.”

Watch yourselves!

Muscles Used In The Leg Press

The leg press has the primary goal of working the leg muscles.

…go figure!

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Legg pressing activates your:

  • Hamstrings: This muscle group also plays a significant role when leg pressing. The hamstrings consist of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris muscles and are located in the back of your thigh. They assist in hip extension and knee flexion and act as stabilizers, controlling leg movement.
  • Calves: Although these muscles are not playing the main role, they support the leg press movement as stabilizers. They consist of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles are located in the posterior portion of the lower leg and are responsible for plantarflexion of the foot and ankle.

Other muscles that contribute to stability and control when leg pressing are the:

  • core muscles
  • adductors
  • abductors

Benefits of Leg Press

For those who are looking for an effective way to build leg muscles without putting too much stress on the spine, or who otherwise aren’t able to squat, the leg press offers great benefits:

  • It’s easy to focus on working the leg muscles when the back has support and your arms are (mostly) at rest.
  • With different foot positioning on the platform, you can adjust the emphasis on the muscles worked.
  • It enables progressive overload by adjusting the pin on the weight stack or adding plates.
  • It’s a beginner-friendly exercise because it offers a stable foundation.
  • It has a lower risk of injury compared to other exercises, such as deadlifts.

Leg Press For Glutes Development

Performing the leg press for glutes development is definitely a thing, but there are ways to put more emphasis on these muscles with different variations of the exercise. The trick is to bend your hips more than your knees. There are several different effective leg press positions for glutes development.

Foot Placement

By changing the foot placement, you can activate your glutes more. This can be done with any type of leg press. 

Feet High

You need to place your feet higher on the platform in a narrow stance. The toes should point straight ahead, or they can be slightly angled in.

This variation allows you to use your hips more (instead of your knees) while pushing and get a more significant hip bend. Make sure to keep your glutes pressed up against the seat to prevent your lower back from rounding (and risking injury).

Feet Wide

In addition to placing your feet higher, you can also try placing them a bit wider – shoulders-width apart. Your toes should point straight ahead or slightly out. This variation will target the lower part of the glutes.

Single Leg

You can work your glutes with leg press by using just one leg. This includes turning your body to the side, away from the leg that pushes. This deep hip flexion will put emphasis on the outer glute because it will need to work more to extend the hip.

A study showed that this variation activates the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius more than the lunge and single-leg squat exercises. Some swear by this as the best leg position for glutes development.

It probably goes without saying, but when you opt for single-leg presses, you should cut the weight in half (at least). If you don’t, expect the exercise to feel approximately twice as hard as it does with two legs!

Backrest Adjustment

You can adjust the backrest of the machine to activate your glutes more. The best way to do that is to put the backrest in an upright position. Tilting your upper body forward in relation to your legs will generate a hip-hinging action that works the glutes. 

Greater Range of Motion

In order to activate the glutes even more during the leg press exercise, try going lower than usual when returning the legs toward your body. You should go as deep as you can, basically touching your chest with your thighs. However, you should take care not to lift your hips off your seat while doing this.

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Glute Band

A glute band is a piece of equipment that you can place around your knees in order to make your glutes work harder. It does so by making your knees go inwards, which requires performing hip abduction to push your knees outwards. You can use one of these bands and really up your leg press for glutes game!

This is an option you should only opt for after you have a bit of experience leg pressing. It is also advisable that you drop the weight a bit before attempting banded reps due to the more limited horizontal range of motion it allows for (which, in turn, makes the glues work harder).

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s check out some last questions about how using the leg press for glutes development actually works:

Although both exercises activate the glutes, squats work these muscles more than leg presses. Performing a leg press for glutes is good; performing squats for glutes is great.

Both exercises target the lower body. However, a deadlift works your glutes more than a leg press. It’s because these muscles are prime movers during the deadlift, especially at lockout.

A study showed that step-up exercises are the best for activating the glutes. They’re followed by several other exercises, such as deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, and squats. Definitely use the leg press for glutes development…but perform all of these other exercises, too!

Conclusion

The leg press machine is a monstrosity that has rightfully earned its place in upper echelons of the gym hierarchy. It’s only major “flaw” is that it often becomes too popular; people usually feel much more comfortable leg pressing than the do squatting!

In the confines of a well-rounded program, leg pressing and squatting should co-exist. As we have seen, if you’re interested in working your…ahem… ”rearview areas”, squatting for glutes is even more important than doing a leg press for glutes.

However, as we have covered today, if you’re only able to utilize the leg press machine to work these muscles, you’re still going to be in pretty good shape. Load those plates up, force that platform away, and laugh at yourself thinking of all of those other gym peasants who are currently skipping leg day (again!)

If you do decide to go this route, you won’t do much better than Rogue’s Iso Leg Press

Still not convinced that you should add squats to your routine? They work your glutes, but did you know they work your abs, too? Check out our article on how squats work abs and imagine the six-pack and booty you’ll have after you add squats to your program!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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