Leg Press Foot Placement (7 Stances & Muscles Worked)

If you’ve been looking to develop your legs but only have access to a leg press machine, you’ve probably wondered how you can hit every part of your legs using one machine.

Luckily, a simple change to your leg press foot placement gives your legs all the stimulus they need to grow.  

In this article, you’ll discover the pros and cons of each leg press foot placement and which one is the most beneficial for you.  

Each of the leg press foot placements below is ideal for developing every area of your legs without leaving a muscle group behind. Whether it’s your glutes, hamstrings, quads, or adductors, the leg press has you covered.

If you're in the market for a new machine, review our guide on the best leg press machines to try these stances out for yourself.

See the sections below to find out the best foot placement for leg press.

1. Regular Stance 

The regular stance foot placement for leg press involves placing your feet on the middle of the platform roughly hip-width apart.

Doing so allows you to achieve the best overall development for your legs; it works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

But, even though this leg press foot placement works all areas of your legs, it primarily works your quadriceps (the large muscles located on the front of your upper legs). I’ve found my clients develop excellent quads performing 12-15 reps on the leg press using regular stance.  

This stance is most likely the one you’re using each time you use the leg press. It’s most common among gym-goers and isn’t overly complicated to perform. However, depending on your body’s proportions and mobility, you might find this foot position awkward.

In 2001 a study found using the regular stance foot placement during leg press doesn't recruit as many muscle fibers in your hamstrings and glutes as you'd hoped. If you’re looking to develop your glutes using the leg press, you might want to look at the high foot placement leg press.  

Further Reading - Leg Press Vs Leg Extension For Building Quads

How to do it: 

  • Sit inside the leg press and place your feet on the footplate. 
  • Adjust your feet so they are placed hip-width apart in the middle of the footplate 
  • Angle your toes outward (roughly placed at 11 and 1 on a clock face). 
  • Perform your reps going as deep as possible without rounding your lower back and keeping your feet flat to the footplate. 

Tip: If you’re looking at improving your strength and maximizing your muscle development, ensure you’re working your muscles through a full range of motion. Focus on the range of motion over the amount you’re lifting.  

regular stance leg press

2. Feet High On Platform 

When you use a high foot placement on leg press, you increase the muscle activation of the glutes and hamstrings. This is due to you achieving a deeper position at the bottom of the movement, stretching the hamstrings and glutes more than any other leg press foot position.

I’m a massive fan of the high foot placement leg press as it requires more hip extension, which works your glutes and hamstrings through an extensive range of motion. This provides your muscle fibers with greater stimulation leading to increased muscle-building potential in your hamstrings and glutes.  

You can use the leg press high foot placement as a substitute for deadlifts and hamstring curls, which is perfect if you’ve got access to limited gym equipment.  

Most gym-goers will find they can lift the most weight using the high foot position, primarily due to the increased activation of the glutes, which are a powerful muscle group.  

The only downside to the leg press high foot placement is that the increased hip extension increases your lower back's work. If you have a sensitive lower back, be cautious with this variation and perhaps choose another to use. 

After you blast your glutes and hamstrings with this leg press stance, try some of the best dumbbell glute exercises from our workout guide.

How to do it: 

  • Step into the leg press and sit down.  
  • Place your feet high on the footplate so your toes are near the upper edge.  
  • Your feet should be hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards.  
  • Perform your reps, ensuring your feet at flat to the footplate and that your lower back doesn’t lift from the seat.  

Tip: To keep the emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes, try to "push through the heels of your feet." Doing so helps cue your brain to engage the areas you want to work. It’s also worth remembering your knees shouldn’t travel too far forward during the high foot placement leg press.

feet high on leg press platform

3. Feet Low On Platform 

Developing impressive quads is hard work and requires overloading them with large amounts of weight while moving through a wide range of motion. Adjusting your leg press foot placement to a low stance helps you hit your quads harder than the regular stance.

During the low leg press foot placement for quads, your knees need to travel beyond your toes, which places the quads in a far deeper stretch, increasing the muscle fiber activation during each rep.  

However, there is one major drawback to this leg press foot placement;  if you have ankle and hip mobility issues, you won't be able to get your legs deep enough to recruit your quads muscle fibers effectively.  

But, if you don’t have these issues, you’ll love this leg press foot placement for teardrop quad development.  

How to do it: 

  • Sit on the leg press machine and place your feet low on the bottom of the footplate so your heels are close to the bottom edge.  
  • Move your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly flared out.  
  • Perform your reps, making sure your heels remain flat throughout the movement. If you find your heels are raising, decrease your range of motion (but remember, this also reduces quadriceps activation).  

Tip: To fully engage your quads, your knees need to travel over your toes during the leg press movement. If you’re struggling with ankle mobility, try elevating your heels using an elevation pad (some gyms have them) or buy squat shoes. Another option would be to work on ankle mobility drills to increase flexibility. 

feet low on leg press platform

4. Narrow Stance 

If you’re looking for the best leg press foot placement for quads, then narrow foot placement is the best option for you.

By placing your feet in a narrow position, the leg press movement will target your quads virtually in isolation. This leg press foot placement for quads is perfect for developing the vastus medialis, also known as the teardrop-shaped muscle in the quads.

Throughout this movement, you’ll need to go as deep as possible (with good form) to get the most out of your quad development. It’s key that your heels don't elevate during the exercise, as this will hinder your muscle recruitment and overall results. 

During the narrow foot placement, your knees will most likely make contact with your stomach at the bottom of each rep. This reduced range of motion helps you lift more weight.  

But, as with the low leg press foot placement, the narrow foot placement is difficult to perform if you have poor ankle and hip mobility.   

While you’re performing this exercise, if you find your heels are rising at the bottom portion of the leg press movement or your knees are caving inwards, you should consider another variation. However, you can overcome mobility issues by working on mobilizing tight joints and trying to increase your flexibility.  

How to do it: 

  • Sit inside the leg press machine, placing your feet in the middle of the platform.  
  • Move your feet to a hip-width, toes out position.  
  • Start your set and ensure you have excellent form during each rep.  

Tip: Try adding more weight to the leg press; the reduced range of motion allows you to lift heavier than you would with any other leg press foot placement.  

narrow stance on leg press platform

5. Wide Stance 

If recruiting more hamstrings and glutes sounds good, you’ll love the wide leg press foot placement. During this movement, your legs are placed beyond shoulder width (usually around 1.5x shoulder width), which increases the amount of work your glutes and hamstrings need to perform rather significantly.

It’s also worth noting that the widened foot position places your hips in hip abduction, which engages your abductor muscles. This removes some quad activation, but not a significant amount.

One problem with the leg press wide foot placement is it requires a lot of inner thigh muscle (adductors) flexibility. If you don’t have the flexibility, you’ll find your legs will cave inward, which increases the risk of injury.  

How to do it: 

  • Place yourself on the leg press machine.  
  • Put your feet on the footplate 1.5x shoulder-width apart with your toes angled outwards (45-degrees).  
  • Perform your set, taking each rep as deep as you can.  
  • Get your legs as close to the floor as you can; this gives you the most bang for your buck during the movement.  

Tip: The quality of your reps is super-important on this variation. Keep your knees wide, pushing them outwards at all times. Don’t allow them to cave inwards at any point.  

wide stance on leg press platform

6. Calf Raises  

While traditionally, this isn’t classed as a leg press movement, it is technically still using the machine, so I thought I’d include it on the list.

You can easily perform calf raises by placing your toes at the bottom of the footplate and simulating regular calf raises on the leg press machine.  

During this movement, you have an increased range of motion, allowing you to work your calves effectively.  

How to do it: 

  • Sit on the leg press and place your feet onto the footplate. 
  • Move your feet to the bottom of the footplate so your heels are off and the balls of your feet are on the edge, placed hip-width apart.  
  • Push the weight up, flexing your feet, and slowly lower the weight, stretching your calves allowing your toes to be pushed towards you. 

Tip: Try performing the movement using one leg at a time to iron out any muscular imbalances and to place the calves under additional stress.  

leg press calf raises

7. Single-Leg Press 

Last but not least is the single-leg press foot position. It’s exactly what it sounds like; you use one leg at a time rather than two.  

This unilateral movement is fantastic for correcting muscular imbalances that develop throughout your years of training. It’s also a brilliant way to increase the difficulty of an exercise without needing to add more weight.  

By using one leg at a time, you can perform all the leg press foot placements on the list above. Still, I’d be careful with the wide position as the risk of injury increases significantly due to the awkward positioning.  

How to do it: 

  • Sit on the leg press and place both feet on the footplate.  
  • Remove one leg and start your set.  
  • Swap legs and finish your set.  
Single-Leg Press

Why Do You Need To Use Different Leg Press Foot Placements?

To Target Various Muscles 

There are many reasons you should use a variation of leg press foot placements, and one of the main reasons is to ensure you work every part of the leg muscles as possible during your leg press workout.  

During the leg press, the quads are the primary muscles worked, and the others such as hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and calves are secondary movers throughout the exercise.  

However, by adjusting the placement of your feet, you can manipulate the way the force acts on your leg muscles, allowing you to target specific areas. This helps you develop well-rounded legs with no underdeveloped muscles.  

Safety 

If you’re in a position where you can’t squat due to having an injury, the leg press is an excellent solution to your problem. Yet, while the leg press is considered safer than squatting, it does come with a few risks.  

If you bring the weight too low, your hips will tuck under, causing your lower back to round, aggravating the back. Another issue to be aware of is overextending the legs; this places an excessive load on the knees and results in injuries.  

Convenience 

Depending on your home gym set-up, it’s not always possible to train each part of the legs using various specialized machinery, which is where the leg press foot placement comes in.  

Adjusting your foot placement allows you to train each region of your legs without needing multiple machines.

Keeps Workouts Fun 

Sometimes it’s nice to add some variation to your training. For example, minor tweaks such as a new leg placement on leg press can bring a touch of excitement back to your workouts.


Common Leg Press Foot Placement Questions 

Should you fully extend on leg press? 

During the leg press movement, you want to work the muscles through a wide range of motion; fully extending the legs is a great way to achieve this.  

However, what you must never do is fully lock your legs during the leg press. This places enormous stress on your knee joints and can also cause your legs to buckle the wrong way, leaving you in a world of pain and years of rehab work.  

Are leg presses better than squats? 

If you’re looking to develop muscle mass and want an exercise that’ll give you the most bang for your buck, the squat is the better of the two exercises. But, it doesn’t mean the leg press can’t yield excellent results for you. 

The leg press has some advantages, such as it doesn’t load the spine, has a quicker recovery time, and allows you to lift more weight. Give leg press a try; your body might react well to a change in stimulus. 

Does leg press help lose weight? 

Using the leg press uses some of your body’s largest muscles, including the glutes (which are the largest). The bigger the muscle is, the more calories it burns throughout the workout, and more calories burnt = more weight loss potential.  

While performing leg press won’t solely help you lose weight, it will help you alongside a calorie-controlled diet and a solid workout plan. Always remember, weight loss comes down to calories in vs calories out. 

How many reps should I do for leg press? 

It depends on your workout goals, the weight you’re lifting, and your current fitness levels. If you're looking to build muscle, the key is to stimulate the muscle fibers into growing; this is achieved by progressive overload.  

Personally, I recommend selecting a weight you can perform four sets of 10-12 reps, then increasing the weight progressively over time. But, in general, most gym-goers will perform between 8-12 reps on the leg press machine.  


Conclusion

Building an impressive set of legs requires hard work, heavy weights, and effective exercises. The leg press is a brilliant movement you can perform to develop your entire lower body if you know how to adjust your position to change the emphasis from one muscle to another.

Why not change your leg press foot placement to one of the ones mentioned on the list above and see how it helps increase your lower body’s muscle development.  

Paul J