The Squat is unquestionably the best leg strengthening exercise. But, squatting comes with significant risk, especially for people who have spine-related issues. That's where leg press comes in.
It is the second-most important weight-training exercise for the legs and the whole lower body. Leg press is much safer than squats because it doesn’t require you to balance yourself with heavy weights on your shoulder. Plus, it keeps your spine in a neutral position, which means this exercise puts minimum possible strain on your back.
Leg press is also highly recommended for beginners who do not have enough strength and stamina to squat with weights. Plus, it is a great exercise for people who do not have enough ankle flexibility to squat on their own without any help.
If this exercise sounds like a promising option for you, make sure you read this article to learn about all the five different less press foot placements so you can target various muscle groups in the legs.
Standard leg press foot placement is suitable for overall leg development
This is the most common leg foot placement position in which you keep your legs shoulder-width/hip-width apart on the leg press machine. If you are a beginner, this is the first and only position that you should start with. You can try the other variations when you have mastered this one.
A regular stance on the leg press machine helps you target the quadricep but your glutes and hamstrings too get a decent amount of exercise. These are the major muscles of your legs and strengthening them is the best way to start building your leg muscles. As mentioned above, the regular stance doesn’t help you isolate any specific muscle group, which is why it is highly recommended for beginners who do not have enough strength to do more compound exercises and variations.
Safety tips for practicing standard leg press foot placement
- Make sure your toes are flared out as much as it feels comfortable to you. By not restricting your toes, you will let them work hard and help you train with more weights without any discomfort or chances of straining yourself.
- Keep your feet directly in the middle of the platform of the leg press machine. If you place them higher or lower than this, you will be engaging different sets of muscles (read below to learn more).
- This is the safest and most comfortable leg press foot placement position, so do not hesitate to go as deep as possible, even if it means reducing the weight. The deeper you go, the harder your muscles have to work.
- Do not lift your ankles. If they start lifting, stop your training immediately. It means you are not ready and that you need to improve your ankle flexibility. Our guide on ‘How to Regain Your Deep Squat Mobility’ should help you.
Try wide stance leg press foot placement for targeting inner thigh muscles
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Inner thigh muscles basically consist of abductors, inner quads, and inner hamstrings.
When you place your feet about 1.5 times wider than your shoulder-width and you point your toes to about 45-degree angles, you engage these muscles of your legs to push the weight away from your body. Using a wide stance on the leg press machine feels much like doing sumo squats and utilizes almost the same muscles except the balancing muscles.
Now, this isn’t as easy and comfortable as the regular leg press foot placement. So, go slow and train with a lesser amount of weight. Also, do fewer reps or else you could end up with severely strained inner thigh muscles.
How to do wide stance leg press safely
- Your toes should point out at an angle. Keeping your toes inwards or even straight will put unnecessary strain on your inner thighs. Ideally, your toes should be at a 45 degree angle just like you do in sumo squat. But you can adjust it as per your comfort.
- Do not go too deep while doing wide stance leg press unless you have extremely strong and flexible abductors and other inner thigh muscles. The max you should go is until your thighs are parallel to the ground. If you are a beginner, you shouldn’t even go that deep because moving the weights away from you could become extremely challenging.
- Do not let your lower back lift up even if you have to reduce the weight or compromise with the depth. The neck and spine should always remain well-rested and relaxed.
Narrow leg press foot placement helps target outer thigh muscles
Image source: Sytlinggo
The outer thigh muscles are basically abductors and outer quads.
Here, you need to place your legs closer than your shoulder width. You can keep them as close as you want but, to begin with, we suggest you reduce the stance by just one inch from each side. Your toes should be pointed straight forward or you may tilt them outwards slightly but having them straight is better.
This is a challenging leg press foot position, so you may have to hold the handles tightly but, whatever you do, make sure you do not lift your back or lock your knees.
Things to keep in mind while trying wide stance leg press foot placement
- This is the safest leg press foot placement to try. So, do not hesitate to go deep and try more weights because chances of unnecessarily straining your leg muscles are quite low.
- Also, please note that you won’t be able to go too deep because your thighs will come in contact with your stomach.
High stance leg press foot placement can help you target glutes and hamstrings
Image source: The Optimal You
To do this, you need to keep your feet higher on the platform of the less press machine. This will require you to do more hip extension. There is no fixed rule on how higher you should place your feet. So, go slow and experiment with your position.
Things to keep in mind while trying high leg press foot position
- Your feet should be higher on the platform but they should be shoulder-width apart.
- Make sure your toes are spread out as much as possible.
- Do not hesitate to go deep but please note that the deeper you go the more work your glutes have to do. And, if your glutes and hamstrings are too tight, you could end up feeling sore. So, start with fewer reps.
- Your lower back might get raised a bit but make sure you don’t get it off the seat too much.
Low stance leg press foot placement helps you build quad muscles
Image Source: BodyBuilding
Please note: If you have a problem with your knees, do not try this variation because when you place your feet too low on the leg press machine, the muscles around your knees have to do a lot of hard work because they will be traveling way beyond your toes.
Just like regular stance leg press foot placement, the low position too helps you target your quads but the intensity will be too high. So, if you want well-defined quads like bodybuilders, this should be your preferred choice. Also, make sure you start doing sissy squats, which is another important exercise for exclusively targeting the quadricep muscles. Our article on ‘ Everything you want to know about sissy squats’ should help you.
Things to keep in mind while placing your feet low on the leg press machine
- Do not hesitate to go as deep as you can but make sure your feet are flat on the platform.
- As we have mentioned above, do not attempt this variation if you have a pre-existing problem in your knees. Plus, if at any time, you feel pain or moderate discomfort, stop practicing. Also, go only as deep as you comfortably can.
- Low stance leg press foot placement requires you to have excellent ankle flexibility. If you don’t have that, ‘Our Tips On How to Squat’ should help you. If you have really stiff ankles, you can wear squat shoes or weightlifting shoes that have raised heels for people with limited ankle mobility.
Other than these leg press foot placements, you can try single leg presses in wide stance, narrow stance, high stance, and low stance. You can mix these variations and create your own. But, they could be very very challenging and we do not recommend them for beginners.
Leg press is an excellent exercise for people who want to build stronger legs but, as we stated at the beginning of the article, squats should be your first choice. That’s because squats require you to utilize your balancing and stabilizing muscles and these muscles help you prevent injuries. So, you have to focus on them too.
If you want to start squatting but do not have enough ankle flexibility or have lower back pain, you can use Marcy Smith Cage Machine or other similar products. These machines basically have a barbell attached to their frame, so the risk of accidentally dropping the weights on you or losing your balance and ending up with weights on your chest is very rare. Plus, smith machines help you keep your spine in a neutral position thereby preventing back injuries. Read our article on ‘What Is the Best Smith Machine for a Home Gym’ to learn more about them.
We hope this blog helps you understand the leg press foot placements in detail. If you still have any query, please get in touch with us.