Building leg strength is an integral part of your fitness routine. Without remembering leg day, you will ultimately kneecap your total gains and won't be able to build as much strength as you want.

The best machines for leg exercises are the leg press and leg extension machine. We will cover these two machines and how they each work.

A leg press is basically a bench press for your legs. You load weights up on the rack, unlock the bar, and lower and raise the weights against gravity using your legs.

Leg presses work primarily the quadriceps, hamstrings, and butt muscles. They can also be easily modified to target the calves as well.

  • Incline Leg Press
    An incline leg press machine has you sit at an incline with your legs higher than your head, and a large platform next to your feet. Weights on the other end of the platform provide weight as you lift and press.
  • Horizontal Cable Leg Press
    A horizontal cable press is oriented horizontally, so you push the platform horizontally. The platform is connected to a cable that is connected to resistance weights.
man working out on a leg press machine

Pros & Cons Of Leg Press Exercises


  • Can be rigged with a lot of weight
  • Uses free weights
  • Very sturdy
  • Can be used for calves
  • Targets major leg muscles groups


  • Machines are large
  • Requires a lot of room for extensions
  • Expensive

What Muscles Does The Leg Press Work?


The main muscle group that leg presses work on is the quadricep. The extension and press motion are localized in the top front quadriceps.


Leg press machines also work the hamstrings, which are located on the backside of the legs. Your hamstrings are essential for stability when walking and changing direction.

Gluteus Maximus (Butt Muscles)

Leg extensions also make your butt look better. Your butt muscles (glutes) connect to both the hamstrings and quadriceps. Leg presses and squats are two of the best exercises to improve your butt muscles.


Leg press machines also target the calves. You can modify the motion of a leg press to focus specifically on the calves by taking your heels off the platform and pushing your feet forward.

How To Do Leg Press: Tips & Techniques

First, you want to position your legs so your back is flat on the board and your feet are flat on the platform with a slight bend in your knees.

Then, push up, remove the safety bar, and slowly bend your knees until they are at slightly less than a 90-degree angle. Then, slowly extend your legs and exhale while doing so.

Make sure to not fully extend your legs and lock your knees. You can also put just the balls of your feet on the platform and have your heels off the bottom. Move your feet back and forth to work your calves.

Related Article - Leg Press Foot Placement

What Is The Leg Extension Exercise?

Leg extensions are another leg exercise aimed at the quadriceps. With a leg extension machine, you sit in the seat and put your legs under a bar. You then raise your legs and raise the bar, which is attached to weights that provide resistance.

Leg extensions are a useful exercise because they do not require much space to do and work your quadriceps and frontal shin muscles.

With a leg extension, you are sitting in an upright position with your back straight against the seat and your head level. Leg extensions can also be modified to target the hamstrings and glutes too.

Related Article - Best Leg Extension Curl Machines

man working out on leg extension machine in the gym

Pros & Cons Of Leg Extension Exercise


  • Smaller than a leg press machine
  • Can be used for quads and hamstrings
  • Easier to do with lighter weights
  • Good for building up strength
  • Good endurance training


  • Can be harsh on knees
  • Doesn’t target all leg muscles at once

What Muscles Does The Leg Extension Work?


Leg extensions slightly target the hamstrings but can be modified to primarily target them. Some machines let you change the position of the bar so you can use it backwards for your hamstrings.


Leg extensions mostly work the quadriceps, as those are the muscles that produce most of the raising motion [1]. The quadriceps get the most resistance from the leg extension movement.


Leg extension machines work your calves slightly but not as much as a traditional leg press. At best, leg extensions work your calves as a side effect rather than targeting them. 

How To Do Leg Extensions: Step By Step Guide

Leg extensions are very simple. You start by sitting down in the bucket seat with your back flat against the chair back and your feet hooked under the bar. Next, slowly raise your legs, bending at the knee until your legs are almost flat extended.

Do not extend your legs fully or lock your knees. Hold the extended position for 2-3 seconds, then slowly go back down to starting position. Repeat until muscle fatigue sets in [2].

Related Article - Best Leg Extension Alternatives

Should you do the leg press and leg extension in the same workout?

To put it simply... yes, you should do the leg press and leg extension in the same workout. 

I've trained for almost 20 years and my leg day often uses both exercises to add volume to my workouts. In fact, one of my favorite supersets is performing 20 reps of leg extension and jumping straight on to the leg press for another 20 reps... It's tough, but it's allowed me to develop some impressive quad mass (even if I do say it myself). 

Now I'm not saying you need to follow my routine, but there's no reason why you can't perform both exercises during your lower body day. 

By performing both movements during your workout, you get:

  • Increased training volume.
  • A killer pump.
  • Increased leg quad mass.

What's not to like?

The only downside you might get from using both exercises in your workout is DOMS and you might lose the ability to walk normally for a few days... but this is all part of the fun, right?

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is a leg press as good as squats?

Leg presses are good, but in our opinion, they are not as good as squats for getting every muscle group in the legs and torso. Both leg presses and squats would be a good part of a workout routine.

Why can I leg press but not squat?

Squatting is more difficult because you also have to worry about your balance and the motion involves your back as well as your legs.

Is leg press bad for your knees? Is it better for your knees than a leg extension?

No, neither leg presses nor leg extensions are bad for your knees unless you do the motions incorrectly. If you bend your legs too far or lock your legs, you can damage your knees.

How deep should you go on your leg presses?

Bend your legs until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. You should try not to go much further past this mark as you can hurt your knees from the pressure.


Leg presses and leg extensions are two useful exercises you can add to your workout routine.

Just make sure you know the difference between the two and that you understand the proper technique and form for leg press and leg extension techniques.




Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.